Rob Gronkowski hasn't had to worry about rehabbing this offseason. (Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

Rob Gronkowski is in a class of his own among tight ends. (Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

This week we are taking a look at the tight ends for fantasy purposes. I’ve broken down the top 32 options and placed them into tiers as I did with the quarterbacks and wide receivers. I’ll be back next week with the running backs. If you can’t wait until next week, don’t worry. You can check out my full top 500 rankings at Rotobahn right now.

As Jim Hackett and I said on Thursday’s Fantasy Football Podcast, there are not a lot of tight ends who you can really count on, but there are a bevy of options with potential. The key to drafting tight ends in 2015 is knowing how to tell the two apart and avoiding the duds. I’ll endeavor to guide you through that in this article.

If this is your first dose of preseason fantasy football at weei.com, here are some links to what you’ve missed.

Jim and I will be back on Sunday morning, as usual, so tune in to 93.7 and catch the entire hour starting at 8 a.m. I hope you can join us! To keep tabs on all my preseason fantasy football content including all rankings and cheat sheet updates, follow me on Twitter.

Tier 1

Rob Gronkowski, Patriots (1)

Do I need to say anything here? He’s the best, and he’s got a Hall of Famer throwing him the football. Gronkowski also is as healthy as we’ve seen him in years — coming off of a surgery-free offseason. He’s the biggest no-brainer in the 2015 positional rankings — outclassing the field and even Jimmy Graham by several lengths.

Tier 2

Jimmy Graham, Seahawks (2)

Maybe the only tight end who has Gronk-like upside, Graham has posted elite numbers in the past and is a red zone beast. He is going to a less-pass-happy offense than the one he’s used to, but he’ll be the best weapon Russell Wilson has ever had, and I suspect they will hook up often. Graham is the easy choice once Gronkowski is off the board at tight end.

Tier 3

Travis Kelce, Chiefs (3)

Yes, another guy with his own tier. Kelce has the scoring potential to get close to the big two, but that is still a projection because Kelce has never been a full-time player before. He will be just that in 2015, and I expect numbers that border on elite if he can stay healthy for 16 weeks. Kelce had microfracture surgery in 2013, so full health for a full season is not guaranteed. Having said that, he could be much better in 2014, a full year removed from the injury.

Tier 4

Greg Olsen, Panthers (4)

Olsen, like the three guys before him, exists in his own area of the draft. I could have put him in Kelce’s tier, but he lacks the high-end potential of Kelce. Olsen’s the No. 1 option in the Panthers passing attack. It’s hard to imagine him not producing if he is healthy. It’s just hard to project a 30-year-old player to break out to a new level of production. Having said that, he has a very good chance to maintain his level of production from last year, when he went over 1,000 yards with six touchdowns. He’s a lock starter.

Tier 5 (5-6)

Martellus Bennett, Bears
Julius Thomas, Jaguars

Bennett and Thomas both are a cut above what’s left out there. Both project as big parts of their respective offenses and both have produced at an elite level. The reason I lean toward Bennett is that he’s the tougher player, one who can play through pain. We’ve seen him do it as a Giant and as a Bear. Thomas, on the other hand, tends to get nicked up and miss time. It’s Thomas’ upside that gets him into this tier. He is one of the few tight ends who could post elite numbers outside of the big three.

Tier 6 (7-10)

Dwayne Allen, Colts
Jordan Cameron, Dolphins
Jason Witten, Cowboys
Kyle Rudolph, Vikings

Tier 6 is a large step down from Tier 5. The upside is still there, with the exception of Witten, who is fading at age 33. Allen, Cameron and Rudolph all have serious pluses. Allen is a talented receiver with good red zone chops who plays with Andrew Luck. Cameron has flashed elite potential in the past. He even had one elite year in 2013, but it’s the outlier in his four-year career. Rudolph, a second-round pick back in 2011, has high-end talent and plays in Norv Turner‘s historically tight end-friendly scheme. Sadly, Rudolph shares the same downside as Allen and Cameron. They all are big injury risks. For Cameron, the big concern is concussions. He has had multiple concussions and his recovery time has been longer than what’s considered typical. It’s a big red flag. Rudolph has played 16 games just once in his four year career. Allen missed almost all of the 2013 season and missed three games in 2014. So be careful with this group. I am fine drafting any of them, but they should not go off the board soon after the Tier 5 guys. There’s a significant value gap. I’m willing to spend a seventh- or eighth-round selection on the Tier 5 guys. For Tier 6, I am looking at Round 12 or later.

