Friday, August 11, 2006


They say that "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" and boy oh boy, do Football teams like to flatter one another! Whether it's the "No Huddle" offense or the 2-Deep Zone, find something that works and another club is sure to follow.

And that brings us to Tight Ends. While the NFL has seen the likes of Kellen Winslow (senior), Todd Christensen, Mark Bavaro, Ben Coates and Tony Gonzalez, the bevy of enormous and athletic pass catching Tight Ends is a fairly new phenomena. When the Chargers signed a young hoopster out of Kent State, Antonio Gates, they sparked a revolution of change. Of course, teams continue to utilize Tight Ends as extra blockers, but every franchise is seeking the "next Gates." Accordingly, these clubs have begun combing college Basketball's deep ranks and Gates' unparalleled success paved the way for rookies such as Vernon Davis and Mercedes Lewis.

Who's Hot? The torch has already been passed; Tony Gonzalez is no longer the game's best Tight End... that honor now belongs to the aforementioned Gates. Indeed, the NFL brags a host of elite Tight Ends and that list is growing at an exponential rate. Proven pass catching commodities such as Alge Crumpler, Jeremy Shockey and Jason Witten should be on the board for your mid to late-round pleasure.

Redskins, Chris Cooley: The Redskins' new Offensive Coordinator, Al Saunders, has worked with 2 of Football's most prolific Tight Ends; Kellen Winslow (Senior) and Tony Gonzalez. The pupil is thrilled to be working with a man who transformed a pair of Tight Ends into legends... and the teacher is equally excited at the prospect of working with a very talented, athletic, nose-to-the-grindstone player. Chris Cooley (71/774/7) was a Waiver Wire pick-up for most owners last season, but after a banner '05 he enters this season as a coveted, mid-round pick.
The 'Skins' talented trio of Wideouts, newcomer Antwaan Randle El (35/558/1 rec.), Brandon Lloyd (48/733/5) and Santana Moss (84/1,483/9), will tap opposing Secondaries' depth and make it difficult for those teams to cover Cooley, who moves with all the speed and agility of a Running Back, with anything more than a Linebacker. Naturally, that plays right into Al Saunders' scheming hands and Chris Cooley is fast enough, and at 6-3/255 powerful enough, to run over or away from all but the most athletic 'Backers.
Supported by elite Running Back Clinton Portis and protected by a powerful Offensive Line led by bookend Tackles Jon Jansen and Chris Samuels is QB Marc Brunell. Although Bru' isn't the leagues' oldest Signal Caller he's got more miles that a '75 Dodge Dart and his window is rapidly closing. Cooley is a favored target, look for the pair to hook-up with frequency.
The Redskin Tight End has 1,000 yard skills but the presence of Randle El and Moss will probably prohibit that from happening. Nevertheless, an 850/8+ season could easily be on the back of Cooley's Trading Cards come season's end.

Steelers, Heath Miller: Steeler coach Bill Cowher, thrilled by the play of his rookie Tight End last season, was positively effusive in his praise of Miller. And anyone who knows Cowher, a life-support system for a jutting jaw, knows that the level-headed coach doesn't "gush" about anything.
A huge target at 6-5/260, Miller runs nice routes, can catch virtually anything that comes within reach, and enjoyed a very productive 39/459/6 rookie campaign.
This coming year the team will be adjusting to life without either Jerome Bettis or Antwaan Randle El, and that might just force a change in offensive philosophy. Without "The Bus" around to push roughly 800 or so pounds of defender across the 'stripe, the club will need to re-examine its Red-Zone options... and that's where Miller will prove most valuable. In conjunction, with the versatile Randle El no longer lining-up alongside veteran WR Hines Ward and Cedrick Wilson proving to be a talented but largely unspectacular Wide Receiver, opposing Secondaries will likely allot most of their resources to shutting down Ward. As a consequence, Miller should have ample room to roam after the catch.
"Big Ben" Roethlisberger was fortunate to escape his recent Motorcyle accident with all limbs present and accounted for, and is even more fortunate that his career remains intact. Both he and Miller forged a nice chemistry last season and the two should only build upon that relationship. Coming off a 450+/6 season, look for the 2nd year TE to double his yardage numbers and increase his TD total by as much as 1/3. Better yet, look for an 800/8+ season from Mr. Miller.

