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Tight End Chinwag: A look at the past, present and future of the position.

Eleven years ago I joined my first ever salary cap league. It was a competitive league, and I may have been the most competitive owner of the 12 teams that threw buffets of money at players like Curtis Martin, Brett Favre and even Ed McCaffrey. However, I wasn’t as successful as I originally hoped to be when I first joined this particular league. Why? In short, my Achilles heel was always tight end, or lack thereof.

While the top two teams always seemed to have top-flight big boys like Tony Gonzalez and Wesley Walls, I always ended up with average pass-catchers like Troy Drayton and Stephen Alexander. The truth is that I never really believed in throwing the G-Ws at a position that was pretty much non-productive at the time. Instead, I waited until every team had a tight end and emptied all the quarters out of my fantasy pockets.

Over time, though, I learned that having Jason Witten or Antonio Gates actually gave me a huge advantage week in and week out, and ultimately saved me a lot of headaches. Why? Simple. I didn’t have to flip-flop between two average players trying to guess who was going to have the better week.

Now, heading in to 2010 I have my dollar bills ready for big spending, and so should you. But before we dive in to what fantasy owners should expect this 2010 season, let’s take a look at some past tight end facts.

From 1999-2001 just one tight end, Tony Gonzalez, recorded 1,000 yards in a single season (2000), and only two caught double-digit touchdown passes (Gonzalez – 11, Walls – 12 , both in 1999).

In 2002, just three tight ends (Jeremy Shockey, Todd Heap and Gonzalez) ranked amongst the Top 50 in receiving yardage; all three of which caught a combined 15 touchdown passes – Shockey recorded two touchdowns, Gonzalez had seven and Heap caught six.

In 2003, three tight ends averaged more than 50 yards per game and caught a combined 20 touchdown passes. Gonzalez was one of the three (the other two were Shockey and Shannon Sharpe).

In 2004, three tight ends broke out, while Gonzalez dominated at the top:

Jason Witten – 87 receptions, 980 yards, 6 touchdowns.
Eric Johnson – 82 receptions, 825 yards, 2 touchdowns.
Antonio Gates – 81 receptions, 984 yards, 13 touchdowns.

Tony Gonzalez – 102 receptions, 1,258 yards, 7 touchdowns.

In 2005, there was a changing of the guard as Antonio Gates became top dog by catching 89 passes, 10 of which went for touchdowns. However, nine other tight ends ranked in the Top 50 in receptions with at least 60 or more, but the most touchdowns any of them caught was seven. Gates would be the leader in the clubhouse in 2006, as well.

In 2007, three tight ends not named Gates went over the 1,000-yard receiving mark, and

Witten
and Gonzalez caught at least 95 passes. Dallas Clark took over the touchdowns leader board when he caught 11 from Peyton Manning.


In 2008, Gonzalez, Gates, and
Witten dominated once again, but tight ends like
Clark,
Washington’s Chris Cooley and

Houston
’s Owen Daniels started to creep up the leader board.


And then, of course there was last season. It was a season that featured 12 tight ends ranked amongst the Top 50 receivers in receptions, seven ranked in the Top 20 in touchdown receptions and eight ranked in the Top 50 in receiving yardage. It was the first time since 2005 that Gates went over the 1,000-yard receiving mark and just the second time in 10 seasons that a tight end caught 100 or more passes; thank you,
Clark.


This all adds up to owners opening up their fantasy pocket books to pay the hefty price that will come attached to the top ten or so tight ends this season and beyond. The position has evolved, so now it’s time to pay up, or lose out on a fantasy championship.

So which vehicle do you want to drive to your 2010 championship? I’ll give you some choices.
Note: They are not in any order within their classes.



High Class Spending


Dallas Clark (Porsche Boxster) –
Clark is a high-octane tight end who has a high-class quarterback driving him and the Colts offense (yes, I know how it sounds) to new heights. You’ll have to pay a pretty penny for Manning’s No. 2 option, but as history has shown he may prove to be worth that price.


Tony Gonzalez (1936 Bugatti 57SC Atlantic) – Gonzo may be aging, but his production has yet to take a dramatic hit, and with Matt Ryan back in the Falcons starting lineup at quarterback he could return to 1,000-yard form.

Brent Celek (Lamborghini Murcielago) – Celek has ascended to NFL top speed faster than any other tight end in recent memory, and with Kevin Kolb now leading the Eagles offense he should only get better in 2010. Next stop may be the top of the 2011 tight end rankings.

Jason
Witten (Rolls Royce Phantom) –

Witten
has recorded classy yardage numbers over the past few seasons and on the outside looks luxurious, but he isn’t sporty enough, and doesn’t score enough touchdowns. He’s a safe choice if you want your team to look impressive on paper.


Jermichael Finley (Maserati Gran Turismo) –
Motor Trend summed it up best, “Beauty at speed or standing still.” Yes, Finley is the Gran Turismo of tight ends. He can sprint down the field and catch the long balls or he can stand in the end zone and catch jump balls over any opposing defender. He has huge upside, but doesn’t have any history supporting a top spot bid yet.


Antonio Gates (Aston Martin DBS) – Like Gonzalez, Gates may be aging, but he’s still a reliable option for fantasy owners looking for a championship now. The Chargers offense is clearly pass-oriented, and with a rookie running back taking over the starting job, it’s bound to stay that way.


Vernon

Davis (Ford Shelby GT500) –

Davis
is the tight end that I like because he looks the part, and he finally broke out last season. However, I’m just not sure he’ll be reliable for the money this season and in the future.


High-Middle Class Values

Owen Daniels (Audi S6)

Kellen Winslow (Cadillac Escalade)

Greg Olsen (Jaguar XF)

Visanthe Shiancoe (Lexus GS460)

Low-Middle Class Bargain Hunting

Heath Miller (Acura TSX)

John Carlson (Honda Civic EX)

Dustin Keller (Mazda 6)

Chris Cooley (

Pontiac
G6)


Jeremy Shockey (Subaru Outback)

For Cheapskates

Zach Miller (Hyundai Accent)

Kevin Boss (Ford Focus)

Brandon Pettigrew (Kia Spectra)

Todd Heap (Chevrolet Aveo)

Top Dynasty Rookies

1) Jimmy Graham – Once Shockey is out of the picture for good, the new former Hurricane, Graham, will take over as the Saints top tight end in a very potent offense.

2) Dennis Pitta – While Heap may not lose his job this season, at 30 years old he doesn’t have much more NFL life left in him. Both Pitta and Ed Dickson were drafted by the Ravens because of the aging Heap, but Pitta has much better receiving skills and is even quick enough to play in the slot as a wide receiver.

3) Jermaine Gresham – Historically, the Bengals really have never groomed an elite tight end, but

Gresham
has the skills to be elite at the NFL level. The only thing standing in his way at this point is a core of pretty talented
Bengal wide receivers.


4) Rob Gronkowski – The Patriots offense is not tight end friendly, but Gronkowski is the now and future of the position in
New England.


Thanks for reading!

Eric Huber is a staff writer for Fantasysharks.com.

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FantasySharks.com began in 2003, disseminating fantasy football content on the web for free. It is, or has been, home to some of the most talented and best known fantasy writers on the planet. Owned and operated by Tony Holm (5 time Fantasy Sports Writer Association Hall-of-Fame nominee,) Tony started writing fantasy content in 1993 for the only three fantasy football web sites in existence at the time.