Spotlight: Tony Gonzalez

posted by Jason Wood on Jul 31st


Jason Wood's thoughts

One of these years, Tony Gonzalez is going to hit the wall. It happens to everyone. No matter how skilled, how committed, how fit a player is, there's an end to everyone's arc of productivity. Luckily for fantasy owners, Gonzalez is helping re-set the bar in terms of how long a player can maintain elite productivity. Gonzalez is 34 years old but hasn't yet show any signs of falling off the proverbial cliff. Last year he caught 83 receptions for 867 yards and 6 TDs, making him the 5th ranked fantasy TE. That was the fourth time in his 30s he finished as a Top 5 fantasy player; astounding to say the least.

Here is a list of the top fantasy TE seasons by a player 30 years or older:

Rank First Last Year Age Recs Yards TDs FPTs
1 Dallas Clark 2009 30 100 1,106 10 171.7
2 Tony Gonzalez 2008 32 96 1,058 10 165.8
3 Todd Christensen 1986 30 95 1,153 8 163.3
4 Wesley Walls 1999 33 63 822 12 154.2
5 Tony Gonzalez 2007 31 99 1,172 5 147.2
6 Shannon Sharpe 1998 30 64 768 10 136.8
7 Wesley Walls 1996 30 61 713 10 131.3
8 Shannon Sharpe 2003 35 62 770 8 125.0
9 Tony Gonzalez 2009 33 83 867 6 122.7
10 Brent Jones 1994 31 49 670 9 121.0
11 Tony Gonzalez 2006 30 73 900 5 120.0
12 Raymond Chester 1979 31 58 712 8 119.2
13 Jimmie Giles 1985 31 43 673 8 115.3
14 Shannon Sharpe 2000 32 67 810 5 111.0
15 Wesley Walls 1997 31 58 746 6 110.6
16 Keith Jackson 1996 31 40 505 10 110.5
17 Mickey Shuler 1988 32 70 805 5 110.5
18 Dave Casper 1981 30 33 572 8 105.2
19 Jay Novacek 1995 33 62 705 5 100.5
20 Jay Novacek 1992 30 68 630 6 99.0
21 Riley Odoms 1980 30 39 590 6 95.0
22 Dave Casper 1982 31 36 573 6 93.3
23 Shannon Sharpe 2001 33 73 811 2 93.1
24 Jackie Smith 1970 30 37 687 4 92.7
25 Frank Wycheck 2001 30 60 672 4 92.4

Not only has Gonzo been a Top 5 fantasy TE each year in his 30s, all four of his seasons rank in the Top 11 in NFL history for 30+ year old tight ends. So is there any reason to worry he can't deliver again at 34 years old? Probably not, but there are SLIGHT cracks in the armor.

  • Last year's 10.4 yards per catch were his lowest since 1998
  • He ranked a dismal 55th in YAC/reception last season
  • He ranked 36th in catch percentage at his position

Okay, so those metrics point to the fact that he isn't as explosive as he was in his prime. But that's perfectly acceptable since he has so many other skills that are still fantastic.

  • He's still a precise route runner
  • He still can outmuscle defenders
  • He continues to break tackles
  • His 6 TDs were stll a decent clip given his targets

We also have to remember that Gonzalez was adjusting to an entirely new situation last year. After spending 12 seasons in Kansas City, Gonzo joined the Atlanta Falcons last year. That wasn't the first time he had to adjust to a new quarterback, but there's a huge difference between changing QBs and changing teams, especially for a veteran with his tenure. He needed to adjust to a new city, a new commute, a new practice routine, new locker room, new teammates, new coaches, new beat writers, and a litany of other variables. I know at my age (I'm 35), I'm a lot more set in my ways than I was when I was 22, so I can understand if Gonzalez also had to take some time to get settled.

Gonzalez remains one of the Falcons top targets. Last year he was targeted 135 times, 2nd on the team to Roddy White (165 targets). With Michael Jenkins and oft-injured Harry Douglas in line as the WR2/WR3 combination, Gonzalez is going to be looked at to make plays week in, week out. Particularly going across the middle and in the red zone, where fantasy owners can see their seasons made or broken.

Tight End Red Zone Targets (2009)

Rank First Last Targs Recs Yards YPR 1stDns TDs FPTs
1 Tony Gonzalez 25 12 131 10.9 12 5 43.1
2 Greg Olsen 24 12 68 5.7 9 7 48.8
3 Brent Celek 24 10 86 8.6 6 6 44.6
4 Heath Miller 17 14 92 6.6 8 6 45.2
5 Jermichael Finley 17 12 101 8.4 7 4 34.1
6 Visanthe Shiancoe 16 13 94 7.2 12 11 75.4
7 Kevin Boss 15 5 43 8.6 4 4 28.3
8 Dallas Clark 14 11 78 7.1 10 7 49.8
9 Fred Davis 14 7 61 8.7 7 6 42.1
10 Vernon Davis 13 10 81 8.1 9 8 56.1

Positives

  • Tony Gonzalez is a future Hall of Famer who continues to produce at an elite level
  • Matt Ryan is a promising, strong armed young passer
  • Gonzalez was the 2nd most targeted Falcon last year, and has on real competition for those targets again in 2010

Negatives

  • In spite of many other skills, it needs to be recognized that Gonzalez has lost a bit of acceleration
  • The Falcons ideally want to win games with a heavy ball-control offense, which will ultimately cap Gonzalez' upside
  • Every player eventually hits the wall, and we usually don't see it coming

Final thoughts

The days when Tony Gonzalez was the no-brainer top fantasy TE are long gone, but he still remains a viable TE1 who can help you win more weeks than not. What he may have lost in terms of his acceleration and ability to get yards after the catch, he more than makes up for with his strength, route-running and hands. There's no indication he won't pick up right where he left off in 2009, which was yet another Top 5 fantasy season.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

Hoot&HoLLer said:

Gonzo should rebound from what was for him an off year(albeit a good year for any other te). Ryan will be better in this his 3rd year with Douglas and Roddy and a good running game led by Mike Turner.

Birdie048 said:

Without any major changes in the Atl offense and the healthy status of M Turner, Roddy White will still be target #1, but Gonzo will be a reliable #2. In the run first offense Atl played in 2008, Turner was the focus. But Gonzo still had a very good season. Age is starting to be a topic for him, but not to the point where he loses a step or any value. He turned 34 this past Feb.

Matt Ryan hit is Soph Slump. He is a smart kid who knows how to overcome the obstacles he now faces. The chemistry Gonzo and Ryan have is tough to beat in the NFL. Another Top 3 TE finish for Gonzo.

rzrback77 said:

Tony Gonzalez is one of the most athletic TEs in the history of the NFL. He was the 13th overall pick in the 1997 draft and has had a career for the ages. As a rookie, he finished as the TE 19 with 33 catches. Since that year, he has finished in the top ten TEs for twelve consecutive seasons and has had over 70 catches in each of those years (except 2002 when he had only 63). Even more amazing, he has never played in less than 15 games and in eleven of his thirteen years in the NFL, he has played in all 16 games.

However, he enters this season (his 14th) at the age of 34. Only one TE in the history of the NFL has had over 60 catches in a season at age 34 or above. That person is Shannon Sharpe, who accomplished that feat in 2002 and again in 2003 at the age of 35. Gonzo could meet that level of production, but he is really pushing the envelope at a position where he blocks huge men frequently. I am not saying that he won't do it, I am just saying it will be a historic accomplishment.

In my opinion, his current ADP reflects consideration for his age. Consider that over the past four years, he has finished as TE #3, #3, #1, and #5 and this season, he is currently being drafted at TE #6 and 61 overall. If you think that he can continue his success and reach historical production at his age, then he is a bargain at his ADP. To me, that is a risky proposition, and the availability of other solid TE options will likely not see me grabbing Gonzo in 2010.


Tony Gonzalez projections

RECRECYDRECTDRSHYDRSHTD
Jason Wood80840600
Message board consensus80932700