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He doesn't possess the ability to drive a dimpled white ball 350 yards. His yearly income couldn't rival the gross domestic product of French Polynesia. And the mere mention of his name couldn't move Phil Mickelson and Rory Sabbatini to tears.
But in the realm of virtual football, Antonio Gates is the Tiger Woods of tight ends.
Since trading in his Kent State basketball jersey for a lightning bolt and pads in 2003, Gates has become a fantasy icon. When he entered the league as an undrafted free agent – he had not played organized football since high school – he made a small but noticeable impact, catching 24 passes for 389 yards and two touchdowns.
The following season, under the tutelage of then San Diego tight ends coach Tim Brewster (now head coach at the University of Minnesota), Gates laid the domination foundation, hauling in 81 passes for 964 yards and 13 scores, eclipsing the single-season tight end touchdown record by one.
Over the past two seasons he's joined exclusive clubs, been a fixture in Honolulu and has entrenched himself as a second rounder in yearly fantasy leagues. In '05 he became just the second tight end to record 1,100 receiving yards and 10 scores in a season. And despite having a somewhat disappointing '06 campaign, he again conquered the tight end ranks averaging 10.2 fantasy points per game in standard scoring formats.
Unmistakably, he's the standalone Zeus of his position.
That is, until this year.
In a fantasy season filled with more plot twists and turns than the collegiate soap opera known as the BCS, it's only logical that, despite his 1,100-yard, 12-touchdown pace, Gates' reign as the supreme god of tight ends is being challenged.
To illustrate the surge of tight end productivity across the league, the chart below depicts the number of tight ends that have averaged at least seven-plus fantasy points per game in standard, non-PPR formats from 2004-present:
*Numbers in parentheses indicate fantasy points per game scored in standard scoring leagues.
*TGT/G = Combined average of targets per game
*TD% = Combined percentage of receptions that have gone for touchdowns
|2004||5||Antonio Gates (11.6), Tony Gonzalez (10.5), Jason Witten (8.4), Alge Crumpler (8.1), Todd Heap (8.1)||7.4||13.0|
|2005||6||Antonio Gates (11.3), Jeremy Shockey (8.7), Todd Heap (8.0), Chris Cooley (7.5), Alge Crumpler (7.4), Jason Witten (7.0)||7.3||9.7|
|2006||5||Antonio Gates (9.2), Tony Gonzalez (8.0), Alge Crumpler (7.6), Todd Heap (7.0), Jeremy Shockey (7.0)||7.1||10.3|
|2007||8||Antonio Gates (11.9), Kellen Winslow (10.7), Jason Witten (10.1), Tony Gonzalez (8.9), Dallas Clark (8.9), Chris Cooley (9.3), Heath Miller (8.2), Ben Watson (7.2)||6.4||12.5|
- For the first time in four seasons, and in the fantasy age, three tight ends are averaging double-digit fantasy points per game.
- Gates has averaged 13.8 percent more production each season than the second-rated tight end.
- Ironically, of those that qualified, combined targets per game have decreased steadily over the past four seasons. However, the percentage of receptions that went for touchdowns has increased dramatically since 2005. This illustrates that, of those that were sampled, each has become a crucial figure near the goal line. This is especially true for Miller and Watson. Twenty percent of their receptions have gone for touchdowns this season.
The spectacular transformation of the position has been nothing short of stunning. And the current successes of guys like Winslow, Witten and Miller will likely carry over into next season.
First, the tight end talent pool is deeper than it's ever been. The position is loaded with exceptional athletes. Collectively, they are faster, smarter and craftier than those who played during the block-first, catch-second, pre-Tony Gonzalez days of the NFL.
Second, with Gonzalez the only exception, most are well under the age of 30. Although second-tier scorers, up-and-comers Owen Daniels (age 25), Greg Olsen (22) and Tony Scheffler (24) will continue to grow and mature in offenses led by young quarterbacks who view tight ends as viable offensive weapons.
