Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Clark setting bar among productive tight ends

Dallas Clark leads the NFL in receiving yards through two weeks

By Jamey Eisenberg

September 25, 2009

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- It was only one game against a team that struggles to defend tight ends, but Dallas Clark showed why we touted him this offseason as the best player at his position with his performance Monday night at Miami.

Clark helped the Colts beat the Dolphins with seven catches for 183 yards and a touchdown. They're biased, but Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning and wide receiver Reggie Wayne agree with us that Clark is the best tight end in the NFL.

Wayne said he even plans to make "Vote for Dallas Clark for Pro Bowl" T-shirts this season.

"Oh yeah, by far he's the best," Wayne said after Monday's game. "I felt like that for years. I felt like he's been way overdue to get his props."

Added Manning: "Dallas doesn't go underappreciated around here. I certainly hope he gets the national attention he deserves."

We're trying Peyton, we're trying. But Clark has plenty of competition to be the best tight end this season. In fact, the position is loaded with talent, and it might be the best year we've ever seen for tight ends.

It also helps that some teams -- like Miami, Buffalo, St. Louis, Detroit and the Giants -- have struggled to defend tight ends. The Dolphins, for example, allowed Tony Gonzalez to catch five passes for 73 yards and a touchdown in his debut with the Falcons in Week 1 before Clark ran through their secondary.

This week, the Dolphins face Antonio Gates, and the Chargers should expect Gates to play well just like Gonzalez and Clark.

"We always want to get Antonio going," San Diego coach Norv Turner said in a conference call Wednesday. "We are going to look for ways to get him the ball."

Clark, Gates, Gonzalez and Jason Witten came into 2009 as the best tight ends in most Fantasy leagues. We expected Kellen Winslow, Chris Cooley and Jeremy Shockey would bounce back after poor seasons last year, and so far they haven't let us down.

We were also counting on Owen Daniels, John Carlson and Dustin Keller to keep improving, and each one is off to a good start. The only tight end who we liked that has struggled so far is Greg Olsen, but we still expect him to rebound once he and Jay Cutler develop a rapport.

Along with that, there have been pleasant surprises with how Todd Heap has come back from his injury woes, Benjamin Watson looks rejuvenated with Tom Brady's return and Brent Celek has turned into a better sleeper than we anticipated. There have also been positive signs from Heath Miller, Kevin Boss, Jermichael Finley, Zach Miller and Visanthe Shiancoe.

And the numbers suggest tight ends are thriving. Through two games, there are 10 tight ends with at least 10 catches, six with at least two touchdowns and 18 with at least 75 yards receiving.

Clark leads the NFL in receiving yards with 222, and Celek (14), Cooley (14), Carlson (12), Gonzalez (12) and Winslow (12) are among the NFL leaders in receptions. There's no reason to suggest these tight ends will slow down their production either.

Winslow (19), Celek (18), Cooley (17), Gates (16) and Witten (14) lead their team in targets, and Carlson (16), Gonzalez (16), Daniels (16) and Clark (14) are second on their respective teams. It shows how much quarterbacks are leaning on tight ends.

Fantasy owners should be happy with the tight end play to start the season. And in case you missed on one of the elite tight ends, there are options to add off the waiver wire with Celek (70 percent ownership), Boss (69 percent), Heap (58 percent), Watson (55 percent) and Finley (27 percent) still available in some leagues on

Can these tight ends keep up this level or production? That's what we'll have to find out. And we're curious to see if Clark will remain in the No. 1 spot as we predicted.

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is one person who disagrees with us. Like Wayne and Manning, he's biased toward his own tight end, but he said Gates is the best in the NFL based on his career and continued production.

"Other quarterbacks would answer their tight end," Rivers said when asked on a conference call about Gates. "I think he could be argued as the best, and I certainly feel he is."

Gates gets his turn at the Dolphins this week. We'll find out if he can perform like Clark did, and it should be fun to watch the tight end battle continue throughout the season.

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