Now that I’ve dealt with two defenders, now it’s time to turn the focus and scout an offensive player. Who better to start with than the future Hall of Famer on the roster: tight end Tony Gonzalez.
Pros: Has excellent hands and has good concentration to secure the ball firmly almost every time. Has a knack for getting position against the defender and making the catch in traffic. Does an excellent job adjusting to the thrown ball and making the catch. Will come down with most jump balls and plays the ball very well in the air, attacking it. Knows how to find the soft spots in the zone. Does a nice job as a runner after the catch when he has a step on the defender and not afraid of contact. An extremely hard worker that has an eye for detail, which makes him an excellent leader by example.
Cons: Not a great blocker. Will give effort, but not strong or physical enough to maintain his blocks for long and is a bit of a liability when teams run behind him. Will miss some assignments both as a run blocker and in pass protection. Doesn’t have great speed or burst to get great separation from the defender as well as making plays downfield in the passing game. This can force passer to fit throws into tighter windows.
2010 Outlook: Gonzalez transformed the Falcons offense a year ago. Mike Mularkey has never really had a tight end that can be a featured weapon in the passing game, and Gonzalez was exactly that. He provided a ton of value on third downs and was among the league leaders in converting on third downs. He also was a valuable asset in the redzone because his presence could free up other receivers. When the Falcons needed a play to be made in the passing game, they usually turned to Gonzalez. The Falcons hope Gonzalez can continue to add similar value on third downs and near the goalline in 2010.
Gonzalez doesn’t seem like a very vocal leader, but his work ethic is probably among the best you’ll find in the league. And with young players on the roster wondering what it takes to become a future Hall of Famer, that level of work ethic is likely infectious. This makes him a very positive influence in the locker room even if he was to never say a word.
There is no doubt that Gonzalez is not the same player he was several years ago. He doesn’t have the speed and burst he once did. But he’s still one of the top tight ends in the league, and what he may lack in explosive potential he makes up for in reliability. He rarely loses a jump ball so even if the quarterback’s job might be a bit harder fitting throws into smaller windows, the passer can trust that it rarely will result in an interception. If Gonzalez doesn’t catch it, then he’ll prevent the defender from doing so as well.
In years past, Gonzalez proved to be an impossible matchup for most linebackers and safeties in the league. That was not always the case last year, as there were several games in which he was contained. He had only four plays last year of over 20 yards, when he averaged roughly 12 per year for a full decade in Kansas City.
Gonzalez may see a decline in production this year if the Falcons can get Michael Jenkins and Harry Douglas more involved in the passing game. Coupled with a potentially healthier rushing attack from Michael Turner and the other backs, means that they may not rely as heavily on Gonzalez if they can get more manageable third down situations. But it’s not likely that it will be a huge drop in production, and despite having less catches or yards, he may become an even more effective player. Having Douglas in the slot should help him as it should draw a safety or linebacker away from him. Now that Mularkey has a year of working with him, he may be better able to put Gonzalez in situations that he can take advantage of. Last year, Mularkey was learning on the fly, having acquired Gonzalez midway through the off-season.
In Summary… Gonzalez will remain a security blanket and playmaker for the Falcons. Although with another year under his belt, the number of explosive plays will likely be less than the year before. But even still, Gonzalez will be motivated to play at a high level because he desperately wants to win a Super Bowl before his career is done. And with him playing year to year, this may be his last opportunity. So the Falcons will do very well to try and capitalize on that hunger. So the Falcons can be sure to get the best of Gonzalez. And while his best may not be what it was back in 2004, it certainly is a lot more than what most NFL teams get out of the position.