Third, defensive coordinators are installing more Cover 2 schemes. This defensive set is designed to limit explosive pass plays downfield, which tends to leave exploitable voids between the hashmarks, an ideal place for a tight end to wreak havoc.
Finally, the indelible impact of Gates, and previously by Gonzalez, has greatly influenced offensive coordinators to design more pass plays for tight ends. Since most receiving tight ends operate in the short-field, pass plays implemented for them tend to be low-risk, high-reward. This clearly explains why six of the eight playoff-bound teams in my local 12-team, points-per-reception league – appropriately named after former Illinois and Chicago Bears tight end great Cap Boso – have one of the elite-eight tight ends on the roster.
Sure league trends are usually cyclical, but given the position's rich stock, come August, don't be shocked if 5-7 tight ends are selected within the first six rounds of 12-team drafts.
It's clear. Tight ends not named Gates are no longer colossal wastes of roster space.
Or are the buds of juvenile Draft Day jokes.
Well, unless your name happens to be Todd Heap.
Here are this week's flames, lames and stars of video games:
*BNRK = Big Noise weekly position ranking
*Y!% = Percentage owned in Yahoo! leagues through 11/24
|Week 13 Fantasy Flames|
|Lowdown: This week Rexy will be more Jessica than Marge and Selma Simpson sexy. The season-ending injury to Cedric Benson is a blessing in disguise for the controversial quarterback. Because Adrian Peterson is a very dangerous reciever who's elusive in space, Ron Turner will likely incorporate a few West Coast-styled plays into the Bears game plan to create linebacker mismatches and to foster confidence in Grossman. Turner will also take numerous shots downfield. The Giants have yielded 1.8 air strikes per game since Week 8, and seven pass plays of 40-plus yards this season, the third-most in the NFL. Count on the much maligned signal caller connecting with vertical vehicle Bernard Berrian on a couple of long pass plays. To prevent Grossman turnovers it's imperative for Olin Kreutz and his trench brethren to stymie the relentless G-Men pass rush. But even if they don't, Peterson, and tight ends Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark, will be used as safety valves. Owners in 14-team and deeper leagues should start Grossman with confidence.|
|Fearless Forecast: 264 passing yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions,|
|Lowdown: With the Ricky Williams experiment finished after six carries and Jesse Chatman ailing from neck and ankle injuries, Gado, not Patrick Cobbs, could have a Nick Goings-like rise from obscurity. Clearly, Cam Cameron's strategy this week will be to run down the Jets' throats. The Puddle Jumpers feature an undersized front line that has conceded 187.3 total yards per game and the fourth-most fantasy points to backs since Week 9. No matter if it's Chatman, Cobbs, Gado or Larry Csonka carrying the ball; the grossly underrated Fins offensive line will have little difficulty creating wide running lanes for whomever to run through. As of Wednesday, Chatman's status for Sunday's game remains a mystery. And, unless a miraculous recovery occurs, it appears likely the experienced Gado will start. The squatty 5-foot-10, 226-pound tugboat could tally abundant yards given his powerful straight-forward style and versatility. Based on the matchup, he could post eye-catching numbers in what could be Miami's only shot at escaping a forgettable place in NFL history. Have faith in him as a flex play in 12-team and deeper leagues if he starts.|
|Fearless Forecast: 19 carries, 70 rushing yards, 4 receptions, 24 receiving yards, 1 touchdown|
|Lowdown: Smith, inspiring man-crushes everywhere after torching the Raiders for 150 rushing yards and two scores in Week 12, will unplug the Chargers in a crowd-pleasing encore performance. As detailed last week, San Diego is a Jekyll and Hyde defense. At home, they've limited backs to a lowly 3.1 yards per carry. However, on the road, that number balloons to 5.6 yards per carry. Last week in his first NFL start, Smith captivated fantasy audiences tallying the second-highest output among backs. Of course, it was the rancid Raiders, but the rookie showcased ankle-breaking cutback moves and tremendous burst. If he can run with similar assertiveness he should be able to penetrate a San Diego line that has had difficulties stymieing downhill rushers. Larry Johnson punished the Chargers for 123 rushing yards in Week 4 and based on Smith's impressive debut, that number is certainly achievable this week. Keep him active as a No. 2 in all 12-team leagues.|
