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This isn't just the year of the quarterback; it's also the year of the tight end.
Week 15 was a record-setting week for one tight end in particular: Rob Gronkowski, who set a single-season mark for touchdowns by a tight end, with his 14th. (He would add his 15th later in the game.) In doing so, he also set a modern (post-1950) single-season record: most fantasy points by any tight end, breaking Todd Christensen's 28-year-old record (190, in 1983).
Gronkowski finds himself on pace for 245 fantasy points, a number that, in fact, would place him among the top 10 receivers since 1950 -- including wide receivers in the mix. Heck, he's putting up wide receiver-like touchdown numbers; he's two scores shy of a share of fifth place on the list of single-season receiving touchdowns, three shy of third and eight shy of Randy Moss's record (23, in 2007).
Look at Gronkowski's Consistency Ratings numbers and it's clear that, in addition to having taken over the No. 1 spot at his position for the foreseeable future, he'll warrant early-round consideration -- perhaps as early as the third round -- in 2012. He's seventh overall in overall Consistency Rating (84.6 percent), has turned in the third-most Stud performances (8), has the fifth-best Stack score (103.1) and his VBD (Value Based Drafting score) ranks fifth (129).
His NFL statstics back it up: He's 17th in the league in targets (99), tied for first in red zone targets (22) and sixth in end zone targets (15), per ESPN Stats & Information, the latter two easily tops on the New England Patriots. This is one of the league's most lethal scoring threats, and as we always say in this game, touchdowns drive fantasy football scoring.
Gronkowski isn't the only tight end thriving. Jimmy Graham, who in the first half of the season held the honor of No. 1 tight end in fantasy, has a shot at exceeding Christensen's mark; he's on pace for 186 points.
Like Gronkowski, Graham has actually elevated his performance to the point where, yes, he too can win you a playoff matchup on his own. He's tied with Gronkowski with an 84.6 percent Consistency Rating, has had the sixth-most Stud performances (7), has the 16th-best Stack score among skill positions (59.0) and his VBD ranks 17th (81).
Examining Graham's NFL numbers, he's third in the league in targets (121), fourth in red zone targets and 10th in end zone targets (11). He's not quite as involved up close as Gronkowski, but he still ranks among the game's top options. There's a chance he might go within only a handful of spots after Gronkowski in 2012 drafts; he might be picked as early as the fourth round.
Heck, tight ends as a whole have been getting a remarkable number of looks in the red zone or at the goal line. Four tight ends rank among the top 10 in red-zone targets: Tony Gonzalez (19, sixth) and Aaron Hernandez (18, ninth) are the other two. Five rank among the top 18 in end zone targets: Brandon Pettigrew (12, ninth), Jermichael Finley (10, 14th) and Hernandez (10, 14th) are the other three.
Which brings us to Pettigrew, who, judging by his increased usage, especially near the goal line, might yet develop into 2012's breakout fantasy tight end.
Consider that Pettigrew ranks 32nd in the NFL in targets (85), 21st in red zone targets (13) and, as mentioned above, ninth in end zone targets (12). And as the game continues to shift its attention toward the tight end, plus Pettigrew's own status on a pass-heavy offense, perhaps those numbers will only increase next year.
Keep that in mind if you're a keeper-league team out of the playoff race.
Each position has two charts below: One for 2011 statistics alone, and one for the past 34 NFL weeks (Week 15 of 2009 through Week 14 of 2011). All categories are sortable both ascending and descending; just click on the headers to sort.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.