There is a small company of players atop the list of fantasy football quarterbacks each season. The turnover at the summit of the running back heap is significant every year. Regarding receivers, it is anybody’s guess which wideout will lead the league in fantasy production – who honestly was betting on Mushin Muhammad in 2004, for instance?
But at the tight end position, there has been a consensus apex player for about as long as anyone can remember. Tony Gonzalez has been dominating the position for years. Last season, Antonio Gates scored an NFL record for touchdowns by a tight end (13), and threatened Tony’s stranglehold on the peak. Even so, most owners and experts this year insisted that Gates was still numero deux. Gonzalez, as in years past, was generally the first tight end taken in drafts before the 2005 season, as high as the third round or for a lot of dough in auction drafts. So far this season, that has proven to be a serious mistake.
After four games, Gonzalez is averaging 3.1 fantasy points per game (depending upon your scoring criteria) and thus ranks 27 th among tight ends. Not at all what you would expect. That ranks him below the dastardly duo from Washington – Chris Cooley and Robert Royal – who average 3.83 and 3.37 points per game, and also behind the triumvirate of talented tight ends residing on the Titans roster. Bo Scaife (6.05), Ben Troupe (5.1) and Erron Kinney (4.43) have all left Gonzalez in the dust so far.
|| Fantasy Points Per Game (2005)
| Antonio Gates
| Randy McMichael
| L.J. Smith
| Jeremy Shockey
| Jason Witten
| Alge Crumpler
| Marcus Pollard
| Todd Heap
| Jermaine Wiggins
| Dallas Clark
But all petty sarcasm aside, let me focus on how he measures up against his true peers. Here he is ranked against 11 other players fantasy owners were likely to draft as starting tight ends to begin the season:
Clearly, owners who elected to go with Gonzalez instead of Gates have really hurt their fantasy teams. Gates is outpacing Gonzalez by 8.23 points per game. A few other tight ends are also averaging above nine points per contest. Those players give their owners a significant advantage against competition. The only player Gonzalez can best so far is Dallas Clark, who is having problems staying healthy and being the top tight end on his own team. Ben Utecht (8.6) and Bryan Fletcher (3.2), who incidentally both also score more than Gonzalez, rank ahead of Clark for Indianapolis.
Here is a breakdown of Gonzalez’s production through the first four games of the 2005 season:
| Game, Opponent
| Week 1: New York Jets
| Week 2: Oakland Raiders
| Week 3: Denver Broncos
| Week 4: Philadelphia Eagles
In week one, Gonzalez caught four passes for a respectable 51 yards, while his teammates were running all over the Jets. In week two he caught all five of the passes thrown to him, and gained modest yardage. Against the Broncos he could pull in only half of his opportunities, for a meager 29 yards.
Last week at home against Philadelphia, he hit a really low note, gaining only five yards on two grabs. That left him with 129 yards receiving this year, or 12.9 fantasy points on the season, roughly what Antonio Gates has created per game. Of note in that last game is that Gonzalez was the recipient of only three pass attempts. Something is clearly wrong here, and Tony would be the first to tell you that. In fact, he recently had this to say about his circumstances to the Kansas City Star, regarding his role in the game against the Eagles:
"I didn't go downfield at all. It's frustrating. I haven't even sniffed the end zone this year. I'm not going to lie to you. I'm really frustrated."
The really appalling problem for Gonzalez owners is that he has failed to book any trips to the endzone. That scoring prowess is what Gonzalez has been known for in the past among tight ends. He scored 11, 9, 6, 7, 10 and 7 times the last six seasons, respectively. We all know that Gonzalez is capable of multiple-touchdown games, and could rise quickly in the tight-end rankings with an immediate string of good games. The question is, will he?
- He is opining for touchdown time – when NFL superstars carp and whine to the media about their use in an offense, usually they are compensated in the following week’s game plan, if only to shut them up. In Gonzalez’s case, that would be in week six against the Redskins.
- Willie Roaf will return to the line for the Chiefs – With Roaf out, Gonzalez has been required to stay at home more often as added protection for the quarterback, limiting his chances for a reception, and the distance of his routes when he can go out for a pass. With Roaf expected back in week six, more is possible for Tony.
- The Ground Game – With two very talented runners in the backfield, it seems the team takes great pleasure in pounding the ball down the field. Perhaps the extra “looks” that Larry Johnson receives now, even when Priest Holmes is healthy, takes some plays away from Gonzalez.
- Trent Green is not healthy – Some speculation has it that Green is ailing. Until this suffering can be confirmed, it will be impossible to understand how that would-be fact is contributing to a poor passing attack.
The thing to keep in mind is that Tony Gonzalez has been the premier tight end for years for a reason. Now would be a good time, obviously, to try trading for Gonzalez in a buy-low deal if you think he will turn it around soon. He probably will put up some spectacular games for owners at some point this season, but those who own him currently have been forced to temper their expectations of Gonzalez as an every-game fantasy factor.
Hire Joe Levit for corporate or client appreciation events at fantasyfootballspeaker.com. His fantasy football columns appear on SI.com and thehuddle.com. Joe, a PFWA and FSWA member, writes about the NFL for patriotsinsider.com and is a fantasy football analyst on radio. He is the creator of the Sleeper League and FF Hold ‘em League concepts.