Browns, Kellen Winslow (Junior/"The Chosen One"): For a 3rd year player with precisely 5 catches and 50 receiving yards on his resume', Winslow has an awful lot to say. With confidence a non-issue, all Winslow has to do now is stay healthy, work like his daddy did, and cash the HUGE checks his ego is writing and his mouth is co-signing.
Any number of NFL Tight Ends could've been slotted here;
Raven Todd Heap: With a real live QB on the other end of the passing game Baltimore's Offense might actually out-score it's defense this year!
Colt Dallas Clark: Clark has yet to crack 800 rec. yards, but with Edge' gone and the O sure to go pass-heavy he could hang a breakout season.
Saint Zach Hilton: At 6-8/270 Hilton's a gargantuan receiver and is a super-sleeper if ever there was one. While a Charger, Drew Brees and a guy named Gates hooked-up on a few!
49'er Vernon Davis: While he has the potential to be a fantasy monster it's all on QB Alex Smith... and I remain unconvinced.
Eagle L.J. Smith: With Philly's receiving corps lacking a proven playmaker Smith could become D-Nabb's go-to.
The above are a handful of "for-instances', but Winslow Jr. is undeniably gifted; a rare athlete with racehorse speed, brutish strength, and the potential to be better than most... if not all of the above. If... if, WR Braylon Edwards can find his way back to the field by Opening Day, and #2 WR Joe Jurevicius can keep foes from rolling double-coverage Edwards' way, and QB Charlie Frye can get his pass catchers the ball, and RB Reuben Droughns punishes those defenders that elect to overlook the run, and... yeah, lots and lots of variables.
Assuming even half of the aforementioned come to fruition, Winslow plays faster than a Cheetah running on hot asphalt. If nothing else the dude is worth a late-round pick.

Who's Not? Finding a trio of Tight Ends who are poised to disappoint is not as easy as you might imagine. So I went with my top... or rather bottom, 2.

Packers, Bubba Franks: Although the Packers' dearth of pass catchers is well-documented Franks would still be a Tight End to avoid come draft day. Need a couple of sound reasons? Right-O! How 'bout Bubba's "hands of stone," trick knees, and the simple fact that Green Bay's O-Line is so flawed that the coaching staff prefers to keep Franks' at "home" in order to utilize his above-average blocking skills in order to keep QB Brett Favre... oh I dunno', ALIVE?
There are a number of better options out there; Indy's Dallas Clark, St. Louis' super-sleeper Joe Klopfenstein, Detroit's Marcus Pollard, and New Orleans' Zach Hilton should all be available via 'Wire.

Chiefs, Tony Gonzalez: "My God man!" you exclaim... "Gonzo's a Tight End I should avoid? You're as nutty as a 10 pound fruitcake!" you continue. If I recall, you were outraged that I listed Bear QB Rex Grossman as a solid sleeper QB... but I made a strong case for him, didn't I? So? just go with it and follow my logic!
So... it's not that I wouldn't draft the chief Chief pass catcher because as the 3rd or 4th best Tight End in Football Gonzo's (78/905/2) not without value, but given Kansas City's severely depleted Offensive Line, the club's shallow receiving corps (or to put it another way, when he breaks-off his blocking assignments and slides out for a pass he's going to be swarmed by hungry defenders), and the fact that the bruising RB Larry Johnson will spear-head a more run-heavy offense, I would see if I could snag Alge Crumpler (Vick's top target), Jason Witten (assuming everyone can co-exist, foes will have their hands full with T.O. and Glenn, leaving Witten in single-coverage), or Shock-Jock (Manning and Shockey have a rapport, and the Big Blue TE may be somewhat fragile but he fights for every ball and claws for every extra yard) first.
Frankly, Gonzalez has been subject to a lot of wear and tear, is coming off of a 2 TD season, and I don't see brighter days ahead with new coach Herm Edwards calling the shots. If you belong to a yardage league then Gonzo's value creeps up a bit... but I think a 950/5-8 season is probably the most an owner can hope for given KC's numerous woes... and that's probably an ambitious projection.



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