|Fearless Forecast: 27 carries, 119 rushing yards, 3 receptions, 24 receiving yards, 1 touchdown|
|Lowdown: Even Adlai Stevenson would vote for this Ike in Week 13. Hilliard is relishing his best season since 1999. His ability to exploit voids in underneath coverage has made him the ideal complement to deep-threat Joey Galloway. This week, he should serve up a PPR platter against a New Orleans defense that has allowed the ninth-most yards to wideouts since Week 8 and twelve 70-plus yard receivers on the season. Galloway scorched Jason David for 135 yards and two scores in Week 2, which should make him the focus of Gary Gibbs' defensive attack. With Galloway taking away attention, Hilliard will be able to take advantage of soft spots in zone coverage. The 11-year vet is one of the most intelligent route runners in the league and will give bumbling corners David and Mike McKenzie migraines all afternoon. Have faith in Hilliard as a No. 3 or flex play in all PPR leagues.|
|Fearless Forecast: 7 receptions, 78 yards, 1 touchdown|
|Lowdown: McDonald is Detroit's version of the Hamburglar – "robble, robble." In PPR formats, McDonald has stolen valuable targets and receptions away from teammates Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson. This week, he'll again be a favorite target of Jon Kitna against a Minnesota secondary that will likely be without starting corner Antoine Winfield and safety Tank Williams. Kitna has been sacked a league-high 47 times this season, which will encourage the Vikes to blitz an uncountable number of times. Because McDonald is a slippery, smart route-runner who is particularly potent in short-to-intermediate routes, he'll be used as a check-down receiver when Kitna is pressured. Minnesota has surrendered the most fantasy points to wideouts and ten 60-plus yard receivers since Week 8. Anticipate McDonald, who tallied 10 targets, seven receptions and 71 yards versus the Norseman in Week 2, to be an invaluable PPR producer. Start him as a No. 3 in 12-team and deeper leagues.|
|Fearless Forecast: 6 receptions, 69 yards, 1 touchdown|
|Shocker Special of the Week|
|Lowdown: Quarterback prospectors desperately seeking an upgrade to Kellen Clemens need to party with the Van Wilder of the NFL. Feeley's nearly heroic 345-yard, three-touchdown takedown of the unblemished Pats had fantasy owners buzzing last week. Amazingly, he dissected one of the league's best pass defenses with surgical precision, completing a respectable 64.2 percent of his passes. On Tuesday, the Trenton Times reported that Donovan McNabb is nowhere near 100 percent, making Feeley the likely candidate to start versus Seattle. Led by Marcus Trufant and Kelly Jennings, the Hawks have one of the finest secondaries in the league. Seattle has surrendered just one passing touchdown and the sixth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks since Week 7. But because he has sticky-fingered extraordinaire, Brian Westbrook, at his disposal, he's capable of top-15 quarterback numbers.|
|Fearless Forecast: 254 passing yards, 2 passing touchdowns, 2 interceptions|
|Week 13 Fantasy Lames|
|Lowdown: Cutler, who shares the same name with Mr. Olympia, will have a difficult time flexing his muscles against a rigid Raiders secondary that has not surrendered 200 yards passing in a game since Week 4. Sure, Oakland has not faced a viable signal caller in several weeks, but Nnamdi Asomugha and Stanford Routt are phenomenal corners who shackle the pass better than anyone in the AFC. Opposing quarterbacks have completed a lowly 58.9 percent of their passes and have found the end zone only twice against them since Week 6. Cutler compiled 269 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions versus the Silver and Black in Week 3. But on the road amidst the riotous fans dressed in leather and spikes, he will flounder. Javon Walker is expected to see increased snaps this week, which could aid Cutler, but Mike Shanahan will undoubtedly abandon the pass in favor of the run against arguably the league's worst rush defense.|
|Fearless Forecast: 226 passing yards, 0 passing touchdown, 2 interceptions|