Tier 7 (11-18)

Larry Donnell, Giants
Delanie Walker, Titans
Tyler Eifert, Bengals
Antonio Gates, Chargers
Zach Ertz, Eagles
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Buccaneers
Ladarius Green, Chargers
Jordan Reed, Redskins

Tier 7 is not all that unlike Tier 6, just a little bit worse. Every player in this group has nice upside or potential. Donnell has been injured most of the offseason with an Achilles issue. He’s got very good chops as a receiver, and that includes red zone work. The issue is his health and his blocking or lack thereof. With the Giants offensive line hurting, Donnell could lose snaps to a better blocking tight end. Delanie Walker may have another solid year in him, but he’s smallish and is no spring chicken at 31. Tyler Eifert has plenty of untapped potential, but until he has an extended run of good health he will be hard to invest in. Gates and Ertz both have significant appeal, but both project to miss the first month of the fantasy season. They are high-value stash options. Seferian-Jenkins has a big ceiling, and he’s a guy I am targeting if he stays on the board long enough. His issue will be staying healthy and being a little more consistent catching the football. Green’s early value could be outstanding, but projecting his role once Gates returns is tricky to be sure. Jordan Reed, when healthy, is a potentially elite PPR option. The thing is, he just hasn’t stayed healthy at all. I love him as a late-rounder in leagues, but I am not investing in him any more than that.

Tier 8 (19-25)

Virgil Green, Broncos
Richard Rodgers, Packers
Maxx Williams, Ravens
Owen Daniels, Broncos
Eric Ebron, Lions
Coby Fleener, Colts
Josh Hill, Saints

This might be my favorite tier in that I can score big and pay very little. In bigger leagues, I will draft my back up here and hope that he overtakes my starter at some point. While most people are talking about Owen Daniels having a big year with Peyton Manning, I am higher on the more athletic Virgil Green. His blocking prowess will keep him on the field and his ability as a receiver is being undersold. Richard Rodgers is a solid talent, but it’s his quarterback that gives him fantasy appeal this early in his career. You heard of Aaron Rodgers, right? Ebron is a high-end talent and he is in a good situation. I expect him to bust out at some point and become a weekly option, but he’s still developing. You can’t count on him being a big help early on. Fleener is projected to be less of a factor this year with all the new talent at wide receiver. I get it, but don’t totally discount this guy. He was Andrew Luck‘s college roommate. The two have been teammates for a long time. It would be silly to discount that connection. Josh Hill currently is playing behind ex-Patriot Ben Watson on the Saints depth chart, but that could change at some point, and I really like Hill’s upside in that offense if it does.

Tier 9 (26-32)

Vernon Davis, 49ers
Charles Clay, Bills
Jace Amaro, Jets
Heath Miller, Steelers
Garrett Graham, Texans
Crockett Gillmore, Ravens
Scott Chandler, Patriots

There’s still potential — even this late in the game. Davis is older now and he’s coming off a down year. Still, the 49ers project to throw more this season than they have in some time. Don’t forget, Davis scored 13 times back in 2013. He’s still an athletic freak. Charles Clay got paid big bucks to defect to Buffalo, but the quarterback situation there is a limiting factor for him. Amaro has an injured shoulder, but he’s a catch-first tight end once he is healthy, which should be early in the season. He’s a worthy flier, but he’s had a quiet offseason with the exception of trash talking at Rex Ryan. Heath Miller‘s stock is rising with all of the injuries in Pittsburgh. Martavis Bryant’s absence opens up some potential red zone love. Miller might be able to help you in September. Graham was a disappointment in 2014, but he’s having a very strong camp, and Bill O’Brien likes to use the tight end a lot more than his offense did in 2014. Crockett Gillmore is a big-time blocker who could win the role of in-line tight end in Baltimore. He’s having a solid camp and closed out 2014 well. Scott Chandler is a sleeper. We all know that the Patriots like to use the tight ends. Chandler’s size makes him an obvious red zone weapon.

