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Exit Interview: Gonzalez proof that age is nothing but a number

Brad Evans
Roto Arcade

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Gonzalez, in his 15th-year, absolutely balled out in 2012. (USAT)

For the first time in the fantasy era, a pair of tight ends were weighed by drafters at the Round 1 turn. In the eyes of millions, Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, off historic 2012 campaigns, were position titans equal to or better than some of the virtual game's most established wide receivers. Unfortunately, injuries and inconsistency hindered the duo in the follow-up. Overall, after a year of unprecedented production, the position as a whole slipped. Though still deep, only four TEs finished the season with at least 120 total points in traditional formats, the lowest total since 2008. Below is our recap of this season's TE flames and lames with a quick look at what notable names could bring rags or riches in 2013. Ring out the old, ring in the new.

Who is most deserving of MVP honors?

Andy – JASON WITTEN. Yeah, I realize the touchdown total is a little light, but the man now owns the single-season tight end reception record, plus he showed up in the fantasy playoffs. Tony Gonzalez could have claimed this award, but he was nearly shut out in the most important week of the season (one catch, nine yards in Championship Week).

Brad – TONY GONZALEZ. At an age (36) when most players are wielding Big Berthas, the position revolutionary continued to plug away. Though his near no show in Week 16 hurt many, he was a primary reason why supporters advanced to the second season. Gonzo's 9.1 per game average in standard formats was his highest output since leaving KC in 2008.

Brandon – TONY GONZALEZ. I admit that I was among those that felt that Gonzo was headed for the "career cliff" this season. Instead of hitting the wall, Gonzo crashed through it with two middle fingers held high. If there was a question as to who the greatest tight end of all-time was coming into this year (and there really wasn't), there's not much of an argument anymore.

Dalton – TONY GONZALEZ. He's the No. 1 fantasy tight end who was widely available in the middle rounds of drafts. Remarkable for a 36-year-old.

Scott – I'm still giving it to ROB GRONKOWSKI, no matter that he played in just 10 games. His points-per-game count is far ahead of the pack, so Gronk + any fill in put you in a good place.

Who is the biggest bust of 2012?

Andy – VERNON DAVIS. There's no shortage of deserving candidates here, but I have to go with Vernon. I expected huge numbers from him, following his terrific playoff showing last season. Instead, he finished the year with a series of clunkers. During the most important five-week stretch on the fantasy calendar, Weeks 12-16, he caught just five passes, total. Such a dud.

Brad – JIMMY GRAHAM. The third-best tight end in terms of total points, the popular second-round pick didn't quite live up to mammoth expectations. Last year he was a the sixth-best commodity among TEs and WRs. This season, he slipped outside the top-20.

Brandon – ANTONIO GATES. Davis certainly qualifies here, too, but this is personal for me as I invested heavily in Gates based upon those reports that he was having his best training camp in years. So much for that noise. The gimpy Gates of recent years past was far better than the "rejuvenated" Gates of '12.

Dalton – VERNON DAVIS. Over his last three games last season (including the playoffs), VD racked up 410 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Over his last five games this season, he's totaled 56 yards and zero scores.

Scott –Here's how disgusted I was with VERNON DAVIS at the end of the year: I stared Zach Miller over VD in a Week 16 Championship Game. It's not all Davis's fault, of course; the Niners don't want to feature him in the passing game, for reasons I can't fathom. (If you prefer to fit JERMICHAEL FINLEY with the goat horns, no one will argue with you. Of course, Finley will drop them first.)

What widely drafted player was the biggest steal of the season?

Andy – HEATH MILLER. He'd never finished among the top-six at his position until this season, his eighth NFL campaign. Other than Brandon Lloyd, who the heck breaks out in their eighth year? Miller was an afterthought on draft day, but he exited Week 16 ranked fourth at his position in scoring. Huge profit.

Brad – HEATH MILLER. His knee disintegration in Week 16 was an unfortunate end to a spectacular season. Despite Pittsburgh's unrest at QB, he was one of the virtual game's most reliable tight ends. His 8.6 ppg was identical to preseason hyped teammate Antonio Brown.

Brandon – TONY GONZALEZ. Let's not forget that Heath Miller was drafted in just nine percent of Yahoo! leagues. It seems crazy to think that Gonzo was just the 10th tight end drafted, on average in Yahoo! leagues.

Dalton – JASON WITTEN. He struggled early on returning from a spleen injury, and his two TDs are obviously on the low side, but Witten also set an NFL record with 103 receptions by a tight end.

