Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Preseason mock drafts show that fantasy owners expected an aging tight end to challenge youngsters Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski for the top spot at the position this season.
That has happened, but it hasn't been the veteran everyone thought it would be rising to the top.
The Atlanta Falcons' Tony Gonzalez, not the San Diego Chargers' Antonio Gates, is currently atop the leaderboard among tight ends. Coming off a ridiculous 13- catch, 123-yard, one-touchdown game in Week 5, Gonzalez now leads the entire NFL in catches with 39.
His Sunday line equalled Gates' reception total and came within 20 yards of his receiving yardage accumulation for the entire season. Gates was taken third among tight ends in fantasyfootballcalculator.com mock drafts, with Gonzalez not going until more than four rounds later.
How did we all miss this badly on the future Hall of Famer?
Well, we knew Atlanta was going to open up their offense this season, but it was difficult to see how there would be enough targets to satisfy Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez on a week-to-week basis. Simply put, there have been plenty for all three.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is on pace to best last season's attempts by 71 and completions by 88, with a ridiculous 69.3 percent of his passes (138- of-199) going in the direction of Gonzalez, White or Jones.
According to the Sports Network's target tracker, Ryan has thrown 47 balls Gonzalez' way, 46 to Jones and 45 to White. Harry Douglas is fourth with just 16.
Instead of taking away value from Gonzalez, White and Jones have done the opposite, drawing defenders towards the numbers and giving Gonzalez free reign of the middle of the field.
"When you have guys like Roddy and Julio outside, you saw anytime that we threw the ball deep, there were two or three guys around them," Gonzalez said Sunday, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "That means I'm getting man-to- man coverage underneath. I've said that for most of my career, if I can get man-to-man coverage, I should be able to get open most of the time."
Most of the time he has -- the tight end is second in NFL history with 1,188 receptions.
The concern for Gonzalez owners has to be that defenses are going to start clogging the middle of the field and daring Ryan to throw the ball down the field to his talented receivers, which would take targets away from Gonzalez, but I don't think teams can afford to do that the entire game.
Gonzalez may be deadly, but at least opponents can count on a slow death in the form of 8- to 15-yard gains when choosing that brand of poison instead of the 40-yard bombs for touchdowns White or Jones would produce against frequent single coverage.