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Tight end drop-off unusually steep

By Larry Hartstein | Senior Analyst
Jordan Reed is one of six strong TEs in the second tier, then there's a huge dropoff. (USATSI)

There wasn't much difference between the second and third tiers at tight end last year. As Dave Richard points out, TEs ranked fifth through 10th averaged 6.6 Fantasy points while those ranked 11th through 16th averaged 4.8 points. For 1.8 points a week, it wasn't worth reaching for a tight end early if you had missed out on the elite.

This year will be different. Choosing from the third tier feels like stepping off a cliff. If you don't get one of the top 10 tight ends, you'll be at a real disadvantage every week.

Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas, Rob Gronkowski and Vernon Davis form the first tier. All were gone in the first 39 picks (by early Round 4) in our latest mock draft.

Richard, Jamey Eisenberg and Nathan Zegura also agree on the next group of six, though their orders are different. Let's look at that second tier:

Dennis Pitta -- New coordinator Gary Kubiak loves targeting tight ends. Houston targeted tight ends an average of 171 times the past two years under Kubiak, compared to the Ravens' 128. Pitta put up 61 catches for 669 yards and seven TDs in 2012, his last full season, despite starting only five games. Owen Daniels will get a lot of snaps, but he's 31 and the clear No. 2.

Jordan Cameron -- Averaged the fifth-most Fantasy points among TEs last year when he caught 80 passes for 917 yards and seven TDs from subpar quarterbacks.

Jason Witten -- Has produced four straight top-6 Fantasy seasons.

Jordan Reed -- In the eight full games he played as a rookie, Reed averaged 8.3 Fantasy points, sixth-most. A wide receiver in a tight end's body, he's going to embarrass linebackers and safeties in one-on-one matchups down the seam while DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon draw attention outside.

Greg Olsen -- Cam Newton loves throwing to him, which is good because there's no else to throw to.

Kyle Rudolph -- Norv Turner will do wonders for this 6-6, 259-pound former basketball player.

So what's left? Guys like Zach Ertz, Heath Miller, Martellus Bennett, Garrett Graham, Delanie Walker, Timothy Wright and projected first-round pick Eric Ebron. They'll have some good weeks, but unlike the above group of six, none has a real shot at finishing as a top-6 tight end.

If you don't get one of the elite four, make sure you grab one from the strong second tier.

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