Scott –I have no problem with the Miller Respondents (I lucked into that stock in 2012), but let's also hear it for GREG OLSEN, who turned into the most consistent pass catcher in the Carolina offense. If you grade all the tight ends from Weeks 9-16 (yes, I'm cherry picking), Olsen only trails Jimmy Graham at the position.

What waiver wire acquisition rescued auto-drafters from looking more moronic than they already were?

Andy – DENNIS PITTA. A clear Flacco favorite, Pitta has given us eight weeks with five or more catches, and he's broken the plane seven times this season. Not bad for a guy who went un-drafted in most formats. Pitta showed up in the biggest weeks, too, catching 16 balls for 227 yards and three TDs in Weeks 14-16.

Brad – BRANDON MYERS. He face-planted in the fantasy playoffs, but his magical mid-season run propelled many to the second season. His 14 catches for 130 yards, including a literal last-second touchdown, Week 13 versus Cleveland was one of the unforgettable performances of the year.

Brandon – KYLE RUDOLPH. IN PPR set-ups, I'd give this to Brandon Myers, who came out of nowhere to garner the fourth-most receptions among tight ends. But, while Rudolph laid a half-dozen eggs during the season, he also earned his "Rudolph the Red Zone Reindeer" moniker, tallying the second-most TDs (9) at the position behind Gronk.

Dalton – BRANDON MYERS. Despite really falling off at the end of the year, Myers has scored the eighth most fantasy points and was almost surely undrafted in your league.

Scott –Eventually the Oakland undertow took down BRANDON MYERS, but he was a consistent PPR star for the first 13 weeks. Alas, after his 14-130-1 Garbage Time party against the Browns, opponents started to take him seriously.

In the Year of the Rookie, what first-year player should take home TE ROY honors?

Andy – Um ... DWAYNE ALLEN? It may have been the Year of the Rookie, but not at the tight end position.

Brad – DWAYNE ALLEN. The Colt takes the cake, albeit a Twinkie. His No. 22 ranking in ppg was nothing to write home about.

Brandon – DWAYNE ALLEN. Easily in a class by himself for this question and, given his athletic upside, he should be in the TE1 conversation for '13 drafts.

Dalton – DWAYNE ALLEN. Just a totally underwhelming group this year.

Scott –MICHAEL EGNEW, for the Hard Knocks comedy? BRAD SMELLEY, for the name? Okay, it's DWAYNE ALLEN. There's no other candidate.

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Graham's late-season slide left many owners who overpaid perplexed. (USAT)

Because there’s never an offseason in fantasy football, what sleeper (Post-Round 5) are you eyeing for 2013 drafts?

Andy – KYLE RUDOLPH. I'm really hoping the Vikes upgrade the quarterback position, so we can see the full expression of Rudolph's skill set in 2013. We haven't yet seen his best.

Brad – GREG OLSEN. He really flourished during Cam Newton's white-hot stretch to end the regular season. From Week 10 on, Olsen averaged a robust 9.2 points per game in standard formats. If Cam can continue to grow and mature, a 1,000-yard season isn't out of the question.

Brandon – DWAYNE ALLEN. Post-Round 5 excludes very few tight ends, so I'll offer up a much deeper sleeper in Allen. As I said above, his athleticism is upper class for the position – his game often being compared to Aaron Hernandez this summer. With a year under his belt and the Colts likely to be a pass-heavy attack once again in '13, Allen has elite potential – his 8 receptions of 20+ yards was equal to fellow rookie wideout Justin Blackmon.

Dalton – AARON HERNANDEZ. Coming off such an injury-plagued campaign, I'm guessing Hernandez might be available this late. He still has the upside to finish No. 1 at the TE position. If I'm being unrealistic with his ADP, then give me Kyle Rudolph.

Scott – He's still a raw player with a lot of learning to do, but ANTHONY MCCOY does some nifty things when the Seahawks throw him the ball. Watch him closely in training camp. He might be your last-round flier in 2013.

Conversely, what player are you avoiding like joyrides with Kenny Britt?

Andy – JARED COOK. I have no doubt that a few gurus will hype him again next season, like they have every other year. But I'm out. Tennessee's offense isn't exactly a juggernaut. I'm not optimistic that the Titans can support more than one or two ownable receivers.

Brad – BRANDON PETTIGREW. In terms of efficiency, Pettigrew is arguably the league's worst tight end. His 62.0 catch percentage ranked No. 51 among eligible TEs. He drops too many passes, is fumble prone and rarely scores. Fun times.

Brandon – ANTONIO GATES. I was brutally bitten by my Gates investments this year, so I'll certainly be twice shy in '13 drafts.

Dalton – ANTONIO GATES. If this is the best he can do while back to being fully healthy, it's going to be all downhill from here.