DraftKings Kick off this football season with the biggest fantasy football contest ever on DraftKings! Prizes worth $10 million are up for grabs, including $2 million for first AND $1 million for second! PLAY IN THE WEEK 1 MILLIONAIRE MAKER, CLICK HERE.

Blog Author: 
Peter Davidson

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk and NBCSports called in to Dennis & Callahan on Friday to discuss the latest Deflategate news and Chris Mortensen’s defense of his inaccurate report.

Mike Florio

Mike Florio

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk and NBCSports called in to Dennis & Callahan on Friday to discuss the latest Deflategate news and Chris Mortensen’s defense of his inaccurate report. To listen to the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

In the wake of Mortensen’s now-deleted tweet stating that 11 of 12 Patriots footballs were 2 PSI below the allowable level, the NFL made no effort to correct the false report with the correct numbers. Florio suspects that some members of the league office deliberately allowed Mortensen’s report to remain uncorrected.

“When you consider what was going on with the false numbers that were out there and there wasn’t any effort, any desire, any inclination to get the truth out there, I think at some level, one or two people in the middle of this thing realized, ‘This is the best way to keep the Patriots off balance. This is the best way to keep them guessing, this is the best way not to investigate but to prosecute the Patriots,’ ” Florio said. “And that’s what this ultimately was. This wasn’t an investigation, it was a prosecution.”

Florio said that during NBC’s five-hour pregame show on Super Bowl Sunday, he contacted people within the league and tried to learn the correct pressure readings from the AFC championship game.

“I contacted multiple high-level people in the league during that show begging them to tell me the real numbers,” Florio said. “I was begging multiple league sources, ‘Give me the real numbers. Why not tell me the real numbers? We’ve got a five-hour platform, the audience keeps getting bigger and bigger as we get closer to kickoff, why not get the real numbers out there today?’ And no one would give me the real numbers. Now, what does that tell you?”

On Thursday during a radio appearance in Arizona, Mortensen doubled down on his initial report. Florio contends that Mortensen should be upset with his source and should apologize as opposed to continuing to defend the report that helped turn Deflategate into the major scandal it became.

“It really is amazing to me that this continues to be a thing and it continues to be a thing because Mort keeps talking about it,” Florio said. “And I love Mort, he’s a pioneer in this industry, but there’s a point where you just have to say, ‘I got the report wrong, I was lied to and I’m not happy about it.’ “

Florio said that the Patriots, at some point in the process, concluded that the Ted Wells investigation would not be a fair one, and that the investigation would “build the house in a way that [found the team] guilty.”

“It’s human nature to dig in your heels when you feel like you’re being railroaded. … In hindsight, we have every reason to believe that it was perfectly reasonable for the Patriots to think they were getting screwed here because I think they were,” Florio said.

“I just get upset when I feel like there is an injustice being perpetrated,” Florio said. “I got upset three years ago when it happened to the Saints and I got upset this year when it happened to the Patriots. I tell fans of other teams: ‘You need to care about this, because your team could be next.'”

When asked if the league officials who leaked false information would ever face consequences for it, Florio was not optimistic. The league, Florio said, does not hold itself accountable in the same way it does its players.

“You never see the league office turn back on itself that same bright light that we have seen shine on the Saints with Bountygate, on the Patriots with this situation, on players when they get in trouble,” Florio said. “That same intensity, that same scrutiny and that same accountability never swings back around onto the league office and I know that there are some folks at Gillette Stadium that hope that it will in this case, but I get a feeling that it won’t.”

Following are more highlights from the interview. For more Patriots news, go to weei.com/patriots.

