2011 appeared to mark a changing of the guard among tight ends. Second-year players Rob Gronkowski of New England and Jimmy Graham of New Orleans both broke Kellen Winslow Sr.’s record for most receiving yards by a tight end, which had stood since 1980. Gronkowski and Graham each had nearly 400 yards more than any other tight end.
But going into Week 11 of 2012, Gronkowski and Graham had come back to the pack in the yardage rankings. Gronkowski was ranked second in yards per game and Graham was third.
Ahead of both of them was 36-year-old Tony Gonzalez of the Atlanta Falcons, now in his 16th season. And fourth, just 1.6 yards per game behind Graham, was 10-year vet Jason Witten of the Dallas Cowboys. All of these players are top fantasy football picks.
Witten led all tight ends in receptions with 66 and Gonzalez was second with 61. Gronkowski was third with 46, followed by Graham with 45.
Gonzalez had gone over 1,000 yards four different times in his 12 season in Kansas City. But since coming to Atlanta in 2009, Gonzalez had seen his yards per game decline to 41.0 in 2010, his lowest average since 1998. Gonzalez rebounded to 54.7 yards per game in 2011, still well below most of his averages with the Chiefs.
This season, however, Gonzalez had a yards-per-game average of 68.6. If he maintains that average, it would be his highest average since 2007 and fourth best in his career.
Gonzalez also had six touchdowns, tied for third-best among tight ends. In his previous three years in Atlanta, his highest touchdown total for the season was seven.
It should be noted that Gonzalez’ two best games this season so far have come against two of the worst pass defenses in the NFL. In Week 5, Gonzalez caught 13 passes for 123 yards and one touchdown against the Washington Redskins. In Week 10, Gonzalez caught 11 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns against the New Orleans Saints.
Gonzalez gets to face the Saints again in Week 13 and will face the low-rated Tampa Bay pass defense in Week 12 and Week 17. In Weeks 14-16, he will face the low-ranked Giants pass defense in Week 15, along with Carolina and Detroit.
Witten’s 65.0 yards per game through Week 10 was his best average since 2007. If he maintained it, it would be the second-best average in his career.
Witten had been targeted 91 times going into Week 11, leading all tight ends (Gonzalez was next with 79). Witten was tied for eighth among all pass catchers.
But while Witten’s reception total gives him value in PPR leagues, he has disappointed in scoring, with just one touchdown so far. Witten had five touchdowns in 2011 and nine touchdowns in 2010.
Witten gets to face the Saints in championship Week 16.