2018 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Here are 20 No. 2 tight ends with No. 1 upside

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The tight end position has been fairly easy to predict over the past two seasons. Usually the players drafted as starters tend to finish in that range.

For example, of the 12 tight ends with an Average Draft Position of a No. 1 option in 2017 in non-PPR leagues, seven finished in that category by the end of the season. The same thing happened in 2016.

In 2017, for the five players who failed to deliver on preseason expectations, four suffered significant injuries: Jordan Reed, Greg Olsen, Tyler Eifert and Martellus Bennett. Only Eric Ebron struggled without getting hurt. In 2016, three of the five guys who missed the cut battled injuries -- Rob Gronkowski, Eifert and Julius Thomas -- with Gary Barnidge and C.J. Fiedorowicz just having down years.

Maybe it's time to just avoid Eifert altogether? And yes, he's unfortunately battling another back injury 

We can't predict injuries, but we can tell you some tight ends to look for who are worth drafting with late-round picks. One of these guys could be in that group of the five or so tight ends who crack the top 12 this season.

I look at 10 tight ends as weekly starters coming into training camp: Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, Olsen, Jimmy Graham, Trey Burton, Delanie Walker, Kyle Rudolph, Evan Engram and Reed. After that, it's a little bit of a gamble as to who could finish as a No. 1 option this year.

If you miss on one of the top 10 guys on Draft Day, you might consider drafting two tight ends and waiting to see if one develops early in the season who could be your weekly starter. While that could be a headache, you might hit on the next Engram or Cameron Brate as someone who comes out of nowhere to become a quality Fantasy tight end.

Here, we're looking at 20 tight ends in my rankings from No. 11-30 to see what could happen to help them finish as a starting option this year.

No. 11 

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Jack Doyle IND • TE • 84
2017 stats
TAR108
REC80
YDS690
TD4
  • Chances of becoming a No. 1 tight end: 65%
  • What could go right: Doyle was the No. 9 tight end in non-PPR leagues last year without a healthy Andrew Luck (shoulder), and he gets Luck back this season, hopefully at 100 percent. Doyle was fifth among tight ends in targets last season with 108 and second in receptions with 80, and Luck has a good history of leaning on his tight ends, as does new coach Frank Reich. 
  • What could go wrong: The addition of Ebron takes targets away from Doyle, especially if Ebron is the primary option in one tight-end sets. While Luck has leaned on his tight ends in the past, he won't be as check-down reliant as Jacoby Brissett was last season. Doyle has proven to be valuable in PPR leagues (he has 139 receptions the past two years), but he's yet to top five touchdowns in a season.
  • Bottom line: In 2016 with Luck, Doyle had 59 catches for 584 yards and five touchdowns on 75 targets, and his catches, yards and targets were second on the team that season behind T.Y. Hilton. While Ebron will play a prominent role, I'm confident in Doyle's rapport with Luck to keep his Fantasy value afloat. He's worth drafting as a No. 1 option with a late-round pick.

No. 12

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George Kittle SF • TE • 85
2017 stats
TAR63
REC43
YDS515
TD2
  • Chances of becoming a No. 1 tight end: 55%
  • What could go right: Kittle showed a good rapport with Jimmy Garoppolo to close the season in 2017, and he had two of his three games with double digits in Fantasy points in a non-PPR league in his final two outings of the year. He led the 49ers in red-zone targets last season with 16, and we expect Garoppolo to focus on Kittle even more near the goal line, which should help his touchdown total rise in 2018.
  • What could go wrong: When Garoppolo took over as the 49ers starter last season, he had limited options in the passing game, with Pierre Garcon (neck) hurt. Garcon is back, and San Francisco added rookie receiver Dante Pettis to go with Marquise Goodwin and Trent Taylor, as well as Kittle. With Jerick McKinnon also expected to be a factor out of the backfield, Kittle might not get the needed target share to develop into a weekly starter.
  • Bottom line: Kittle's role in the offense should be solidified, especially as a red-zone presence, and he should be a go-to option for Garoppolo this year. I'm hoping he doesn't become touchdown dependent, but that might not be a bad thing if Garoppolo turns this offense around as he started to last season. I'm fine drafting Kittle as a starting tight end with a late-round selection.

