Could Gates be a tight end fantasy flop?
As I type this, the calendar has already flipped to September on the East Coast. Bemoan the checks to be written to your landlord, school or daycare center if you must, but stand back and celebrate the significance of the day.
The college football season kicked off on Thursday night with Wisconsin and Mississippi State ruling the day, a solid introduction to a fantastic Labor Day weekend chock-full of gridiron action.
Even if the matchups fail to inspire you, aren’t you excited to leave the litigation behind? Or, at the very least, push it behind the highlights?
Once you take in a full weekend of highlights, your appetite will undoubtedly be whetted for the reintroduction of the NFL regular season. To that end, I present the final installation of my preseason ramblings (blogs not included, of course). I’m wrapping up the series of "Flop" columns by putting the tight end position under the microscope.
Chris Cooley, WAS
Analysis: I don’t know that I need to type much more than this. Dr. James Andrews’ name appears in his player notes and Cooley has yet to make an appearance in Washington workouts. Cooley has been rehabbing a sore left knee after undergoing surgery early in the offseason. The PPR hero says that he fully intends to participate in the Redskins’ opener against the Giants on September 11, but I’m playing a wait-and-see game here. I have him slotted as a TE2 and tabbed Fred Davis a “super ninja.”
Marcedes Lewis, JAC
Analysis: I banged the drum for the former UCLA standout for years prior to his breakout season as a red zone beast for the Jaguars. He was one of few positives in a frustrating .500 season for Jacksonville as he became David Garrard’s most reliable target. Lewis established new career marks across the board with 58 receptions, 700 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.
I’m not ready to dismiss Lewis. The release of Mike Sims-Walker prior to the lockout portends to a heavier load for Lewis given the dearth of quality veteran options in the receiving corps (Mike Thomas is the leading returning option). Still, I can’t anticipate a repeat of the red zone efficiency. Lewis had amassed a total of seven touchdowns in his first four NFL seasons.
Lewis is refining his approach and keeping himself in beast mode by undertaking MMA training with FOX Sports’ Jay Glazer. He’s not resting on his laurels following his breakthrough season, and I love that. I just don’t love the offense to produce consistent drives.
Rob Gronkowski, NE
Analysis: How do you top Gronkowski’s introduction to the NFL? The rookie from Arizona caught multiple passes in eight games last season and racked up 10 touchdowns. At 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds, he has the physicality and size to create space and post up defenders. Gronkowski left any questions about his health in the rearview mirror. Those who followed my ramblings from the start of the 2010 pre-draft season recognize my appreciation of the big man’s skills. I still want to remove that “Big” nickname and include something with more swagger, but that’s another topic.
Gronkowski’s red zone dominance is unquestioned. The arrival of Chad Ochocinco alongside Wes Welker, a veritable gaggle of running backs (including a pair of fantastic goal-line options) and fellow second-year tight end Aaron Hernandez clouds his role and limits his target count between the 20s.
Visanthe Shiancoe, MIN
Analysis: Shiancoe was one of the players most directly impacted by Brett Favre’s precipitous fall from grace during the 2010 season. The would-be red zone hero was limited to two touchdown receptions last season. Shiancoe still amassed 47 receptions, and his total of 530 receiving yards was not far removed from his 2008 and 2009 production (596 and 530 yards, respectively). Unfortunately for fantasy owners, Shiancoe racked up 18 touchdowns in those seasons.
In some ways, Shiancoe cannot fall further than he did a year ago. After all, his touchdown total dropped by nine last season (from 11 to two). I’m more concerned about the arrival of rookie Kyle Rudolph from Notre Dame as a vulture to Shiancoe’s reception count and the hamstring injury that has kept him off of the practice field for much of the preseason.
I question whether Shiancoe will be called upon to block more frequently to aid what is considered a sub-par offensive line, thereby allowing Rudolph more of an opportunity to slide out into pass routes.
Antonio Gates, SD
Analysis: I couldn’t write this piece without taking a long look to San Diego. Gates was positively dominant during his 10-game run last season. He averaged 78.2 yards and one touchdown per game. Gates was shut out of the end zone only twice. The numbers may not overwhelm you, but remember that Philip Rivers was working with third and fourth receivers while Vincent Jackson sat home. Gates was set to crush his previous career bests in 2010 while playing with a raging plantar facsiitis.
Recent reports from San Diego indicate that Gates’ recovery from myriad injuries to both legs has gone well. He’s still the unquestioned top option at the position. However, I would be remiss if I neglected to note that Gates will be 31 years old at kickoff, and there has to be some concern about the recent spate of injuries.
Gates’ extended absence in 2010 represented his first missed dates since 2005. He guts it out and gets in-between the white lines. We saw that for 10 games in 2010. Can he do it again? Can he live up to his third-round draft slot?