We all know that tight end is one of the toughest positions to predict. From week-to-week you never know who is going to post a big performance. Will it be an unknown who manages to score two TD? Will it be a mid-level option who suddenly becomes a team’s top target?
The questions actually start at the top and filter all the way down. The truth is, there is no consensus number one tight end heading into 2010, though two clearly stand out for the distinction. Antonio Gates (ADP of 44.3 according to Mock Draft Central) and Dallas Clark (ADP of 46.1), are certainly the best of the class.
In my most recent rankings (click here to view), I have Clark at the top with Gates just behind. Should I be reevaluating that thought process? Let’s take a look.
First, let’s their 2009 numbers:
Clark – 100 receptions, 1,106 yards, 10 TD
Gates – 79 receptions, 1,157 yards, 8 TD
Clark certainly had the edge last season, but a lot has changed between now and then. Most importantly, the Chargers have undergone a significant overhaul in their offense. LaDanian Tomlinson is gone, replaced by rookie Ryan Mathews. In theory, Vincent Jackson is still on the roster, but has been rumored to be willing to hold out the entire season unless he gets a new contract.
That leaves them extremely thin at WR, led by Malcolm Floyd (45 receptions, 776 yards, 1 TD) and Legedu Naanee (24 receptions, 242 yards, 2 TD). Gates quickly emerges as the team’s top option, which should make him the prime target for Philip Rivers, though defenses will be focusing on him just the same.
Unless one of their young receivers emerge as a go to target, defenses will double and triple team Gates, taking him out of the offense and making the Chargers beat them in other ways. If they can’t prove that they can, it could be a constant struggle for Gates to get free.
The team could also turn to a more run oriented approach, with Mathews and Darren Sproles, trying to force defenses to bring an extra man up and loosen things up deep. That could work, but it means less passing attempts, limiting the opportunities for Gates.
As it is, the Chargers were 23rd in the league in passing attempts with 519. If they went even more run heavy, coupled with the other questions, Gates becomes an even riskier proposition.
Clark has an entirely different problem. The Colts are one of the deepest teams offensively. With Reggie Wayne, the emergence of Pierre Garcon, the potential return of Anthony Gonzalez and the presence of Austin Collie, they can spread the defense out and simply pick them apart.
The Colts are one of the most pass happy offenses in the league, finishing second with 601 pass attempts (the Seahawks led the way with 609). While there is plenty of competition for receptions, there are also more then enough balls to go around.
Clark has continued to develop his rapport with Peyton Manning, culminating last year in his first 100 catch campaign, as well as his first year with over 1,000 yards. There is little reason to think that they will change their offensive approach, so unless he has an injury problem (last year was the first time he played in all 16 games), there’s no reason to think he can’t at least come close those numbers.
While there are concerns about both players, I have no reason to change my stance on who the top option is. Clark plays in a high-powered offense that throws the ball all over the field. With the other weapons in place, teams can’t simply focus on him, meaning he should once again be in line for a big season.
What are your thoughts? Who should be the top tight end selected on draft day? Why?
Make sure to check out Rotoprofessor’s 2010 rankings:
Also, make sure to check out our recent rookie rankings: