The question has been asked many times this season: just who is the best tight end in the AFC this season? Obviously, we'd like to believe that Kellen Winslow has the most potential, but the Browns have not been able to get him the football at the most opportune times in the red zone. Only two tight ends are typically voted into the Pro Bowl, and being in contention come December usually has a lot to do with making it and not making it. Let's take a look at the "elite" tight ends in the AFC, and the possible reasons for why they deserve to go to the Pro Bowl or why they do not deserve to go. I'd like to note that what certain players like Tony Gonzalez and Todd Heap do in the next few weeks could change my decision on them, because clutch games while trying to clinch a playoff spot are huge.
*Note, the numbers in parenthesis indicate how these six players rank in the AFC only among these six players.
AFC TIGHT END STATISTICS
|Antonio Gates||50 (3)||604 (3)||12.1 (3)||5 (2)|
|Tony Gonzalez||48 (4)||623 (2)||13.0 (2)||3 (T-3)|
|Todd Heap||55 (2)||564 (5)||10.3 (T-4)||6 (1)|
|Randy McMichael||44 (6)||453 (6)||10.3 (T-4)||1 (6)|
|Benjamin Watson||45 (5)||597 (4)||13.3 (1)||3 (T-3)|
|Kellen Winslow||66 (1)||649 (1)||9.8 (6)||3 (T-3)|
- ANTONIO GATES, San Diego Chargers: In my opinion, Gates is still the class of the tight ends in the AFC. His numbers are somewhat down from a season ago, but he has always been there for first-year quarterback Phillip Rivers. The Chargers don't really have a "go-to-guy" as a wide receiver, meaning that a big tight end has been critical in Rivers' young career. Ironically, his worst game of the season statistically this season came against Cleveland (2 catches, 22 yards), but even in that game, he made a big first-down reception after breaking away from Brodney Pool. Those are the type of plays that define Gates, and ranking him first in the AFC is a no brainer.
No love for Kellen Winslow?
- TONY GONZALEZ, Kansas City Chiefs: We'll see the big tight end tomorrow, but clearly he is no longer the focal point of the Chiefs offense. During a four-week span earlier this season, Gonzalez only caught 11 passes for 106 yards. However, during the next four weeks following that, he recorded 23 catches for 401 yards a game, a sign that he is starting to pick things up. He is coming off of an injury though, and the Chiefs passing game sort of turned low-key publicity wise when Damon Huard had to fill in for the injured Trent Green. If Gonzalez keeps that four-game pace up, he'll probably earn the right to make the Pro Bowl. However, my guess is that the Chiefs will stick with their power running game a little more, as Trent Green is still getting used to being back on the field.
- TODD HEAP, Baltimore Ravens: When it comes to clutch situations, Heap has been the biggest name among tight ends in the entire league. Earlier this season, we all remember that Heap caught the game-winning touchdown against us, in one of Steve McNair's comeback victories. The very next week, Heap did the same exact thing against the San Diego Chargers, and we all know that it's not easy to beat them. He also set the tone against the Steelers last Sunday with a touchdown grab early, and leads the league at the position with six. People were worried about how McNair would operate the Ravens, and if you recall correctly, he utilized the tight ends beautifully when he was with the Titans. Heap has opened things up for guys like Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton as well, who are having some pretty good years in Baltimore.
- RANDY MCMICHAEL, Miami Dolphins: Typically, the thing that kills McMichael's chances at the Pro Bowl are his lack of touchdowns, as well as the fact that he plays on a team that is failing to make the postseason. That same scenario is taking place this season, as McMichael just recorded his first touchdown of the season last week, and Miami is a long shot to make the playoff, despite winning four in a row. McMichael has had to deal with too many quarterback platoons over the years, and that's probably a reason as to why he's always "good, but not great".
- BENJAMIN WATSON, New England Patriots: Is he really up here? I knew that Watson was having a solid season for the Patriots, but I failed to realize that his numbers were comparable with the five other men I've listed. In a season that Brady had to adjust to losing his top two receivers (Deion Branch and David Givens), Watson has become Brady's go-to-guy, especially over the past two weeks, ironically the point that the Patriots ended their two-game losing streak. During the past two games, Watson has 11 catches for 161 yards and two touchdowns. Unfortunately for Watson, he's like to remain in that "underrated" category for another season, as the Patriots really aren't known for having a top-tier tight end.
- KELLEN WINSLOW, Cleveland Browns: Ah, yes, and now comes our beloved Kellen Winslow. We're always screaming for Winslow to get the ball more, but he leads the group among catches and yards receiving. The mark that stands out though is that he is sixth in yards per catch, which should be everything but the case. Out of all the tight ends in the NFL, Winslow should be the guy that gets the ball and creates yardage after the catch - instead, we're getting him the ball in the wrong situations. He has shown tremendous heart for a losing football team every week, but how are people outside of Cleveland going to know that? Even in our blowout loss last week, he had 6 catches for 52 yards. Winslow could possibly be the best tight end, but in terms of records, he's playing for the worst team. When you play for a team that isn't in contention, your name doesn't pop up into the minds of voters, unless you're having an outrageous seasons (like ten touchdowns).
- Antonio Gates
- Todd Heap
- Kellen Winslow
- Tony Gonzalez
- Benjamin Watson
- Randy McMichael
Now, before I go, here is a statement made by Dr. Anthony Miniaci, the Browns' head physician in regards to Ryan Tucker.
Also, there has been word on LeCharles Bentley having yet another surgery, which could put him out for all of next season. That would be terrible news, and I'll have more on that as things develop. After sifting through this post, it probably seems so negative: no Pro Bowl for Winslow, Bentley possibly out another year, and Tucker having an illness. However, here's something positive to leave you with: it's looking good that cornerback Leigh Bodden will start this week.For all of you Cleveland Indians fans, head over to Let's Go Tribe to find out about some signings that the Indians have made, including Roberto Hernandez and Aaron Fultz, two relievers that should help our bullpen out this year.