No. 13

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Ricky Seals-Jones ARI • TE • 86
2017 stats - 10 games
TAR28
REC12
YDS201
TD3
  • Chances of becoming a No. 1 tight end: 45% 
  • What could go right: For two weeks last season, Seals-Jones looked like a breakout Fantasy tight end with 30 Fantasy points in a non-PPR league in Week 11 at Houston (17 points) and Week 12 against Jacksonville (13 points). He benefits greatly with Jermaine Gresham (Achilles) out, and the Cardinals need a secondary target behind Larry Fitzgerald, especially in the red zone. If Sam Bradford wins the starting job for Arizona, he has a great history of leaning on his tight ends.
  • What could go wrong: Gresham isn't expected to be ready for Week 1, but he can always surprise us and get healthy earlier than expected, which would clearly impact Seals-Jones' role. While targets are available in Arizona's offense -- John Brown (Baltimore) and Jaron Brown (Seattle) are gone -- Seals-Jones continues to be a role player and not a featured option. 
  • Bottom line: One Cardinals beat writer has already pegged Seals-Jones as the team's breakout offensive player in 2018, and it could happen, especially given Gresham's injury. Bradford helped Ertz play well in 2015 and Rudolph thrive in 2016, and he could do the same for Seals-Jones. Even rookie Josh Rosen should lean on Seals-Jones, and he's a good second tight end to draft with a late-round flier.

No. 14

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David Njoku CLE • TE • 85
2017 stats
TAR60
REC32
YDS386
TD4
  • Chances of becoming a No. 1 tight end: 45% 
  • What could go right: Tyrod Taylor comes in and leans on Njoku the same way he did with Charles Clay in Buffalo, and Njoku becomes a red-zone threat while seeing plenty of single coverage thanks to Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry. Baker Mayfield will also use Njoku quite a bit -- maybe more as a check-down option -- and he continues to catch a touchdown once per every eight receptions.
  • What could go wrong: The Browns offense looks a little crowded, and there might not be enough targets to go around given the upgrades at receiver, including Duke Johnson out of the backfield, especially if either Corey Coleman or rookie Antonio Callaway become a factor. Njoku could also be limited in his playing time, and last year Cleveland had Seth DeValve on the field way too much.
  • Bottom line: The Browns drafted Njoku in the first round last year for a reason, and he should be more involved in the offense this season, especially in the red zone. The upgrade at quarterback, whether it's Taylor or Mayfield, will definitely help Njoku's outlook, and he's a good tight end to draft with a late-round pick since he could be a second-year breakout option in 2018.

No. 15

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Benjamin Watson NO • TE • 82
2017 stats in Baltimore
TAR79
REC61
YDS522
TD4
  • Chances of becoming a No. 1 tight end: 45% 
  • What could go right: He repeats his performance from the last time he played with the Saints in 2015 when he was the replacement for Jimmy Graham after Graham was traded to Seattle. That season, Watson had 74 catches for 825 yards and six touchdowns on 109 targets.
  • What could go wrong: He looks his age (37), and the Saints prove they no longer rely on the tight end as a primary weapon in their offense, which has been the case for the past two seasons when Coby Fleener struggled with his production.
  • Bottom line: If you could guarantee that Watson would produce at his 2015 level again, he would be a top 12 Fantasy tight end without hesitation. He's older now, and he suffered an Achilles injury in 2016, which cost him the entire season. The Saints offense also isn't as pass friendly as it was in 2015. But Drew Brees should still lean on Watson, and he's worth a late-round flier given his return to New Orleans.