Scott –ANTONIO GATES has already punched his Hall of Fame ticket, but the chronic health problems are here to stay.

Though this year’s NFL draft class may pale in comparison to 2012’s, what expected draftee are you most excited to see in action next year?

Andy – JOSEPH FAURIA. At 6-foot-7, he sure seems like a match-up nightmare, particularly in the red zone. He made 11 house calls for UCLA this season on 41 catches.

Brad – JOSEPH FAURIA. Spawned when a drunken Sasquatch procreated with a Redwood, the Bruin is a massive specimen blessed with superb hands. He's still very raw as a blocker, but a double-digit TD season or three at the next level are in his future.

Brandon – TYLER EIFERT. He definitely passes my eye test. Eifert has the size and ability to snatch the ball in a crowd to be a red zone force at the next level. Plus, Notre Dame has a nice recent history of producing NFL tight ends (Kyle Rudolph, Anthony Fasano, John Carlson).

Dalton – JOSEPH FAURIA. He's 6-7, 255, so he could make an immediate impact in the red zone. The senior scored 11 touchdowns during his final year at UCLA.

Scott –JOSEPH FAURIA has the size, the stats, and the pedigree (his uncle, Christian, had a 13-year pro career). The Bruins used Fauria as a hybrid wide receiver a fair amount of the time, which is what fantasy owners want to see. You don't get points for in-line blocking.

List your top-13 for ’13.

Andy – 1) Rob Gronkowski, 2) Jimmy Graham, 3) Aaron Hernandez, 4) Jason Witten, 5) Tony Gonzalez (assuming he returns, which is not a safe assumption), 6) Owen Daniels, 7) Greg Olsen, 8) Dennis Pitta, 9) Jermaine Gresham, 10) Kyle Rudolph, 11) Martellus Bennett, 12) Brandon Pettigrew, 13) Antonio Gates.

Brad – 1) Rob Gronkowski, 2) Jimmy Graham, 3) Tony Gonzalez, 4) Aaron Hernandez, 5) Jason Witten, 6) Greg Olsen, 7) Owen Daniels, 8) Martellus Bennett, 9) Jermaine Gresham, 10) Kyle Rudolph, 11) Dennis Pitta, 12) Brandon Myers, 13) Antonio Gates

Brandon – 1) Rob Gronkowski 2) Jimmy Graham 3) Tony Gonzalez 4) Aaron Hernandez 5) Jason Witten 6) Greg Olsen 7) Kyle Rudolph 8) Owen Daniels 9) Vernon Davis 10) Jermaine Gresham 11) Martellus Bennett 12) Antonio Gates 13) Dwayne Allen

Dalton – 1) Rob Gronkowski, 2) Jimmy Graham, 3) Aaron Hernandez, 4) Jason Witten, 5) Tony Gonzalez, 6) Vernon Davis, 7) Antonio Gates, 8) Heath Miller, 9) Greg Olsen, 10) Jermaine Gresham, 11) Brandon Myers, 12) Dennis Pitta, 13) Kyle Rudolph

Scott –1) Rob Gronkowski, 2) Jimmy Graham, 3) Aaron Hernandez, 4) Tony Gonzalez, 5) Jason Witten, 6) Greg Olsen, 7) Dennis Pitta, 8) Kyle Rudolph, 9) Owen Daniels, 10) Jermaine Gresham, 11) Martellus Bennett, 12) Heath Miller, 13) Antonio Gates

Finally, if you hopped into a time machine and could pluck one player from the past, any era, to field on your squad, who would that be?

Andy – KELLEN WINSLOW SR. The Hall of Famer was one of the dominant players of his era, always a monster in the playoffs, and he delivered numbers that would play in today's game. Check the tape, check the stats.

Brad – BEN COATES. Drew Bledsoe's home skillet in the mid-90s was a behemoth in an era that preceded the position's dominance. His 96-1174-7 campaign in 1994 remains one of the greatest single season contributions by a tight end in NFL history.

Brandon – BILLY JOE DUPREE. The Cowboys' three-time Pro Bowler played in the wrong era. His athleticism would have been exploited to a far greater degree were he playing in the present. He still managed 41 TD receptions on only 267 career catches, and he actually averaged 6.8 yards on 26 career rushing attempts (1 TD). He also averaged 13.4 yards per catch, which ranks among the best all-time at the position.

Dalton – Nearly a quarter of the league this season averaged as many yards per game as Shannon Sharpe did during his career, as the times keep changing. If you really want to compare eras, the answer here is likely MIKE DITKA.

Scott –It's gotta be POPPA WINSLOW. He was the biggest star in what's probably the best game I've ever seen.

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