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Fantasy football: Tight ends not named Gronk you can rely on

When I started playing fantasy football — way back in 1996 — my league had a tight-end requirement. Owners only had to start a tight end for seven games. They could play one longer if they chose, or they could start a third wide receiver for half the season.

The position wasn’t very relevant. The top-ranked tight end that year, according to my old Pro Football Weekly annual, was the Patriots’ Ben Coates. He was coming off a year with 915 yards and six touchdowns. No. 2 was the Packers’ Mark Chmura, who had 679 yards and six touchdowns.

The position is more relevant than ever these days, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing for owners. Tight ends are coming out of the woodwork, and owners can’t possibly predict where they’re going to pop up.

Take Week 8, for example. The Falcons’ Jacob Tamme hadn’t broken 100 yards receiving since 2010, but he was the third-highest-scoring tight end with 103 yards and a touchdown (16 points). The Cardinals’ Troy Niklas, who entered the week with one catch for the season, caught two passes, and both went for touchdowns.

With surprises such as these, that tight-end requirement isn’t such a bad idea.

The Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski has and will continue to dominate the position, but there are other reliable point-producers. In other words, if your league had a tight-end requirement, you would want these guys every week.

Gary Barnidge, Browns: I’ve heard some refer to him as ‘‘Gary Barnkowski,’’ and why not? He has scored in double figures in six consecutive games (not even Gronk has done that), and his six touchdown catches are tied for second-most behind Gronkowski.

Tyler Eifert, Bengals: He also has six touchdowns, and he’s the only tight end with two games with 20-plus points. Eifert’s average of 11.8 points ranks second at the position behind Gronkowski (he missed one game with an injury).

Greg Olsen, Panthers: He’s the team’s best available receiver, and he’s the second-most targeted tight end in the league behind Gronkowski. Granted, Olsen has had games with one and two points, but he’s still third at the position in scoring.

Jordan Reed, Redskins: His success is dependent on two things: Kirk Cousins playing quarterback and Reed staying healthy. Cousins replaced Robert Griffin III long ago, and Reed returned from a concussion in Week 7 to score 19 points. Giddyup.

Benjamin Watson, Saints: He’s a latecomer to this list, but with 52 points in the last four games, he belongs here. Watson has a touchdown in three of the last four games and more than 100 yards in two of the last three. The Saints have come to life, and he has played a big part in that.

STOCK MARKET

RISING

RB David Cobb, Titans

Antonio Andrews carried the load Sunday, but Cobb is eligible to come off injured reserve this week. The rookie figures to get a chance soon enough.

WR Michael Crabtree, Raiders

He has been targeted eight times in all but one game this season, and he has made the most of it lately, totaling 28 points in the last two games.

FALLING

49ers

Blaine Gabbert has replaced Colin Kaepernick at quarterback. You shouldn’t have been starting any 49ers the last couple of weeks, and you shouldn’t start now.

RB Giovani Bernard, Bengals

He had one carry and two catches Sunday; Jeremy Hill had 15 carries and one catch. The Browns’ porous run defense could provide a spark, but only if Bernard gets the ball.

Follow me on Twitter @JeffreyA22.

Email: jagrest@suntimes.com