Faceoff: Tony Gonzalez
Mike Brown: Tell me if you've heard this one before...
He's too old.
This is the year the wide receivers are going to pass him by.
There are so many great "value" tight ends at the end of the draft that it makes no sense to draft a top-tier guy.
With Tony Gonzalez, it's the same story, different setting. Seems like around this time of year, a bunch of people try to be the first one in line to tell you that Tony Gonzalez is going to fall off a cliff.
And pretty much every year since the beginning of time, that statement has looked fairly ridiculous by season's end.
Let's start with the age factor. Gonzalez is not too old at 34, as evidenced by the fact that he has missed just two games due to injury in his entire fourteen-year career. He keeps himself in top physical condition, and last year when everyone around him on the Falcons was regressing and/or falling apart, he was busy putting up his 10th top-5 tight end finish in the last eleven years.
So what happened now that Gonzalez proved that he could be a top-5 guy with someone other than the Kansas City Chiefs? Well, naturally, he's being drafted as the seventh tight end off the board. I guess that makes sense. The guy was with a new team for the first time in his life, his quarterback played pretty poorly, the star running back missed roughly 1/3 of the season, and all Gonzalez did was put up his typical stellar numbers. He finished top-5. Again. For the 10th time in 11 years. And now he's being taken 7th.
WHAT IN THE WORLD IS GOING ON HERE?!?
Gonzalez enters his second season with the Falcons, and if anything, he's likely to improve upon last year's numbers. He's familiar with the quarterback, familiar with the offense, and has already established himself as a leader of the team. Not to mention, aside from Roddy White, nobody else on the Falcons is going to intrude on Gonzalez's targets. Although his production was down slightly, he still had the fourth-most targets of his career. As long as he's getting the looks, he's going to find a way to put up points. And now that he's had a "down" year (again, by his standards), he presents awesome value. If you draft him at TE7, will there be a handful of tight ends behind him that finish the season ranked ahead of him? Probably. There is always a Jason Witten, Antonio Gates, or Vernon Davis who leaps the entire field and has a breakout season. But for every 2009 Vernon Davis, there are a half dozen 2008 Vernon Davises - guys who are supposed to make the leap, but instead fizzle out and stink. If you're looking for the next big thing, good luck. If you're looking for a value pick for a guy you can just about pencil in for top-5 stats at a tough position, Gonzalez must be your guy.
Jeff Pasquino: Saying Tony Gonzalez is going to have a bad year is not an easy thing to do, and that is not exactly what I am going to describe here on the down side of Mr. Gonzalez. Tony has been a Pro Bowl caliber tight end for most of his long career, but that period of time is rapidly coming to a close. Come September Tony Gonzalez will be 34 years old when the season begins, which is pretty darn old for any starter other than possibly a quarterback.
Gonzalez's first catch this year will be his 1,000 of his career, but the concern is how many will he grab the rest of this season. He has talked about retirement before so the end of his long and productive career is coming soon - the only question is when. Quite often the back end of a career, even a fantastic one like Gonzalez has had, can see a tremendous falloff in production in the waning moments.
The Falcons are not a strong passing offense after Roddy White, so Gonzalez will be asked yet again to be the de facto WR2 for Atlanta. Matt Ryan had a disappointing season last year so his bounce back in 2010 will also be a factor. Another concern will be whether Michael Turner can be a stud running back after a disappointing 2009. If he gets back to full strength and puts up numbers similar to 2008 (over 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns) there will be fewer goal line touches and passes to spread around.
The final issue with Gonzalez is the rest of the NFL and the current crop of tight ends that he is currently being compared to for this coming season. Of all the potential fantasy TE1's for 2010, Gonzalez is the oldest and has a very high ADP (65, TE7). There are at least three - probably more - tight ends that can be had later in the draft that represent as good as or close to the same value and production as Gonzalez this year. For example, Owen Daniels was on a pace to be the top tight end last year but he is a steal as TE8 and typically going 1-2 rounds later in drafts. The prospect of getting more RB or WR depth and waiting to select a comparable tight end this season is what value drafting is all about.