No. 16

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Charles Clay BUF • TE • 85
2017 stats - 13 games
TAR74
REC49
YDS558
TD2



  • Chances of becoming a No. 1 tight end: 40% 
  • What could go right: Clay has the chance to be no worse than the No. 3 target for the Bills behind Kelvin Benjamin and LeSean McCoy, and he should be a go-to target in the offense. He needs to stay healthy for 16 games, and hopefully he can live up to the lofty contract he signed with the Bills in 2015 (five years, $38 million, including $20 million guaranteed). 
  • What could go wrong: He continues to struggle with injuries (he hasn't played 16 games since 2013) and doesn't see an uptick in targets, even with the Bills lacking quality playmakers in the passing game. Josh Allen or A.J. McCarron don't lean on Clay to the same level Taylor did, and he continues to languish in mediocrity. 
  • Bottom line: Whether it's Allen or McCarron, either starter should lean on Clay quite a bit given the landscape of Buffalo's receiving corps. He has the chance to soak up targets, but his value is likely higher in PPR. He does have four seasons in his career with at least 51 catches, but he's never scored more than six touchdowns in a season. For him to make the leap to becoming a No. 1 tight end, he will likely need to be more successful in the red zone.

No. 17

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Eric Ebron IND • TE • 85
2017 stats in Detroit
TAR86
REC53
YDS574
TD4
  • Chances of becoming a No. 1 tight end: 35% 
  • What could go right: Ebron shows he's a better receiving tight end than Doyle and ends up second on the team in targets behind Hilton. He plays the Ertz role in Reich's offense after Reich was the offensive coordinator for the Eagles last year. Ebron closed last season with either a touchdown or 90 receiving yards in three of his final four games and builds off that performance in 2018.
  • What could go wrong: Ebron again doesn't showcase his talent, which was the case in Detroit. He is behind Doyle for snaps and playing time, and he falls behind Hilton, Doyle, Chester Rogers and Ryan Grant for targets. Also, Luck doesn't return at 100 percent.
  • Bottom line: It would not be a surprise to see Ebron finish the season as the best tight end for the Colts ahead of Doyle, and he could be the second-best weapon in the passing game for Luck behind Hilton. Ebron has yet to live up to his potential when he was the No. 10 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, but Luck and Reich can hopefully make that happen with the Colts in 2018.

No. 18

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Tyler Eifert CIN • TE • 85
2017 stats - 2 games
TAR5
REC4
YDS46
TD0
  • Chances of becoming a No. 1 tight end: 35%
  • What could go right: His health. He would be a No. 1 tight end if you can guarantee his health. But back problems have derailed his upside the past two years, and he comes into training camp again battling a back injury. If Eifert plays at least 13 games then he could be a star. In 2015, Eifert played 13 games and had 52 catches for 615 yards and 13 touchdowns on 74 targets,
  • What could go wrong: Injuries. He's played 10 games since his breakout campaign in 2015. He just needs to stay on the field. He also needs to make sure the Bengals didn't fall in love with Tyler Kroft last year after he filled in for Eifert with 42 catches for 404 yards and seven touchdowns on 62 targets.
  • Bottom line: It feels risky to even have Eifert ranked this high, but if he's healthy he could be a Fantasy star. It's just so hard to trust him now given his injuries the past two years, and he's still hurt again now, which is frustrating. He's worth a late-round flier if he's ready for Week 1, but don't be surprised if he's cut in Fantasy leagues early in the season because he continues to spend too much time in the training room.

