Tight end titans Jason Witten(notes) and Antonio Gates(notes) have been perennial top-five producers over the past five seasons. Widely accepted as the pacesetters of their position entering '09, only 11 picks separate the two according ADP returns compiled by MockDraftCentral (Witten: 42.22, Gates: 53.12). However, in the eyes of Y! pigskin prognosticators Brad Evans and Brandon Funston the gap is significantly wider.
Superiorly steady, Jason Witten has morphed into the Peyton Manning(notes) of tight ends. Though Gates can make a similar claim, Dallas' shining star clearly deserves to be the first TE taken in drafts this season.
First, with T.O. badgering folks in Buffalo, Witten should see an increase in looks. Even with Owens in blue and white, the monolithic receiver attracted 27.8 percent of his team's targets last year. Gates netted only 18.6 percent. Because of his robust rapport with Romo, uncanny ability to exploit open spaces and expected upswing in targets, his chances of repeating ‘07 are favorable. Roy Williams will play a substantial role, but the passing attack will undoubtedly flow through the veteran.
Second, Witten is the object of durability. The ultra-dependable weapon hasn't missed a game in five years. Last season, he persevered through rib, shoulder and ankle injuries without skipping a beat. Gates has only been sidelined three times over that span, but several nagging injuries have caused his production to decline dramatically since '05.
Finally, Norv Turner's renewed emphasis on LT and Witten's presumed expanded role should shrink the number of red-zone looks between the two. Last season, Gates enticed 13 more RZ targets than Witten, but in '07 the disparity was just six.
Dwarfing his counterpart in targets, (W: 121, G: 92), receptions (81, 60), and yards (952, 704) in ‘08, Witten is the obvious choice. Touchdowns are the great equalizer, but the evolution of both offenses undoubtedly favors the Cowboys' consistency king.
We've seen Antonio Gates at his worst - and by worst, I mean in a physical state where he somehow managed to play 16 games through pain from a surgically repaired toe, hip stinger and high ankle sprain in ‘08. But, as bad as his health was, he still managed to finish fourth among TEs in fantasy points, a mere one point back of third-place finisher Jason Witten. And only Tony Gonzalez(notes) finished with more than Gates' eight touchdowns.
I used this argument before in the Jennings v. White debate: touchdowns are the trump card in fantasy football. Gates and Witten both entered the league in '03. Since then, Gates has scored 51 TDs compared to Witten 's 25. Witten 's best TD campaign (7 in '07) is lower than Gates' worst TD campaign in the past five years (8 in '08). And in that span, Gates has placed top two at the position in fantasy points four times compared to just once for Witten .
So, to argue for Witten here, I'd have to really believe that Gates' "downturn" last year was more than just a product of his injuries. Or, maybe, we'd have to be talking about a PPR format, which we are not. Please don't use T.O.'s departure as a debate point - his numbers show that he was better with him than without him.
Fact is, if you look at their bodies of work, Gates has more career yardage and more than double Witten's touchdowns. And that's what it's all about.
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