On Mortensen’s claim that both Jonathan Kraft and Robert Kraft called him to apologize for how things transpired: “I doubt that that was an on-the-record apology. … Whatever they said to him, I doubt that that was something they assumed he had the ability to go on-air and talk about. I think at most it would be something like, ‘Our beef isn’t with you, it’s with the NFL, it’s with whoever leaked the false information to you.’ And I think that’s a fair position. But to apologize to him, that creates a different feel here, that he’s blameless in some way. He’s not blameless. He should be upset, not at the people who are criticizing him, he should be upset at his sources. Instead he’s defending his sources.”

On Ted Wells’ dealings with Jim McNally and John Jastremski and the “deflator” text: “I think that the investigation would have lasted only two to three days if they had gotten somebody to confess. And that’s the one big flaw in the whole Beavis and Butthead text messages. Those text messages look bad. How do you not take those text messages, if you’re Ted Wells making $1,000 an hour, went to Harvard Law School, practicing law for 40 years, the go-to guy for NFL investigations, how do you not take those text messages and get in a room with John Jastremski and Jim McNally and get them to confess? All due respect, guys carrying around a bag of footballs every Sunday, I’d like to think that Ted Wells wins that battle of intellect. … McNally didn’t testify the fifth time because Ted Wells committed what is, in my opinion, malpractice by interviewing the guy the first time without fully reading all the text messages and finding the key text messages with ‘€˜deflator’€™ in there. That’s inexcusable.”

On the possibility of Judge Berman ordering a second appeal hearing: “I don’t know what Judge Berman is going to do with this, but he could say, ‘You know what? We’re just going to do another appeal hearing, and it’s going to be Paul Tagliabue presiding and Jeff Pash is going to testify and Beavis and Butthead are coming in to testify because I don’t think the NFLPA and Tom Brady want those guys to testify, because if they did I think they would have testified the last time around.’ “

Blog Author: 
Josh Slavin
How should the Patriots split the reps at QB Friday night?  (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

How should the Patriots split the reps at QB Friday night? (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Here are seven things we’ll be looking for Friday night when the Patriots meet the Panthers in the third preseason game for both teams:

1. How the reps are split at quarterback:

Nine of the last 10 times the Patriots took the field for the third preseason game of the summer, Tom Brady was at quarterback deep into the contest. (He sat out the third preseason game in 2008 entirely.) For the record, over those nine appearances, he finished with an average line of 15-for-22, 179 yards, 1.4 TDs, .33 INTs and 40.5 snaps, with the bulk of the work coming over the first two-plus quarters. But with Brady’s status for the regular-season opener still unclear, there has to be some thought given to the idea of having Jimmy Garoppolo get more snaps than usual Friday against the Panthers with an eye toward making sure he’s ready for opening night against the Steelers if need be. From this viewpoint, the cautious play would be to have Brady start the game, but yield at roughly the 30-snap mark, depending on the offensive rhythm at that point in the evening. That way, Brady still gets in his needed work, but Garoppolo gets a little more activity than usual in advance of the regular-season opener against the Steelers.

For the record, here’s Brady’s workload and production in the third preseason game over the last 10 years:

2014: 17-for-21, 204 yards, two touchdowns, 42 snaps vs. Panthers
2013: 16-for-24, 185 yards, one interception, two sacks, 46 snaps vs. Lions
2012: 13-for-20, 127 yards, one touchdown, one interception, two sacks, 45 snaps vs. Bucs
2011: 12-for-22, 145 yards, one touchdown, one interception, two sacks, 37 snaps vs. Lions
2010: 18-for-22, 273 yards, three touchdowns, 30 snaps vs. Rams
2009: 12-for-19 for 150 yards, two touchdowns, one sack, 29 snaps vs. Redskins
2008: DNP
2007: 17-for-22, 167 yards, two touchdowns, 47 snaps vs. Panthers
2006: 17-for-30, 231 yards, one touchdown, 49 snaps vs. Redskins
2005: 12-for-21, 127 yards, one touchdown, one sack, 40 snaps vs. Packers

