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The changing of the tight end position

Tony Gonzalez was the first of the "new generation" of tight ends.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - In 1990, Brent Jones caught enough of Joe Montana's passes to lead all tight ends with 747 yards receiving. He had 56 receptions for five scores. Philadelphia's Keith Jackson was a close second with 50-670-6. Today those same numbers would make them an average to below- average starting tight end in a basic 10-team league.

The numbers show how much more effective today's offense is at making use of the position. Today's tight ends are also more athletic and can split out as a receiver just as easily as they can block like a tackle.

It didn't really matter if you picked Brent Jones in 1990 because the difference between Jones and the "average" tight end wasn't enough to make a difference in the fantasy world. The average of the top-10 tight ends in the "Jones" era put up 536 yards and five TD - meaning the difference between Jones and the "average TE" was just 14.75 yards per game (one point under normal scoring systems). Jones' advantage over the 10th-best TE (theoretically the worst starter in a 10-team league) was just 25.87 yards or about two points per game.

Ten years later in 2000 we can see the first of the "new generation" of tight ends - Tony Gonzalez. The Kansas City star put up numbers of a wide receiver in 2000 - 93 catches for 1,203 yards and nine TD. But he was the only tight end of his kind, an aberration, and his abnormally high draft position reflected his unusual statistics.

In 2008 there are four "Gonzalez-type" tight ends, including Tony himself. They are head-and-shoulders above the rest and you need to have one of them on your roster. Gonzalez, along with Jason Witten, Antonio Gates and Kellen Winslow II are worthy of your early draft consideration.

In 2007 these four tight ends averaged 1,102 yards and almost seven TD. Compare that to the rest of your league's starting tight ends - 642 yards and 6 TD (which includes Dallas Clark's rare 11 TD season). Or the No.10 TE if you waited too long - 549 yards and 5 TD.

The difference between one of the top-four and the 10th-ranked TE is about 560 yards and 1 TD - approximately four points per game or twice what it was in 1990. Over a 16-game schedule that is 70 points. Seventy points is the difference between Brian Westbrook's 2007 season and Jamal Lewis' year. Or Adrian Peterson versus Steven Jackson.

It's not enough to pick a tight end in the first couple of rounds, but when the inevitable "TE-run" begins, you need to be part of it.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.

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