The tight end position has undergone a major transformation in recent years. As the league has trended toward the pass, several, not just one or two, monolithic targets have become critical roster cornerstones. Antonio Gates(notes) and Dallas Clark(notes) are just two people responsible for the makeover.
Although separated by a slim two picks according to Mock Draft Central, the variance between the two goliaths, in the eyes of Brandon Funston and Brad Evans, is much greater. Down. Set. Hike!
Funston calmly says: Antonio Gates has scored at least eight touchdowns in six straight seasons and has gone over the 900-yard mark in five of those campaigns. I’m given a few hundred words to state my case on Gates here, but I really don’t need to say much more. But, of course, you know I will …
Simply put, Dallas Clark hasn’t come close to matching Gates’ consistent high level of production – they both entered the league in ’03 and, despite Gates being the rawer product (a college basketball player) upon his NFL arrival, he’s amassed 2,035 more receiving yards and 18 more TDs than Clark – and that's with LaDainian Tomlinson(notes) stealing 18 TDs per season, on average, during Gates' career.
Even over the past three seasons, Clark’s peak years, Gates has edged out Clark in total combined fantasy points in standard scoring leagues.
Let’s also throw out there that Gates, despite nagging injuries at various times, has missed just two games in the past six seasons compared to Clark’s eight. And Clark, on the perilous side of 30 (age 31), is a year older than Gates.
If this argument is based on ’09 performance then, sure, give Clark the nod. With Marvin Harrison(notes) and Anthony Gonzalez(notes) out of the receiving mix, it made a lot of sense that Clark would have his best season to date while the unproven Pierre Garcon(notes) and Austin Collie(notes) slowly gained the trust of Peyton Manning(notes). And gain trust is exactly what those two receivers did. I don’t think it is a coincidence that Clark caught 20 fewer passes for 300 fewer yards in the second half of the season.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely a close call between these two future HOF tight ends. I just think that if you examine a bigger picture than what ’09 painted, Gates is the call for the top spot at his position.
Evans feverishly shouts: Though separated by a measly 0.5 points per game in standard scoring formats a season ago, the difference between the Clark and Gates is far wider than most would perceive, particularly in PPR leagues. Seriously, it's like comparing the fool-pitying skills of Rampage Jackson (Gates) to Mr. T (Clark). Not even close. Clubber Lang would've raked in the UFC.
Clark is the definitive No. 1 TE in virtual pigskin. For starters, largely because of Marvin Harrison's rapid deterioration and eventual dismissal his numbers have made dramatic leaps in three consecutive seasons. Reaching the crescendo a season ago, Peyton Manning's favorite midfield receiver entered ultra-exclusive company becoming the second tight end in NFL history to catch 100 passes in a season. Incredibly consistent, he was targeted a healthy 8.3 times per contest, nearly the same number as Randy Moss(notes). Due to the Colts' offensive imbalance - Tom Moore called "pass" 62.2 percent of the time a season ago - Anthony Gonzalez's continued injury woes and Manning's perfectionist attitude, another stellar campaign from the former Iowa standout is a certainty. Keep in mind he gets the Jaguars in Week 15, a team he's scored eight times against in 13 career matchups.
Gates (not to mention Vernon Davis(notes) and Jermichael Finley(notes)) is also a sensational producer, but constant podiatrist visits over the past couple seasons have led to inconsistent returns, which could be the theme again this year. Currently limited by a nasty case of plantar fasciitis, an injury that typically lingers, he is cautiously optimistic about his training camp availability. Even if healthy, his production could be stymied. Although he rebounded nicely last year, his targets, both overall and near the goal-line, could regress due to a stronger running game spearheaded by rookie Ryan Mathews(notes).
Both oversized options will likely finish inside the position's top five. But Clark's unbreakable bond with Manning, incredible knack for finding soft spots in zone coverage and overall package is worth considerably more.
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