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What to expect as an encore for '10 rookie tight ends

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By Kevin Fishbain

In the passing league that is today's NFL, the tight end has become a huge weapon for teams that have legitimate pass catchers at the position. And a tight end's ability to be a favorite target near the goal line can help fantasy teams greatly.

In 2010, a handful of rookie tight ends emerged on the scene, continuing the trend of athletic, pass-catching tight ends being involved in offenses.

Owners would be in a good position if the following second-year receivers improved upon their rookie campaigns. Although, if some of them stood on their '10 stats, that still makes them legitimate starting tight ends in fantasy. Here's a look at last year's rookies and what to expect as an encore from them in ’11.

1. Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski

'Gronk' has great size at 6-foot-6 and was one of Tom Brady's favorite targets in the red zone on an offense with plenty of weapons. He started the season off slow, but after a 5-72-3 receiving performance against the Steelers, he finished strong. The Pats' offense will be similar in 2011 and Gronkowski figures to be a big part of it. His ability to block allows him to be on the field more often than not. Scoring 10 touchdowns again might be a stretch, but his receiving numbers should be similar in '11.

2. Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez

Speedier and more versatile than Gronkowski, Hernandez sometimes made you think he should be WR-eligible in fantasy. Hernandez lined up all over the field — in the slot, at H-back and on the line. He has good after-the-catch abilities and was targeted near the goal line more often as the season went on. Like Gronkowski, he should be a main component of New England's offense and has potential to serve as a deep threat for the Pats. He would have had more than 600 receiving yards if it wasn't for a bad hip, so that total is a realistic expectation in 2011.

3. Chiefs TE Tony Moeaki

In the first few games, Moeaki was one of the receiving leaders for the Chiefs before Dwayne Bowe turned it on. He didn't score as often as you'd like a No. 1 tight end to score but is valuable in PPR leagues. Moeaki will need to be more consistent in 2011 — he had three games with only one catch during his rookie campaign. The Chiefs' added rookie WR Jonathan Baldwin and veteran Steve Breaston to the receiving corps to help Bowe, but Moeaki could benefit as well.

4. Bengals TE Jermaine Gresham

The first-round draft pick was expected to be the head of his rookie tight end class. That's not to say Gresham didn't play well his rookie season — totaling 52-471-4 receiving for a struggling team is nothing to ignore. But he didn't have the numbers of his counterparts. With Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco and Carson Palmer all gone from Cincinnati, Gresham is in an interesting fantasy position for 2011. Having rookie QB Andy Dalton or Bruce Gradkowski as the starter could decrease Gresham's stock, but he would have less red-zone weapons around to take potential touchdown catches away. Gresham is a risky pick as a starting tight end, but keep an eye on him as the season goes along.

5. Saints TE Jimmy Graham

A surprising 31-356-5 season from the third-round pick made it an easy decision for the Saints to part ways with veteran TE Jeremy Shockey. Of all the tight ends on this list, Graham is primed for the best sophomore season. He will be the main tight end in an explosive offense with Drew Brees at the helm. Expect increases across the board for Graham. He might not be the most talented in this group but is in the best situation fantasy-wise.

The rest:

Packers TE Andrew Quarless had a solid 21-238-1 receiving season, but that was mainly because of injuries to Jermichael Finley and Donald Lee. Don't expect big numbers from him in 2011. … Ravens TE Ed Dickson was a solid complement to Todd Heap in Baltimore. With Heap now in Arizona, the team could look to get Dickson more involved. He should improve in 2011, but is not fantasy material yet. … Rams TE Michael Hoomanawanui has the craziest name of the bunch. In eight games he hauled in three TD catches, but is in a TE logjam in St. Louis, a team that drafted pass-catching TE Lance Kendricks. He still could get his share of looks near the goal line, though.

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