This post comes from Justin Becker of FantasyFootballOverdose.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NFLRankingsor theFantasy Football Overdose Google+ Page, and for more2014 Fantasy Football Rankings visit Fantasy Football Overdose, afantasy football blog.
The Arizona Cardinals had high hopes for the tight end position in 2013. Carson Palmer was shipped over from the Oakland Raiders in a trade and the young and athletic Rob Housler appeared to be ascending after a solid 2012 showing.
Despite some pretty horrid quarterback play, Housler still somehow managed to reel in 45 catches for 417 receiving yards. He didn’t do much after the catch and didn’t score a single touchdown, but simply securing passes and getting first downs was a big deal on a team loaded with awful quarterbacks. Truly, the guy did the best he could.
Needless to say, looking at his sweet size/speed combo, there was a lot of upside heading into the 2013 fantasy football season. Palmer’s part of Housler’s development stemmed from his clear love for Brandon Myers in Oakland, who he force fed 79 receptions to with the Raiders.
Considering Myers is an inferior talent to Housler, the writing seemed to be on the way for Housler to break out. Naturally, Housler entered 2013 as a true fantasy sleeper at the position, right up there with Zach Sudfeld and Jordan Cameron.
Cameron blew up, Sudfeld was a bust and Housler was just somewhere in the middle. He struggled to stay healthy early, and through the first five weeks had just two receptions to his name. He did end up picking things up a bit eventually and had a nice seven-catch game in week seven, but overall didn’t meet expectations in the least.
Looking back, part of that had to do with head coach Bruce Arians’ offensive system not really utilizing tight ends. We’ve seen some very nice seasons out of Heath Miller from when Arians was in Pittsburgh, but Arians himself has said the purpose of tight ends is "to block".
Add in injuries and natural inconsistency from being a young and fairly inexperienced player, and it wasn’t all that shocking that Housler regressed from 2012 to 2013.
With all that being said, 2014 brings a new season and a fresh start for Housler. At least that’s what the paper would tell you. The depth chart might end up saying otherwise, as the Cards also brought in John Carlson to push Housler and even drafted stud Notre Dame tight end Troy Niklas to be the future starter at the position.
So, does Niklas take over now, is Housler still the guy, or does the odd man Carlson come in and crush it? Or what are the chances Arians really just does hate tight ends with a passion and none of these guys catches more than 20 passes?
To figure that out, we need to fully understand Arians and his take on tight ends. I don’t think it’s so much that he won’t use a tight end, but he does think the tight end’s main mission is for blocking purposes. Heath Miller is a terrific blocker, so naturally he is on the field a ton. When plays break down or the Steelers are near the red-zone, then he’ll get his number called a little more.
Housler isn’t a great blocker. He’s an athletic, fluid pass catcher, but if he’s not laying good blocks and also being consistent as a receiver (which he hasn’t been), it’s really hard to buy into him.
Carlson is pretty much the same guy. He’s not a horrible blocker, but he’s not really an asset to the running game. He’s another fluid tight end who runs good routes and can make plays in traffic. Unlike Housler, however, he’s a much more reliable target and he’s actually had some solid success in his career. He alone won’t be the end of Housler, but at this point he’s just an older version that Arizona might prefer if Housler can’t get it going.
Niklas is the death of both of these guys. I think Carlson can stick as that second tight end if he can avoid concussions (which he’s had issues with in the past), but Niklas is a very good run-blocker and is about as balanced as rookie tight ends come.
Like these two guys, he’s also a very gifted receiver who has above average speed and athleticism for the position. In other words, he’s already better than both of them and is a true asset to the running game. Arians already loves the kid and will do everything he can to get him on the field early and often.
Niklas first needs to recover from a sports hernia surgery, but when he does he figures to be the best bet to start and stay starting. He’s the complete package and he’s also the future of the position.
While Niklas sounds awesome, his talent serves more of a "team first" purpose right now. Rookie tight ends don’t tend to light the NFL afire, and that’s going to be even less likely in a vertical offensive system that doesn’t really cater to tight ends. Throw in two other capable pass catchers at his position, and even a starting Niklas still has some competition for big time stats.
It just doesn’t look like we’ll be getting a stud TE1 out of the Cardinals in fantasy football this year. The only way it happens is if Niklas is indeed the number one tight end out of the gates and stays completely healthy, while Housler and Carlson aren’t used much.
Even if that happens, Niklas is still probably only looking at the type of production we saw out of Tyler Eifert in Cincinnati last year. The sad part is he split time with Jermaine Gresham in a fairly pass-heavy system with the Bengals and still caught just 39 balls and two touchdowns.
Eventually Arians will see how good Niklas is and make him a bigger part of the offense. As a rookie, though, he’ll mostly block and only be targeted as needed. Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Andre Ellington are far and away the top three options in Arizona’s passing game. A fourth option at the absolute best, Niklas is likely stuck as a middling TE2 as a rookie. Carlson and Housler likely have worse fates.