No. 19

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Austin Seferian-Jenkins JAC • TE • 88
2017 stats with Jets
TAR74
REC50
YDS357
TD3
  • Chances of becoming a No. 1 tight end: 30% 
  • What could go right: Seferian-Jenkins has turned his life around, and he played well for the Jets last season, despite some tough drops in the end zone. But he should become a go-to target for Blake Bortles in an offense lacking a true No. 1 receiver, and Bortles should lean on Seferian-Jenkins in the red zone. Hopefully, this season Seferian-Jenkins will catch them. 
  • What could go wrong: He once again doesn't show off his skills, and the Jaguars offense doesn't produce enough volume to help Seferian-Jenkins thrive. While the Jaguars don't have any elite receivers coming into the year, they do have a lot of mouths to feed, which keeps Seferian-Jenkins from dominating targets.
  • Bottom line: There's a good opportunity here for Seferian-Jenkins to produce, but most Fantasy owners are going to take a wait-and-see approach with him, which is understandable. Last year, Jacksonville's tight ends combined for six of the team's 21 passing touchdowns, and if Seferian-Jenkins can score six times -- which would be a career high -- then he would be a No. 1 Fantasy tight end this year.

No. 20

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Cameron Brate TB • TE • 84
2017 stats
TAR77
REC48
YDS591
TD6
  • Chances of becoming a No. 1 tight end: 30% 
  • What could go right: Brate has scored 14 touchdowns over the past two seasons, and he will hopefully continue to be a viable red-zone target again this year. He also has to keep O.J. Howard in a secondary role and continue to be a primary target all over the field. In 2017, Brate was fourth on the team in targets with 77.
  • What could go wrong: Howard proves to be more talented than Brate (he is), which translates to more playing time and targets, especially in the red zone. Brate falls into becoming touchdown or bust, which makes him hard to trust on a weekly basis. Brate also could struggle early in the year with Jameis Winston (suspension) out.
  • Bottom line: Ideally, Brate would have signed with a new team as a free agent, but he stayed in Tampa Bay and got paid with a six-year deal at $41 million, including $18 million guaranteed. That's not really backup money, meaning he should still be heavily involved in the offense despite Howard's presence. While I like Howard more, Brate is still the better Fantasy option on paper.

No. 21

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Hayden Hurst BAL • TE • 81
2017 stats at South Carolina
REC 44
YDS559
TD2
  • Chances of becoming a No. 1 tight end: 30% 
  • What could go right: Hurst proves he's ready for the NFL as a rookie since he's 25, and Joe Flacco leans on him like he did with Dennis Pitta once upon a time in 2016. This is a revamped receiving corps in Baltimore with Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead all new to the Ravens, and Hurst could establish himself as a playmaker right away. 
  • What could go wrong: Mark Andrews proves to be the better rookie tight end in Baltimore, and Hurst struggles for playing time. He also gets lost behind Crabtree, Brown and Snead in terms of targets, as well as the running backs. And despite his age, he still plays like a rookie tight end.
  • Bottom line: Flacco has been good for tight ends when he finds one that he likes, and Hurst could definitely be that guy. He has to outplay Andrews and find his comfort zone among Crabtree, Brown and Snead, but there's plenty of potential here. Hurst is worth a late-round flier in all formats.

No. 22

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O.J. Howard TB • TE • 80
2017 stats - 14 games
TAR39
REC26
YDS432
TD6
  • Chances of becoming a No. 1 tight end: 30% 
  • What could go right: The Buccaneers realize that Howard is better than Brate and give him a bigger role, or Brate suffers an injury, which allows Howard an upgrade in targets and snaps as the primary tight end. He also shows he should be second on the team in targets behind Evans -- ahead of DeSean JacksonChris Godwin and Brate. 
  • What could go wrong: Brate again is the better Fantasy tight end, especially in the red zone, and he plays more snaps and runs more routes than Howard. Howard struggles to be anything more than the No. 5 target behind Evans, Jackson, Godwin and Brate.
  • Bottom line: I had Howard as a breakout candidate this season before Brate re-signed as a free agent. While Howard can still emerge as a No. 1 Fantasy tight end, it will be hard for him to have a dominant campaign if Brate is healthy. Howard is worth a late-round flier in all leagues, but you might have to be patient with him until he gets more chances to thrive ahead of Brate.

