As I sat down to write what will be the 12th article in this Fantasy Worthiness series, it occurred to me that there has yet to be a player from the tight end position evaluated. So, in examining the list of intriguing tight end fantasy options for 2012, my eye was immediately drawn to the enigmatic Martellus Bennett . The Dallas Cowboys selected Bennett, who played his college football at Texas A&M, in the 2nd round of the 2008 NFL Draft with the 61st overall pick. Owner Jerry Jones envisioned the 6'6", 265lbs tight end not just as a back up to Jason Witten , but to "add a new dimension" as part of a two tight end offense. The 2008 season would see Bennett start slowly, he would struggle to grasp the offense during training camp (this struggle was well documented in the "Hard Knocks" series) and he would have only 3 receptions for 57 yards through the seasons first six weeks. In the week seven Cowboys loss to the St Louis Ram, Bennett would score his first NFL touchdown, as well as have his first game where he caught more than a single pass. He finished the game with 2 receptions for 67 yards and the 34-yard touchdown pass from Brad Johnson. While his production would increase over the second half of the 2008 season, Bennett would end the year with only 20 receptions, for a total of 283 yards. The 4 touchdowns he would register as a rookie were an encouraging sign that perhaps Jerry Jones and his Cowboys would indeed have their two tight end offense after all.
Unfortunately for the Cowboys, as well as Bennett, he has not caught another touchdown since posting the 4 he had as a rookie back in 2008. Since the beginning of the 2009 season, Bennett has struggled with multiple injury issues including rib, hamstring and ankle problems while compiling a career mark of 85 receptions, 846 yards and 4 touchdowns. He became known more for some outrageous comments, such as suggesting that Jon Kitna should be given a shot to unseat Tony Romo as the starting quarterback after Kitna had filled in for the injured Romo during the 2010 season. After another injury riddled, unproductive season in 2011 for Dallas, Martellus Bennett would be allowed to leave the team via free agency. He would not be on the open market for long, as the New York Giants had lost their top 2 tight ends to ACL injuries during the Super Bowl and were in desperate need of help at the position. On March 14th 2012, Bennett signed a one-year, 2.5 million contract with the Cowboys NFC East Division rival New York Giants. He would finally be out from under the shadow of perennial Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten and have the opportunity to be a number one tight end in the NFL.
There has never been any doubt as to the athletic ability of Martellus Bennett, he actually played two seasons of college basketball while at Texas A&M before deciding to concentrate solely on football in 2007. He is only 25 years old and it can be argued that his best football lies ahead of him and the change of scenery is just what he needs. Former Dallas teammate Witten spoke about Bennett's future in New York, " I think he fits that offense in a lot of ways." Witten said, " I think his confidence was probably shaken a little bit in Dallas. Few plays, his numbers were limited, so I'm sure that's a part of it. He's a good blocker, he's a good underneath route runner, he's big so he can catch the ball. I think, more than anything, getting his confidence back and getting a fresh start will do a lot for his career. Definitely a lot of upside." It has been the failure to reach that 'upside' that Witten spoke about that has kept Bennett from fulfilling on the potential he flashed as a rookie.
There is little doubt that Bennett possesses the tools and physical talent to be a dominant tight end, not only in the NFL but in fantasy football as well. He has the speed to run past linebackers, can make the tough catch away from his body and utilize his size and strength to be able to create mismatches against defensive backs. He compares favorably in size and stature to the best tight ends in the game and has improved his blocking skills since entering the league and is no longer a liability on the field for rushing downs. The questions surrounding Bennett have never been about his physical ability to play the game but in his mental make up and commitment necessary to be successful at the NFL level.
Throughout his time in Dallas there were concerns about the level of focus, determination and the work ethic that Bennett was bringing to the table. Now that he is the potential starting tight end for the New York Giants he will need to silence his critics with his play on the field. In classic Martellus Bennett form, he would begin his tenure in New York by showing up for OTAs at over 290lbs, miss valuable time on the field with hamstring issues and start the questioning of his work habits all over again. Bennett maintains that the weight gain is by design and he has been "beasting" in his off-season workouts sine January. In a recent exchange with reporters that Terrell Owens would have been proud of, a shirtless Bennett addressed his conditioning, " I mean there's this perception about me that I don't work hard, but if you ask any of the coaches, any of the guys on this team in the off season program, I haven't missed a day." Bennett would go on to say, " I haven't stepped out of one workout or anything. My body fat percent is like 13. By the time the season comes I'll be at nine percent body fat." Not everyone in New York is on board with the sudden weight increase and tight ends coach Mike Pope has stated, "That's probably a little too big for his legs to carry." Not exactly an ideal beginning to the Martellus Bennett era in New York, which is a shame because he is in a prime position for a fantasy break out season.
Evaluating the fantasy potential of Bennett for 2012 really comes down to how badly does he want to succeed and how hard is he willing to work to succeed, as the starting tight end position in New York is his to lose. The Giants recently tried to slip the injured Jake Ballard through the waiver wire, only to have the New England Patriots swoop in and claim him. Travis Beckum has begun straight line running, but is still a candidate to start the season on the PUP list. That leaves journeyman Bear Pascoe and rookie developmental project Adrien Robinson as the only other viable tight end options on the Giants roster. New York does not employ the tight end position as heavily as many other teams, they ranked 18th in fantasy scoring at the tight end position last year, but Eli Manning does like to have a reliable option over the middle. In 2011, New York tight ends were targeted 17 times in the red zone, registering 8 receptions, 60 yards and 4 touchdowns with Jake Ballard hauling in all the catches and scores. Ballard would finish the 2011 season as the 17th ranked fantasy tight end with 38 receptions, 604 yards and 4 touchdowns, while being targeted 73 times. There is top 15-fantasy production to be had from the tight end position for the New York Giants for whoever emerges as the number one tight end and Bennett is the leading candidate for that role.
The 2012 season is a make it or break it year for Martellus Bennett and he is currently ranked in the #22 fantasy tight end range with huge upside. He must get his weight to a manageable level and make it through training camp and the preseason injury free to finally fulfill on his potential. I am going to go out on a bit of a limb here and say that he will have a healthy, fantasy productive season, making him WORTHY of being selected in 12 team fantasy formats for the 2012 season.