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Tight End Turnover
Joe Levit
October 20, 2004

Over the course of NFL history, only a few tight ends have put up seasons worthy of serious fantasy consideration, players like Shannon Sharpe and Ben Coates, or Ozzie Newsome and Kellen Winslow, Sr. before them. The Gold standard in recent seasons has been the Kansas City Chiefs’ touchdown field-goal slam-dunking champion Tony Gonzalez.

Because there usually was such a gap in statistical output between Gonzalez and other tight ends, he has been drafted each year two to four rounds ahead of any other tight end. When Todd Heap and Jeremy Shockey came into the league, there was to be a challenge to the throne, and while those guys really haven’t ousted Tony, a new trend in the football world this year might.

The first third of the NFL season has seen a remarkable explosion of production out of the tight end position league-wide. This development bodes well for fantasy owners desperate to field someone who can score with more consistency than a Bubba Franks, and is not pedestrian like Anthony Becht.

Currently there are four tight ends (Eric Johnson, Antonio Gates, Randy McMichael, Alge Crumpler) who rank among the top 30 in receiving yards, and Johnson and Gates are in the top 15. In addition, Daniel Graham of the Patriots is tied with LaDainian Tomlinson, Edgerrin James, Javon Walker and Marcus Robinson in a group of players who have five touchdowns on the season, behind only seven players league-wide who have more.

Not one of those aforementioned tight ends is named Tony Gonzalez or Jeremy Shockey, though those two are holding their own on the fantasy football scene. Gonzalez has 309 yards and two touchdowns, while Shockey settles in at 234 yards and two scores, already tying his career high for touchdowns.

All this comes despite serious injuries to two players pegged to be among the top five at the position when the season started. Before the first game was played in September, it was generally assumed that Gonazalez would win the fantasy title again, as he was a near-unanimous choice among fantasy experts for the top ranking. Filling out the top five for most people, in differing orders, were Jeremy Shockey, Todd Heap, Kellen Winslow Jr. and Alge Crumpler. Kellen Winslow and Todd Heap have suffered shortened seasons. Heap will be back later this year, but Winslow’s broken leg may leave him on the sidelines until 2005.

These new top tight ends have circumstances in common. Johnson and Gates are both the main option on teams experiencing growing pains at wide receiver. McMichael and Crumpler are both extremely mobile tight ends who hold their quarterbacks’ attention, despite a wideout – Chris Chambers and Peerless Price respectively – who has been successful before.

Here is a look at those fabulous new five fantasy tight ends to own in 2004, plus an additional five guys to consider grabbing now before they come on as the season progresses.

Rest easy with these players:

Eric Johnson (484, 2TD) – Johnson has more yards at this point than Marvin Harrison, Randy Moss, Eric Moulds, or Chad Johnson.

Antonio Gates (422, 3TD) – Gates is an every down possibility in this offense, and the leading receiver for San Diego.

Randy McMichael (370, 1TD) – McMichael’s production is one of the few things the Dolphins have going for them this year. Expect the team to continue to look to him to generate some offense each week.

Alge Crumpler (328, 2TD) – Crumpler makes some nice moves to get open, and he has earned Michael Vick’s trust

Daniel Graham (159, 5TD) – Brady looks for Graham when the team gets near the goal line. Graham has made the most of those opportunities, and will continue to get those calls.

Take Five:

L.J. Smith – Terrell Owens can’t catch every pass that McNabb throws this year, and since Freddie Mitchell and Todd Pinkston don’t seem to want the work, it figures that Smith will be a nice start most weeks. He already has two scores this season, and since he didn’t catch anything the last two weeks, now is the time to get him.

Jermaine Wiggins – Don’t miss out on Wiggins. He scored two times on Sunday and it really is not that surprising. He makes the tough grabs in traffic, and with Culpepper so hot, there are plenty of passes to go around.

Dallas Clark – I know that Pollard has one more touchdown, but I just feel that Clark will end the season with a much better total, and a decent fantasy season. Manning likes throwing to Clark. The only problem is that Manning has so many other options.

Jerramy Stevens – Stevens caught a cool 50 yards against the Patriots, and has a touchdown this year too. As the Seahawk bandwagon keeps rolling, Stevens could latch onto the momentum for 450 yards and 4-5 scores.

Ben Troupe – Troupe hasn’t done anything himself to warrant anything other than a speculation pickup at this point, but with Calico out for the season the Titans are going to be looking for receiving help. At the bottom of their division, the Titans have nothing to lose by trying to get the ball to new talent.