|Lowdown: Not even the Touchdown Jesus can save this Notre Dame grad from running back hell – Texas Stadium. Plowshares have averaged just 3.2 yards per carry and no single rusher has eclipsed 90 yards against the Boys at home this season. Over their past five contests, Dallas has allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to backs, conceding just 66.5 rushing yards per game. Grant has been pure waiver wire gold over the past five weeks reaching the century mark three times while scoring twice. He has worn down defenses late, racking most of his yards, and fantasy value, as a clock eater in the fourth quarter. However, with the Cowboys a seven-point favorite, that won't be the case this week. Dallas' front seven are an athletic, aggressive bunch who will lasso Grant. Since the youngster has caught at least four passes in three of his past four contests, it's wise to keep him active in the flex spot in 12-team PPR leagues. However, shallower Y! default scoring leagues should lean on a more favorable option.|
|Fearless Forecast: 18 carries, 67 rushing yards, 4 receptions, 23 receiving yards, 0 touchdowns|
|Lowdown: Bush owners will drown their sorrows in pitchers of Pat O'Brien's hurricanes. Bush, still battling the ill-effects of a shin injury, will be pushed off the fantasy plank by a Buccaneers defense that has allowed 3.2 yards per carry and the tenth-fewest fantasy points to backs since Week 8. No rusher has surpassed 80 yards on the ground against Tampa in their past six contests. Monte Kiffin is a fearless play caller who will attack the run aggressively with several blitzes and stunts. Much of Bush's fantasy value is generated as a pass catcher, but the Tampa Cover 2 collapses quickly on receivers. Amazingly, they've allowed a meager 17 20-plus yard pass plays, the lowest number in the NFC. Yes, all six of his scores have been in the Superdome, but don't count on the second-year dynamo to be anything more than an above average producer in PPR formats. Bush totaled 70 yards (27 rushing, 43 receiving) in Tampa back in Week 2.|
|Fearless Forecast: 12 carries, 39 rushing yards, 6 reception, 41 receiving yards, 0 touchdowns|
|Lowdown: The most famous camera man in America will be out of focus against AFC North rivals Pittsburgh. Ocho-Stanko awoke from a scoring slumber last week catching 12 passes for 103 yards and three scores, his first TDs since Week 2. Despite his reemergence as a fantasy headliner, Johnson will return to hibernation this week against a Steely McBeam defense that has yielded the second-fewest fantasy points to wideouts in their past five. Johnson has had marginal success in his past three appearances at Heinz Field failing to find pay-dirt while averaging 3.3 receptions and 39.6 yards per game. Defenses have stymied Johnson for much of the season by applying press coverage, something defensive savant Dick LeBeau is definitely familiar with. The initial Sunday forecast in Pittsburgh predicts a 70 percent chance of rain/snow. Based on the horrific field conditions viewed on Monday night, Heinz Field could again turn into a sloppy quagmire. Call it a hunch, but I'm guessing pretty boy Johnson isn't a mudder.|
|Fearless Forecast: 5 receptions, 54 receiving yards, 0 touchdowns|
|Lowdown: With Gus Frerotte potentially starting, Holt owners will want to head-butt a wall by game’s end – just make sure it's not concrete cloaked by a thin foam pad. As of midweek, Marc Bulger is still undergoing concussion tests and has not been cleared to play. Regardless of Bulger's game-day status, Holt has the thankless task of dealing with blabbermouth corner DeAngelo Hall. The trash-talking cover man has lived up to his inflated hype this season. Only five wideouts have reached the 70-yard mark against the Falcons this year and only two have crossed the chalk since Week 9. Hall has the athleticism and speed to stick Holt stride-for-stride. Peyton Manning picked on rookie corner Chris Houston last week, which means Scott Linehan could call Isaac Bruce's number often, not Holt's. Keep him active in all 12-team and deeper leagues, but anticipate low-tiered No. 3 totals.|
|Fearless Forecast: 5 receptions, 55 receiving yards, 0 touchdowns|
Upset you don't have a forum to express your disdain for drafting Carnell Williams? Do you question why on earth you're not a fantasy expert? This is the place for you to vent your thoughts, tirades and frustrations. Can you bring the noise?