2. The third-down back competition:

This has been one of the best positional battles the Patriots have had in the last decade or so. Over the course of camp, the smart money appeared to be on Travaris Cadet, but he suffered an injury, and wasn’t heard from for a couple weeks. With that void, after Week 1 of the preseason, James White appeared to have the best shot at the job with a really nice outing against the Packers. But last week against the Saints, Dion Lewis really flashed positively, so much so that he looked to be in command. Now? Who knows? Cadet needs to stay healthy if he wants to stay in the race, but it was hard not to look at the White/Lewis combo over the first two weeks of the preseason and imagine a combo role while White grows into the job on a full-time basis a year or two down the road, a la Shane Vereen.

3. Fast starts:

After slow beginnings by the No. 1 offense in the first two preseason games, a quick start will certainly be a point of emphasis this time around for New England. The Patriots have been outscored by a combined 30-18 margin in the first half against the Packers and Saints, and while the score is often the last thing you should be worried about when it comes to the preseason, an ability to execute right out of the gate and control the pace on both sides of the ball is always key. While some of the offensive numbers have to be taken with a grain of salt — the Patriots haven’t had Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Scott Chandler, Brandon LaFell, Aaron Dobson or Bryan Stork take a single snap in either preseason game, while Brady is 3-for-9 for 23 yards on 16 snaps — a quick start and nice rhythm for the offense in the early going would be a positive for the Patriots.

4. Containing Cam

The Patriots will have the opportunity to face any number of big, mobile quarterbacks over the course of the 2015 season, and Carolina’s Cam Newton should provide them with an excellent test Friday in Charlotte. The ability to keep containment on the edges and maintain gap discipline throughout each of the gaps will be key for New England’s front seven when it comes to defending Newton, who was third in rushing yards (539 yards) among quarterbacks in 2014. Figuring out how to diagnose and slow down Newton will provide a good test for later in the regular season when the Patriots go up against running quarterbacks like Indy’s Andrew Luck, Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles and Miami’s Ryan Tannehill, three of the six quarterbacks who rushed for at least 270 yards last season.

5. Combinations in the secondary

The decision to move Devin McCourty to cornerback appears to be done, at least for the time being, but the different personnel packages that the Patriots decide to go with in the secondary will certainly bear watching against the Panthers. Is new veteran cornerback Tarrell Brown ready to assume a greater role? Can Malcolm Butler maintain the same high level of play that he’s been able to demonstrate throughout the summer? Can Jordan Richards push for playing time at either safety position? And can it all gel quickly enough for the Patriots to have a competitive secondary before the start of the regular season? We should get more answers to those questions on Friday against Carolina.

6. The bubble guys:

By our count, we have nine guys who need to perform well if they want to continue their push for a roster spot on the final 53. Our list includes (but is not limited to) linebackers Jonathan Freeny and James Morris, defensive lineman Rufus Johnson, safeties Tavon Wilson and Brandon King, offensive linemen David Andrews, Josh Kline and Michael Williams and wide receiver Josh Boyce. With the first round of cuts looming on Sept. 1 (that’s when New England has to be at 75 players) and their chances starting to dwindle, it’s vital for them to get some good performances on film.

7. Reggie Wayne:

The veteran receiver showed up this week, and while he’s still in the infant stages of his New England career, the Patriots need to be assured that Wayne is capable is getting up to speed as fast as possible, particularly if he’ll be taking some of Brandon LaFell’s reps. Gifted with smarts and a veteran savvy, the viewpoint here is that Wayne gets on the field for roughly 20 snaps, a brief baptism in a Patriots’ uniform. Then, he needs to build on that the following week with a good week of practice. (Given his background, it would probably be smart to at least give him a few reps in the preseason finale as well for several reasons, not the least of which it would allow the coaching staff to determine his level of fitness before the regular-season opener against the Steelers.)

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
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Blog Author: 
WEEI

Clete Blakeman will work as the referee for Friday’s Patriots-Panthers preseason game in Charlotte, according to Footballzebras.com.

