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As Antonio Gates was en route to becoming a superstar tight end, much was made of his experience as a basketball player at Kent State. During his best years, his height, athleticism and long arms have not disappointed, and this year, a second-year TE with a hoops pedigree and similar dimensions is much-hyped fantasy candidate.
At 6'6", 260 lbs, the Saints' Jimmy Graham is actually two inches taller than Gates at the same weight. He played basketball at Miami University through his junior year (where he was listed at 6'8", but we all know Miami can't be trusted), then joined the football team and got just enough experience to get drafted in 2010 by New Orleans. Last year, he was something of a late-season surprise, catching five TDs, including four in the last three games.
Now, Graham is looking like the second coming of Gates, or Jason Witten or Dallas Clark. He is looking like what Jermichael Finley was supposed to be last year - a TE who can be a No. 1 receiver.
Here's my top 20 TEs:
1) Jason Witten, Dallas: Most people would still take Gates first, but Witten led TEs in fantasy points last year, and was the only one to collect 1,000 receiving yards (1,002).
2) Antonio Gates, San Diego: He's lost a step, and a few yards along the way, though he should still be among the TD leaders at this position.
3) Jermichael Finley, Green Bay: High expectation last year collapsed with a season-ending injury. He could challenge Greg Jennings as the Pack's top receiver, at least inside 40 yards.
4) Dallas Clark, Indianapolis: The questions about Peyton Manning's health are cause for concern, but like Finley, he should be his team's top mid-distance threat.
5) Jimmy Graham, New Orleans: The hype machine may have pushed him up a notch in the last 24 hours. Just the other day, I took Owen Daniels ahead of Graham and immediately regretted it.
6) Owen Daniels, Houston: Last season he returned from injury and was so-so, mainly because his QB, Matt Schaub, was wildly inconsistent. Maybe the No. 2 receiver now after Andre Johnson.
7) Vernon Davis, San Francisco: Talented, but it's hard to trust the 49ers to get him the ball enough.
8) Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit: The secret weapon on a loaded offense, he should get his share of catches and scores from QB Matthew Stafford.
9) Kellen Winslow, Tampa: Another great young QB feeding him in Josh Freeman, but his numbers were down slightly last season.
10) Mercedes Lewis, Jacksonville: A surprise last year with 10 TDs, and while the Jags don't have many threats, Lewis is one of them.
11) Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta: Has started to fade into the margins a bit on another team loaded with targets. Could it be the final season for the modern TE prototype?
12) Greg Olsen, Carolina: His stock has been rising in a system directed by his college coach, but his year could go either way if Cam Newton starts at QB.
13) Dustin Keller, NY Jets: QB Mark Sanchez will be better, and he and Keller already were on the same page.
14) Rob Gronkowski, New England: Hard to know which Pats TE to take, but this is the one that had double-digit TDs last season.
15) Aaron Hernandez, New England: This one had more yardage last season, but you have to wonder if new WR Chad Ochocino steals a few catches.
16) Visanthe Shiancoe, Minnesota: Should have been a star last year and was sunk by QB mess. Will he improve with Donovan McNabb taking snaps?
17) Todd Heap. Arizona: vet could see his stock jump in the opening weeks if he makes a connection with new QB Kevin Kolb.
18) Brent Celek, Philadelphia: Is there room for him on the super-squad? He should do pretty well just taking the table scraps.
19) Heath Miller, Pittsburgh: Slid from the elite TE crowd last year and may continue that slide this year.
20) Lance Kendricks, St. Louis: The rookie could make impact on an exciting team without a real star receiver.
* Yahoo! Roto Arcade says a sharp preseason has helped Washington RB Tim Hightower.
* Windy City Gridiron likes Cleveland QB Colt McCoy as a sleeper pick. We'll call it a deep sleeper, but the potential is definitely there.
* Bleacher Report picks Stars Guaranteed To Fail - and Matt Forte makes the list. But the bigger surprise might be Peyton Manning at No. 1.
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