God Bless the Noise! I was going to start Thomas Jones over Ryan Grant, until I read your column. Thank you for the extra insight. And for the extra 15 points or so that Grant's awesome performance got me in this most crucial of weeks. What a Thanksgiving!
Daryl, Tokyo, Japan
Brad, you are informative and hilarious on the Sunday pregame webcast on Yahoo! Sports. How you are going to follow up the crown and Cornish hen leg? Can you bring out some purple king vestments? How about having your wife feeding you grapes?
Raj, Las Vegas, NV
Noise: For those that are unfamiliar, each week my colleague Brandon Funston ranks below his royal highness in the Guru versus Guru standings on "Fantasy Football Live, I don a golden crown to remind Funbags of my picking greatness. I've been in the lead for the past five weeks and have accessorized my costume with a variety of kingly items (e.g. Cornish hen leg and a goblet filled with red wine).
This past week, I took Raj's advice and munched on a bunch of grapes. Unfortunately, I was unable to recruit any attractive women to feed them to me – my wife included. Evidently, the mere mention of fantasy sports repels the opposite sex. Shocker!
I think it is unfair to compare your flames and lames predictions to the predictions that your readers make. The readers always make the most obvious predictions (anybody can say that Hines Ward will score a TD vs. the Dolphins). You choose the non-obvious players for your flames and lames and you are still right a higher percent of the time. Nice job.
Jared, Minneapolis, MN
Doesn't anyone get the Noise game? I could hit 80%+ on Flames/Lames. So could you. So could my dog. The challenge is to make unobvious choices and I figure your personal goal is to finish above 50% which would be pretty impressive (if you make it).
Jeff, Agassiz, BC
Noise: Precisely. The volumes of vitriolic emails that land into my inbox each week utterly amaze me. The Flames/Lames game is something I made up three years ago to challenge myself to reach a goal of 60 percent accuracy on ambiguous selections. To novices, the Flames/Lames percentages make me look like a quack. But to those who understand that only obscure picks are regularly made, the Justin Gage's of the world are gutsy, somewhat genius picks. As I’ve always maintained, fantasy writers who put their necks out there definitely have oversized boulders, not miniature stones.
As I have made of habit of doing, I will point out where you are wrong on your flames and lames. You were wrong, as I pointed out, on Derek Anderson and Selvin Young two weeks ago, and Drew Bennett last week. You have reached a new low, by including three atrocities in your sections this week (Week 12). 1. Roy Williams- Classified as a lame vs. the Packers on Thanksgiving, he will torch Charles Woodson for somewhere between 15-17 fantasy points. 2. Brandon Marshall- When will you Yahoo! people learn on this guy? But by far your worst prediction is putting Ron Dayne in the Flames section. With his weight problems, he has the elusiveness of a cup of pudding and the speed of a dead animal. Yet again Evans, you are wrong, and called out on it.
