If your like me you feel that to spend a 2nd round pick on a TE is ridiculous.  To forgo a top notch RB or WR to reach for either Jimmy Grahm or Rob Gronkowski with you second pick is not a smart move.  Graham and Gronk are definitely head and shoulders above their counterparts but the price to acquire their services is too high to pay especially when you  consider that for either player to even come close to repeating what they did last season will be incredibly hard to do.  But don’t worry thankfully there are quality TEs available in the middle rounds who can help your fantasy team to the playoffs.  In this entry I will try and list the next wave of players who have the best chance to produce in 2012.  (All points based on ESPN standard scoring)

3.  Antonio Gates:  Despite missing 3 contests in 2011 Gates still managed to rack up 778 yards for 7 touchdowns good enough for a 7th place finish in fantasy points (115) among TE’s.  Gates has lost a step and is a big injury risk as he has missed 9 games in the past 2 seasons, but the man can still produce when hes on the field.  8 of the 13 games played last season he had 7 or more points while going double digits in 6 contests.  Gates has always been Rivers’ favorite target and should get enough looks to post solid numbers yet again.  Gates has reportedly looked to drop some weight this season which hopefully can help him stay on the field more this season.  If he does he can challenge Graham and Gronk to take back the crown as leagues top TE.  If you do draft Gates I would recommend drafting someone like Brent Celek or Jermaine Gresham as security in the last few rounds of your draft.

4.  Aaron Hernandez:  Despite missing 2 games and playing in the shadow of Rob Gronkowski, Hernandez posted great numbers with 910 yards and 7 touchdowns placing 3rd in fantasy points among TEs.  If you were to prorate his numbers to a full season he would have accumulated 1,040 yards and 8 touchdowns.  He is also a very versatile player who can be used on the line of scrimmage, split out wide and even in the backfield making him a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses. The addition of Brandon Lloyd give the patriots a great deep threat who can stretch the field leaving the middle open for Hernandez.  The Patriots have a lot of mouths to feed but Brady has enough talent to make Hernandez a viable starting TE again this season.

5.  Jason Witten:  In my opinion Jason Witten is the absolute safest pick you can make at he TE position.  Since 2004 Jason Witten has NEVER MISSED A GAME (128 games in that span).  Each season in that span he has had at least 750 yards, has had 900 plus yards in 6 of those seasons and 1000 plus yards in 3 seasons.  Last season he posted 942 yards and 5 touchdowns earning him a 6th place finish in fantasy points among TEs.  He is one of Romo’s favorite targets and with Miles Austin and Dez Bryant drawing coverage, Witten should remain among the leagues elite TEs.

6.  Vernon Davis: Davis has not missed a game in the past 4 seasons and has averaged 890 yards and 8.7 touchdowns the past 3.  To say that Davis was inconsistent last season would be an understatement as he had 7 games with double digit fantasy points while scoring 5 or less in the rest of his contests.  So that fact makes him a  risky pick but the upside is there to warrant the ranking.  The additions of Moss, Manningham, and Jenkins to the roster will add something Davis has inherently lacked…other players defenses have to account for.  This should help draw some of the coverage away from  Davis and help him gain some consistency this season making him an appealing TE in the middle rounds.

7.  Jermichael Finley:  Entering last season Finley was touted widely as a player who was poised to breakout.  In his defense his 767 yards and 8 touchdowns is nothing to scoff at, but I feel his expectations were too high.  Finley should look to improve on the drops he had last season (11) and post better numbers across the board.  He is playing with the leagues best QB and is clearly the 3rd best receiving option on the team outside of Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson.  Finley had 4 games with double digit fantasy points but also scored 6 or less in 9 games.  Still things are looking better for Finley and as I said he should do better this year.

So there you have it my 2nd wave of talented TEs.  Anyone of these players would be a great option as your starting TE this year in fantasy and are all better “values” than picking Graham or Gronk in the 2nd or 3rd round.  After these players the TE position sees a clear drop off in talent but that is not to say there are not other good fantasy options out there.  However these are the 5 players who I think have the most talent and upside out of the top 2.  As always comments are encouraged.