No. 23

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Jared Cook OAK • TE • 87
2017 stats
TAR86
REC54
YDS688
TD2
  • Chances of becoming a No. 1 tight end: 30%
  • What could go right: New Raiders coach Jon Gruden and offensive coordinator Greg Olson help Cook put together a standout campaign, and he's coming off a season where he set career highs in catches with 54. There are a lot of mouths to feed in Oakland's offense, but Cook could be Derek Carr's best option in the middle of the field.
  • What could go wrong: It's Jared Cook. Every time we expect big things from him he disappoints us, which could be the case again this year. The Raiders also have plenty of targets with Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant, and he could again finish with five touchdowns or less, which has happened in every year of his career.
  • Bottom line: Not many Fantasy owners are going to draft Cook as a No. 1 option, but he could be a waiver wire addition during the season. If Gruden and Olson lean on Cook, he could have a breakout campaign, but he has to prove himself first and remain consistent throughout the year.

No. 24

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Vance McDonald PIT • TE • 89
2017 stats - 10 games
TAR24
REC14
YDS188
TD1
  • Chances of becoming a No. 1 tight end: 30% 
  • What could go right: He picks up where last season left off when he had a standout performance for the Steelers in their playoff loss against Jacksonville with 10 catches for 112 yards on 16 targets, which led the team. McDonald proves better than Jesse James and comes in No. 4 in targets for Pittsburgh behind Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Le'Veon Bell.
  • What could go wrong: James takes away production and playing time from McDonald, and he continues to struggle with injuries since he's played only 22 games over the past two seasons. He gets lost on a weekly basis because of all the talent in the Steelers passing game.
  • Bottom line: McDonald has a ton of potential in this offense, but there are a ton of mouths to feed as well. It was great to see his performance in the playoff game against the Jaguars, and hopefully that's a sign of things to come. Like most of the tight ends in this range, however, he's not worth drafting, but he could be a good waiver wire addition if he stays healthy.

No. 25

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Mike Gesicki MIA • TE • 86
2017 stats at Penn State
REC57
YDS563
TD9
  • Chances of becoming a No. 1 tight end: 25%
  • What could go right: Gesicki steps up in Adam Gase's offense and becomes a featured option, especially with the Dolphins needing to replace plenty of production with Jarvis Landry gone. He also proves better than fellow rookie tight end Durham Smythe.
  • What could go wrong: He plays like a rookie tight end and doesn't produce at a high level, and he also gets lost in terms of targets behind Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker, Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson. He also falls behind Smythe and potentially MarQueis Gray or A.J. Derby on the tight end depth chart.
  • Bottom line: Gesicki could be a perfect fit for Gase, which could lead to plenty of Fantasy production. Gase has been looking for a capable tight end since becoming Miami's coach, and he's failed with guys like Jordan Cameron and Julius Thomas the past two years. Gesicki will hopefully change that, and he's worth a late-round flier in all formats.

No. 26

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Jake Butt DEN • TE • 80
2016 stats at Michigan
REC46
YDS546
TD4
  • Chances of becoming a No. 1 tight end: 25%
  • What could go right: Butt was a top prospect heading into the 2017 NFL Draft before he suffered a torn ACL in the Orange Bowl that season. But all the offseason reports on Butt have been promising, and the Broncos expect him to be their No. 1 tight end.
  • What could go wrong: Butt continues to struggle with his knee, and he has rookie woes since this will be his first NFL season. He never regains his form prior to the injury, and the Broncos don't feature Butt in the offense.
  • Bottom line: Butt is one of my favorite late-round fliers in deeper leagues, and I own plenty of shares of him in dynasty leagues. The Broncos are excited about his progress, and Butt could emerge as a No. 1 option this year. He's definitely someone to monitor on the waiver wire.