Steve, Boston MA
Noise: Actually Steve, Dayne has the elusiveness of the San Jacinto Monument and the speed of a morbidly obese three-toed sloth. He ate the cup of pudding and the dead animal. Look, Dayne couldn't outmaneuver a wounded hippopotamus, but that's not his style of running. Given his corpulent frame, he's a classic grinder similar to Christian Okoye in Super Tecmo Bowl. He does possess surprisingly quick feet that work effectively in Gary Kubiak's one-cut scheme. Remember what he accomplished during the fantasy playoffs last year? The guy tattooed opposing defenses and led many owners, yours truly included, to the gridiron gold. I question your football IQ for knocking a player that has averaged 5.0 yards per carry in his past three games – one burger away from a coronary or not.
Kudos for your accurate Marshall prognostication. Honestly, I've "learned" the guy since late last season when he became a prized target of Jay Cutler. He's always had the size, strength and hands to be a Pro Bowl caliber receiver. This is only the first of what will be many memorable seasons for the Wyatt Earp of the AFC West.
As for your Roy Williams misfire, hopefully his ruinous three-catch, 32-yard performance "torched" your fantasy week.
Ron Dayne = Mr. Potato Head?? How about Ol' Dirty Bastard! Keep up the good work though – always a great column.
Jason, Philadelphia, PA
On a side note, "Got your Money" is still one of my favorite hip hop songs of all-time.
Anthony, Chicago, IL
Noise: Unfairly, Garrard, 29 percent owned in Y! leagues, is barely a blip on many owners' radars. As I discussed in full detail last week he is the Henry VIII of consistency kings. Every week, he's a reliable 15-20 fantasy points in default formats. The fact that he hasn't thrown an interception in eight games is remarkable. Eli Manning seriously needs to brush up against him.
As for the ageless wonder, sorry, but he cannot stop global warming. However, the pain of heartburn and sensitive teeth vanish in his presence. If Tom Brady knocked up Mother Nature only then could humans reverse the harmful effects of environmental pollution. Then again, if Brady sported a Flock of Seagulls hairstyle and dyed his skin blue, he could be Captain Planet.
Man, Earth Day would be that much more enjoyable…
SILENCE THE NOISE CHALLENGE
Each week one lucky aspiring fantasy prognosticator is chosen to go toe-to-toe against the Noise. If you want to be a guest "expert" submit your flames, lames and shocker special via the link in the column footer no later than midnight central time on Tuesdays. Oh, and please, no long dissertations to justify your picks. All that’s required are your player selections and projections. Good luck!
Week 13 contestant: Tom from Belmont, OH
Vince Young, Ten (vs. Hou): 225 passing yards, TD, 2 INTs, 35 rushing yards, TD
Jesse Chatman, Mia (vs. NYJ): 19 carries, 88 rushing yards, 4 receptions 29 receiving yards, TD
Earnest Graham, TB (at NO): 18 carries, 74 rushing yards, 5 receptions, 35 receiving yards, TD
Lee Evans, Buf (at Was): 4 receptions, 80 yards, TD
Nate Washington, Pit (vs. Cin): 4 receptions, 45 yards, TD
Leonard Pope, Ari (vs. Cle): 3 receptions, 42 yards, TD
Jon Kitna, Det (at Min): 241 passing yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs
Rudi Johnson, Cin (at Pit): 22 carries, 68 rushing yards, 2 receptions, 15 receiving yards, 0 TD
Willis McGahee, Bal (vs. NE): 21 carries, 56 rushing yards, 2 receptions, 12 receiving yards, 0 TD
Marques Colston, NO (vs. TB): 6 receptions, 56 yards, 0 TD
Brandon Marshall, Den (at Oak): 6 receptions, 65 yards, 0 TD
Week 12 Results: Mark from Brooklyn, NY
Flames: 2-4, 33% (W – Jamal Lewis, Hines Ward; L – Jeff Garcia, Thomas Jones, Jerricho Cotchery, Joe Jurevicius (Shocker Special))
Lames: 1-4, 25% (W – Lee Evans; L – Jay Cutler, Kevin Jones, Willis McGahee, Deion Branch)
Noisers YTD: Flames: 24-30, 44.4%; Lames: 20-25, 44.4%, Shocker Specials: 2-7