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News » Impact analysis: Heap should rebound

Impact analysis: Heap should rebound

Impact analysis: Heap should rebound
Many will think KFFL's editors are "homers" when it comes to Ravens tight end Todd Heap.

It's not like he's been a consistent fantasy stud. He played in only six games in 2007 and only six more in 2004, sandwiching in two decent seasons in between. Injury prone comes to mind when you think of Heap's recent play. He posted two better than average years in 2005 and 2006. The talent is there.

When healthy, he's not a bad choice at all. We will take the following from a low midround tight end any day of the week: 68 receptions, 787 yards and six touchdowns.

You don't need the top tight end in the league to be an above-average fantasy team. You want a productive tight end. He is productive, performing in both point-per-reception and non-PPR leagues.

Which tight ends are being drafted ahead of him? Heap's value is dropping as the offseason wears on. He's being drafted on average with the 98th overall pick. That is the early ninth round in a 12-team league.

To grab a tight end like Heap that late is possibly good value; he is even a potential steal. Heap is proven, but there's no doubt some will believe he's going where he should be, and with good reason. Outside the 49ers' Vernon Davis, one can make arguments for taking any of the tight ends (Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, Kellen Winslow, Tony Gonzalez, Dallas Clark, Chris Cooley, Jeremy Shockey and Davis) who currently go ahead of Heap. Remember, what makes Heap unique from Davis is his experience, his role in the offense and a new offensive coordinator that favors the position.

Pros and cons

Injury history: Heap hasn't been the model of health. He has missed 21.4 percent of his games in his career and missed 31.2 percent of the games over the last four years. He's frustrated with this and decided to begin his offseason training immediately. This ranged from rehabilitation to studying film of the Chargers to see how new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron used the position. That's the best you can hope for - a player takes the injury seriously and wants to come back at 150 percent!

Quarterback issues: Many believe this will pose a problem, but that is not necessarily true. Look at the following; the Ravens have fielded the following quarterbacks:

2007: Kyle Boller and Steve McNair - No. 23 in passing offense
2006: Steve McNair - No. 11 in passing offense
2005: Kyle Boller and Anthony Wright - No. 22 in passing offense
2004: Kyle Boller - No. 31 in passing offense

Heap's best years out of the last four came when the offense ranked No. 11 and No. 22. Perhaps it's not enough information to come up with a true answer, but Heap needs just a "capable enough" quarterback to have fantasy success, especially considering he posted better numbers in 2005 than he did in 2006. Granted, some of that is because of the play of the wide receivers, but let's not forget Heap is what we would view as the Ravens' equivalence of a possession receiver. He's arguably the team's most reliable receiving option. That means the quarterback will look for him more often than not, especially in crucial times as a checkdown receiver or when the team needs a first down. Even in the red zone, he's a target.

2007: (six games): five red zone plays; three plays inside the 5.
2006: 16 red zone plays; five plays inside the 5
2005: 16 red zone plays; three plays inside the 5
2004: (six games): nine red zone plays; one play inside the 5

New offensive coordinator Cam Cameron: We don't believe this will be a problem at all. In fact, Cameron, the coordinator who made Gates a fantasy superstar, has history in helping quarterbacks: Jim Harbaugh, Antwaan Randle El (college), Drew Brees and recently Philip Rivers. Let's not forget, Cameron did a notable job in bringing a perennial backup in Gus Frerotte into some prominence when they were together with the Redskins. That's stretching it a bit, but Frerotte's best years were in Washington from 1995-97. Theoretically, the quarterbacks in Baltimore are better off today than they were with the previous regime.

Cameron also uses the tight end position, and when he was the offensive coordinator for the Chargers from 2002-06, the tight end position led all receivers from 2004-06, three seasons. This all happened once Cameron discovered and knew what he had in Gates. Gates' three-year average was: 80 receptions, 996 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns.

Cameron then went to the Dolphins as the head coach, where his top two tight ends were David Martin and Justin Peelle. Those two are arguably third- and fourth-tier fantasy players, who combined to post: 63 receptions, 531 yards and four touchdowns.

That was with a 1-15 season with multiple quarterbacks in Trent Green, Cleo Lemon and John Beck, as well as being a season in which their star running back (Ronnie Brown) went down after the first two months. We view that as promising for Heap to at least remain status quo with his numbers - a worst-case scenario for him. As bad as it was, the tight end position remained part of the offense.

There is a true con here; it comes from a great report by Mike Preston in The Baltimore Sun. We won't go through the quote, but in a nutshell Cameron stated he is focusing on the blocking role of the position. There was some speculation that Heap would be used like Gates. Cameron acknowledges Heap's versatility and intellect, but realizes he is not Gates. Cameron also believes the key to the tight end is not to forget he is a blocker first and a receiver second.

This may simply be coach speak. Gates' biggest knock, outside having to learn the position on the fly, was and has always been his blocking, as it is for most receiving tight ends. Cameron may merely be setting his standards, and once Heap shows his blocking ability you'll see him get his on the receiving end.

Offensive line issues: This is a concern, especially with the retirement of left tackle Jonathan Ogden causing another weakening of the line. This is not a great line; you add Cameron's statements about the tight ends being blockers first and it's fully expected that Heap will be staying in a lot to block. However, Cameron will go to the tight end position regardless.

Fantasy football outlook

Regardless of the quarterback under center, Heap should get his as a weak No. 1 option for fantasy owners. As long as he can remain on the field, expect a strong showing. His upside is negligible in comparison to someone like Browns tight end Kellen Winslow. A down year in 2007 should lead to many owners forgetting who Heap is and what he can bring to your fantasy team, though. Look for him no earlier than the middle of the eighth round and consider him a bargain after the ninth in a standard 12-team format. It might not be a bad idea for fantasy owners to target Heap considering the value they could get. However, the pick involves some risk and might require the selection of a quality backup. That's especially true in leagues with 16 rounds or more, where a second tight end is often standard fare.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: June 28, 2008

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