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Fantasy Football 2014: Five Breakout Tight Ends

Jordan Cameron was a major breakout candidate heading into the 2013 fantasy football season. He had the physical ability with an excellent size/speed combination for the tight end position, and he was also set up perfectly in a Norv Turner system that was historically tremendously tight end-friendly.

Cameron hit it big. When the fantasy season was all said and done, he finished as the #5 tight end performer. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only would-be breakout option. Other fantasy owners put guys like Zach Sudfeld, Rob Housler or Jared Cook higher on their list.

In retrospect — it was Cameron or bust, and we didn’t even know it…

That’s a bummer for the fantasy owners who didn’t pluck him off draft boards, but he was still a breakout candidate that met (nay, exceeded) expectations. That type of success is what keeps us coming back each year, hoping to uncover the next breakout gem before he takes the league by storm.

We’re back at it again to break down this year’s top-five breakout tight ends:

Jordan Reed (Washington Redskins)

Reed technically “broke out” last year as a rookie, but he did have half his season cut short due to concussion symptoms. That still leaves plenty of breaking out to do and in new head coach Jay Gruden’s pass-happy system, it could mean a more prolific season than we’re even targeting.

Reed was able to ‘drop’ 45 receptions, 499 yards and three touchdowns on the league in just nine games. His ninth game he didn’t even finish thanks to his concussion, so he was on a legitimate pace for 90 receptions, 1,000 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie. He seemed to only be getting more comfortable in the offense too, so that torrid pace wasn’t an aberration.

While DeSean Jackson has been added to the mix now, the new offense suggests Reed could still see quite a few targets on a weekly basis. Betting on 90 catches might be a bit much, but we should be hoping for 65-70 receptions and a solid yardage/touchdown jump. His breakout ability hinges more on his health than his role or ability at this point.

Kyle Rudolph (Minnesota Vikings)

Some will say Rudolph broke out back in 2012 when he scored nine touchdowns, but with Norv Turner and his vertical offense coming to Minny, it’s possible we haven’t seen anything yet. After all, Rudy caught a career high 53 balls that year and has yet to eclipse 500 receiving yards yet in his career. He probably isn’t going to come out and smash 10+ touchdowns over our heads, but he does possess practical red-zone attributes. An uptick in receptions, yardage and a good amount of touchdowns is in order here.

Rudolph is a brute with elite size and ball skills, while also possessing underrated athleticism. In this offense, he could put up mammoth numbers. He should already be on everyone’s radar, but he has legit top-five upside if everything breaks his way.

Zach Ertz (Philadelphia Eagles)

Ertz wasn’t a regular contributor to Philly’s sick offense until later in the year. However, it was his effort down the stretch that is a major reason for optimism heading into 2014. Ertz scored three touchdowns and hauled in 15 receptions over his final five contests, establishing a growing role due to his elite size/speed combination.

The Stanford alum came on fairly strong to close out the year as fantasy’s 19th best tight end. He’s only going to ascend in Philly’s offense, as DeSean Jackson leaves quite the hole now that he’s in Washington. The Eagles are excited to get the athletic tight end more involved, which could mean a bigger cut into Brent Celek’s targets. If that happens, Ertz should have a realistic shot at top-10 TE numbers.

Tyler Eifert (Cincinnati Bengals)

A shoulder issue has slowed down Eifert this offseason, but he should be right on pace to chip away at Jermaine Gresham’s targets (Gresham is dealing with an injury of his own, hernia surgery). That, combined with Eifert simply being the superior talent at age 23, should have the second-year tight end very much on the rise.

The Bengals figure to go a little more run-based with new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson calling the shots, but Eifert is too talented to not go to good use. He still isn’t a good bet to catch more than 50 balls with all the other competition around him (specifically Gresham), but his red-zone prowess could finally be felt in 2014. He’ll need to permanently leapfrog Gresham to have a realistic shot at top-10 stats, but he’s certainly a rising tight end to watch.

Ladarius Green (San Diego Chargers)

Is Antonio Gates MIA? For some reason Green is being drafted in fantasy mocks in about the 12th round, on average two rounds (or three spots) ahead of Gates. The veteran Gates remains the starter, and for now keeps Green’s potential curbed. But the ADP clearly shows that Green’s elite ability flashed a year ago is being taken seriously.

Green is arguably the most exciting player in this breakout list due to his immense ability, but he’s also one of the options we need to be patient with the hype. Green has elite athletic ability for the position and will surely be used more than last year (just 17 receptions). He can still produce a ton – even with limited touches — and is a legit red-zone threat. He’s more of a high upside TE2 right now, but if the Chargers are aiming to use more two-tight end sets he’ll be a guy worth salivating over.

This post comes from Justin Becker of FantasyFootballOverdose.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NFLRankings or the Fantasy Football Overdose Google+ Page, and for more 2014 Fantasy Football Projections visit Fantasy Football Overdose.

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