Spin Doctors: Tight end tussle -- Gates vs. Witten

Last year, Jason Witten dethroned the Zeus of fantasy tight ends, Antonio Gates, for the first time in three seasons in fantasy points per game (FPPG). According to early ADP returns from MockDraftCentral, these popular 12-team league fourth-round selections are near equals, separated by a very slim four picks (Gates 40.9, Witten 44.1).

Which one will top the scoring chart this year?

Fantasy doctors Big Noise and Behrens strap on a stethoscope and give their prognoses...

Evans says: Whether it's on the collegiate hardwood or virtual gridiron, Antonio Gates would posterize Jason Witten.

Gates, the broadband generation's Ozzie Newsome, has been the undisputed No. 1 tight end over the past four seasons. During that stretch he's averaged a spectacular 79 receptions, 993.3 receiving yards, 10.3 touchdowns per season and 10.4 FPPG in standard formats. Although Witten surprisingly edged him in FPPG last year (Witten: 9.5, Gates: 9.2), he's still to tight ends what teammate LaDainian Tomlinson is to running backs.

Critics will argue the toe dislocation he suffered in the playoffs, subsequently followed by surgery to repair it in February, has dipped his stock. They're partially right.

Gates' Week 1 prognosis is uncertain. Most insiders expect him to miss most or possibly all of training camp. But the 28-year-old showed incredible pain tolerance gutting out the injury through two playoff games, which suggests he'll be ready. Norv Turner seemed optimistic about his recovery in early June:

"He's exercising and working it pretty good. He's making great progress."

Given his toughness, it will be "Nothin' but a G Thang" starting Week 1.

On the field, the continued maturation of Philip Rivers combined with the presence of field-stretchers Vincent Jackson and Chris Chambers will limit double-teams on Gates, enhancing his value. Yes, his targets may shrink slightly, but his goal-line contributions cannot be underestimated.

The difference between Gates and Witten is miniscule but given the supercharged receiver's storied history, grit and improved supporting cast, he's still the position's trustworthy standard. Fearless Forecast: 78RECs-982YDs-9TDs.

Behrens says: I can't believe we're even having this discussion.

No disrespect intended to Gates, but he's recovering from off-season foot surgery (torn plantar plate), he likely won't be ready for camp, and it's not clear that he'll be available in Week 1. When asked prior to surgery about his timetable, Gates said, "It may be the beginning of training camp and it may be the middle of the season." Expect him to be limited early in the year.

Witten, meanwhile, is fine.

He was also the leading scorer among TEs last season, edging Gates 147 to 145. Witten finished with 96 receptions for 1145 yards and seven touchdowns. He delivered four 100-yard games and was targeted more often than Gates (141 to 117), because Tony Romo loves him like a pet.

That's not to say that Philip Rivers hasn't leaned heavily on Gates. But when Chris Chambers arrived after the Week 7 bye, Gates' production dipped: he had 43 of his 75 catches in Weeks 1-6, and 547 of his 984 receiving yards.

Don't even talk to me about what Gates did back in the Brees days, prior to 2006. Today it's Rivers-to-Gates and Romo-to-Witten. That's our comparison.

Let's revisit something Brad wrote last November, while arguing that "Gates' reign as the supreme god of tight ends is being challenged":

The current successes of guys like Winslow, Witten and Miller will likely carry over into next season.

If you believe it will, then Witten should be the first TE drafted.

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