No. 27

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Austin Hooper ATL • TE • 81
2017 stats
TAR65
REC49
YDS526
TD3
  • Chances of becoming a No. 1 tight end: 20%
  • What could go right: Hooper is hoping to make a third-year leap, and his production has increased from Year 1 to Year 2, so that trend could continue. He started strong in 2017 with an average of 9.0 Fantasy points per game in PPR scoring through Week 10, and hopefully he can be that consistent for 16 games. 
  • What could go wrong: The Falcons added a significant piece to their offense this offseason with Calvin Ridley joining Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu, which could make it hard for Hooper to see an increase in targets. After his strong start, Hooper averaged just 3.2 PPR points in his final seven outings.
  • Bottom line: Hooper might not develop into a star Fantasy tight end, but he could be in the mold of Rudolph where his production is steady and worthy of being a weekly low-end starter. While we don't recommend drafting Hooper in most leagues, he could be a waiver-wire addition during the season.

No. 28

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Blake Jarwin DAL • TE • 89
2017 stats - 1 game
TAR0
REC0
YDS0
TD0
  • Chances of becoming a No. 1 tight end: 20%
  • What could go right: Jarwin becomes the Jason Witten replacement after he retired this offseason, and the Cowboys have to replace 87 targets for 63 catches, 560 yards and five touchdowns with Witten gone. The Dallas Morning News reported this week that Jarwin has seen regular targets from quarterback Dak Prescott this offseason.
  • What could go wrong: Jarwin didn't get any targets in his one game last season after he signed with Dallas as an undrafted rookie free agent from Oklahoma State, and his inexperience shows. He also could fall behind Geoff Swaim, rookie Dalton Schultz and Rico Gathers on the tight end depth chart for the Cowboys.
  • Bottom line: Like Butt, Jarwin has the chance for a big role this season given how Prescott has used Witten the past two years. Jarwin has to prove he's better than Swaim, Schwartz and Gathers, but the potential is there. He's someone to monitor off the waiver wire if he goes undrafted this year.

No. 29

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Ed Dickson SEA • TE • 84
2017 stats in Carolina
TAR47
REC30
YDS437
TD1
  • Chances of becoming a No. 1 tight end: 20%
  • What could go right: Dickson steps into the role of Graham, who signed as a free agent with the Packers. Graham had 57 catches for 520 yards and a team-leading 10 touchdowns last year for Seattle. Luke Willson is also gone for the Seahawks, and he had another four touchdowns in 2017.
  • What could go wrong: Instead of becoming a featured part of the offense for Seattle, Dickson proves to be just a blocker and complementary piece of the offense. He plays more like Willson and less like Graham.
  • Bottom line: There is a lot of production gone from Seattle's passing game with Graham, Willson and Paul Richardson on other teams, and that trio combined for 20 touchdowns. While Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett and Brandon Marshall, among others, will help pick up the slack, Dickson could be viable for Fantasy owners if he becomes a red-zone threat.

No. 30

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Vernon Davis WAS • TE • 85
2017 stats
TAR69
REC43
YDS648
TD3
  • Chances of becoming a No. 1 tight end: 20%
  • What could go right: Reed continues to struggle with injuries (he's missed 14 games over the past two seasons), and Davis remains the No. 1 tight end in Washington. New quarterback Alex Smith leans on Davis even in two tight-end sets.
  • What could go wrong: Reed plays the majority of the season, and Davis stays in a secondary role. His Fantasy value is tied to how much Reed plays.
  • Bottom line: Davis is the ultimate tight-end handcuff. Davis has caught 87 passes for 1,231 yards and five touchdowns over the past two seasons with Reed banged up, and he's worth a look in deeper leagues if Reed remains injured coming into training camp. Should Reed get hurt during the season, Davis would be a popular waiver-wire addition in all formats.
Senior Fantasy Writer

Jamey Eisenberg has been a Senior Fantasy Writer for CBS Sports since 2006 with a focus on Fantasy Football. A University of Florida grad (class of '98), Jamey got his start in the newspaper business and... Full Bio

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