Clete Blakeman will work Friday's Patriots-Panthers game. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Clete Blakeman will work Friday’s Patriots-Panthers game. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Clete Blakeman will work as the referee for Friday’s Patriots-Panthers preseason game in Charlotte, according to Footballzebras.com.

Blakeman has a bit of a past with New England, to put it mildly. He was the alternate official for the 2014 AFC title game between the Patriots and Colts, and is mentioned prominently in the Wells Report as the official who took the air pressure measurements in the footballs before the game.

In addition, he was the referee on a disputed non-call in a November 2013 contest between the Patriots and Carolina in Charlotte. On the play — which was really the jurisdiction of the back judge and the umpire — Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly grabbed tight end Rob Gronkowski in the end zone on a pass attempt, a play that should have been whistled for defensive holding, or simply pass interference. Back judge Terrence Miles threw a flag, but it was waved off by Blakeman. The no-call fundamentally ended the contest — a 24-20 win for the Panthers — and as Blakeman ran off the field, Tom Brady cursed out the official. (For a complete breakdown of the play, click through to this explainer.)

For more on Blakeman’s record as an official, check out his page at Pro Football Reference. For the complete list of officiating assignments this week, click through to to our friends at Football Zebras. And for more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

DraftKings Kick off this football season with the biggest fantasy football contest ever on DraftKings! Prizes worth $10 million are up for grabs, including $2 million for first AND $1 million for second! PLAY IN THE WEEK 1 MILLIONAIRE MAKER, CLICK HERE.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

Sarah Wroblewski of Fox 25 says that when New England and Carolina kick off in Charlotte Friday night in the third regular-season game for both teams, weather won’t be an issue.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

Chris Mortensen continues to make headlines when it comes to Deflategate.

Chris Mortensen

Chris Mortensen

Chris Mortensen continues to make headlines when it comes to Deflategate.

The ESPN reporter, who backed out of a planned interview with WEEI earlier this month where he was invited to come on “Dennis & Callahan” to discuss his Deflategate coverage, appeared on 98.7 FM in Arizona on Thursday. Mortensen didn’t back down from his initial report, but said that it was Patriots coach Bill Belichick who implicated Tom Brady. He also said Robert and Jonathan Kraft had reached out to him to apologize “for just the way this thing has gone down.”

Mortensen was asked about his initial Tweet, which seemed to fan the flames back in January.

“Where I get into trouble is the fact that I tweet the two pounds under,” Mortensen said. “We clarified and simply went to significantly under inflated. By the way, it was 11 of 12 footballs. The Princeton professor who was hired to disprove the Ted Wells report agreed on which gauge was used, so even then we’re talking about five balls in the 10 [PSI] range, another five that were in the low 11 range. And not only that, we also know the league itself didn’t even get it right when they sent the notification letter to the Patriots and said that one ball was as low as 10 PSI.

“I will add this, and I’ll let it be,” he added. “[I] never implicated Tom Brady. Never had a source implicate Tom Brady in the original report. And also, didn’t even suggest that the balls were tampered with ….The first person who ever implicated Tom Brady — it was a non-media type and it wasn’t me. It was Bill Belichick.”

Mortensen acknowledged he could have been clearer, ultimately said he will “stand by [his] story” when it comes to the disputed Tweet.

“Two pounds under PSI — listen, if I could have changed the tweet, and I should have changed the tweet, simply to the dialogue I used [in the story], which was 11 footballs — that was my focus — not the PSI, 11 footballs were in fact confirmed to be under inflated. And you can argue whether they were significantly under inflated or not. But I stand by that story.”

He added: “In the meantime, I understand the passion of the fanatical nation that is in New England, and certainly anybody who’s going through this. I’ve had both Krafts — Robert Kraft and Jonathan Kraft — call me and apologize for just the way this thing has gone down.”

However, that last point seems to be in dispute.

For more Patriots news check out weei.com/patriots.

DraftKings Kick off this football season with the biggest fantasy football contest ever on DraftKings! Prizes worth $10 million are up for grabs, including $2 million for first AND $1 million for second! PLAY IN THE WEEK 1 MILLIONAIRE MAKER, CLICK HERE.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price