As Colts fans, we've been pretty spoiled when it comes to talented players the last 10 years or so. Peyton Manning, Dwight Freeney, Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison, and Adam Vinatieri are just a few of those guys. All of those guys are pretty much 1st ballot HOFers... That of course leaves out a lot of other players, but I can't list them all! Currently, we've been treated to the best TE in the game, Dallas Clark a.k.a Godzilla. You know the name, you know the face, you've seen the results....
So why is he the best?
The gold standard at TE for the last 15 years has been for most people, Tony Gonzalez. The guy has been a perfect example of consistency and performance. Others would point to Antonio Gates, who's freakish abilities and athleticism are just one of many reasons why he's often considered it. There are also some others who will point to Jason Witten, Owen Daniels, or the late comer, Vernon Davis.... All are very good players, Gonzalez a future HOFer, but none of these guys are the best TE in the game right now.
So of course the argument will then go from opinion to stats. Well then let's look at the stats. For comparison's sake, I'm only going to use the last 4 seasons to compare. Why only 4 years? In the case of Gonzalez and a few others, they have a larger body of work to look at. Here we go..
207 receptions, 2501 yards, averaging 46.3 ypg, 12.1 yards per catch average, 139 1st downs, 15 TD's
335 receptions, 3881 yards, averaging 60.6 ypg, 11.6 yards per catch average, 191 1st downs, 14 TD's
285 receptions, 3769 yards, averaging 58.9 ypg, 13.2 yards per catch average, 203 1st downs, 34 TD's
351 receptions, 3997 yards, averaging 64.4 ypg, 11.4 yards per catch average, 234 1st downs, 26 TD's
265 receptions, 2937 yards, averaging 50.6 ypg, 11.1 yards per catch average, 159 1st downs, 31 TD's
That is the body of work for the last 4 seasons by what is generally considered the top 5 TE's in the game. All of these stats are quite impressive. At first glance, you'd give the nods to Gates and Gonzalez....but wait...
The problem with looking at just statistics is that you overlook the intangibles of each player's situation.
Gates has spent virtually all of his career as the #1 WR in San Diego. Sure, they have decent WR's, but so does the Colts practice squad. The best WR in San Diego not named Gates is Vincent Jackson. Jackson has become as good as he is right now because of Gates, not the other way around. On top of that, up until recently, the Chargers featured one of the league's best running games with LT, Sproles, and Neal. Throw in two of the best QB's in the league, and he looks fantastic.
Gonzalez is exactly the same as Gates. He's played for teams (up until he went to Atlanta) where he was the best receiver on his team. He also played in offenses that were heavy rushing attacks (Christian Akoye, Priest Holmes, Larry Johnson). Add in Rich Gannon, Trent Green, Damon Huard, and a slew of other average QB's, he's been the go to guy in virtually every offense.
Witten is another beneficiary of a strong running game offense. He's never been the primary WR on his team, Still, he's been the #1 or #2 featured receiver in that offense. The Cowboys have typically had a good to elite WR on their team for much of his time there. . His stats show that...
Daniels is the first TE on this list where he was NOT the #1 target in his offense. That luxury goes to the very talented Andre Johnson. Having defenses focusing on him has allowed Daniels to flourish, especially once the Texans offensive line started to actually block for their QB. Daniels has really come on the last 2 seasons as the Texans have developed a consistent running game, but he's still more flash than substance so far.
Clark is the wildcard in this bunch. He's only had a dominant running game offense for his first 2 seasons, when he played 4th/5th fiddle to Stokely, Harrison, Wayne, and Edge. Once the Colts passing attack reverted to a normal 2 WR setup (after Stokely's injury) his reps became more frequent. Couple that with the below average running game, the inability to be covered by any LB in the league, and the fact half of the DB's in the NFL can't cover him one on one, Clark's numbers stand out even more when you realize he's still the 3rd or 4th option on his team. Sure, Manning has gone to Clark alot in the past year or so, but alot of that has to do with injuries, not necessarily choice. Throw in that with the fact that the Colts have pretty much featured two WR's that average 1400 yards, 10 TDs a season, it makes it all that more insane.
So if we go off stats alone, Clark is probably the 3rd best guy in the list. Add in the intangibles I've listed, and Clark really starts to distance himself from the pack. Think about it, a guy has put up 31 TD's in 4 seasons as what amounts to possibly 3rd-5th option in the offense...
Having said all of this.... Tony Gonzalez is still the best TE I have ever watched play the game. Dallas Clark has shown ALOT of Gonzalez in his game. That is why I feel that Gonzalez has finally passed the torch to Clark, and why Clark is finally getting the acknowledgment that most of us already know.
** I could not include Vernon Davis in this discussion because he has not proven anything except one really fantastic season. He was labeled a dud up until this past year by most draft reviews. The only addition I could have made to this list in my opinion is Brent Celek in Philly. I excluded him as he is at best, still not better than any of these guys.**