Franks effective, but not among top NFL tight ends

The tight end position in the NFL slowly is becoming more and more of a play-making position again as teams continue to chuck the ball in the air more often than not. Because of this, the talent at tight end recently has seen an upswing. Leading the way, though, is a veteran, Tony Gonzalez of Kansas City.

The former college basketball player led the NFL with 102 catches last season. He, along with RB Priest Holmes, is the KC passing offense.

However, what's unique about the tight end position is the two best not only reside in the AFC West, they both played college basketball. San Diego's Antonio Gates erupted on the scene last season, setting an NFL record for tight ends with 13 TD catches.

Additionally, he was 16th in the league with 81 catches.

Overall, six tight ends ranked in the top 30 in receptions in 2004.

Closer to Packers fans hearts is Bubba Franks, who doesn't possess the big-play ability of a Gonzalez or Gates, but still he remains effective. Last season, Franks had 34 catches for 7 TDs, which are good numbers.

Expect more of the same from Franks in 2005, but still it likely won't be enough for him to be listed as a top 10 player at his position. For his career, Franks has averaged 38 catches and almost six TDs per season. Here's a look at the top 10 tight ends in the NFL, among other categories:

1. Tony Gonzalez, Chiefs: Pluses — Is similar to a wide receiver the way he masks plays; height makes him tough in the red zone. Minuses — Not a great blocker, but who cares?

2. Antonio Gates, Chargers: Pluses — Great athlete who can run after the catch; like Gonzalez, plays like a wide receiver. Minuses — Has had just one great season; not a great blocker.

3. Randy McMichael, Dolphins: Pluses—Athletic and makes plays downfield; good runner. Minuses—Plays in Miami, where QBs with talent have been scarce.

4. Jason Witten, Cowboys: Pluses — Sneaky good down the middle and near the end zone. Minuses — Not a burner; has new QB in Drew Bledsoe, which could be good or bad.

5. Jermaine Wiggins, Vikings: Pluses — Showed last season he has ability to make big plays, even after the catch. Minuses — Can get lost in Vikes offense which has weapons, despite loss of Randy Moss.

6. Jeremy Shockey, Giants: Pluses — Great enthusiasm and talent. Minuses: injury prone and a questionable attitude.

7. Eric Johnson, 49ers: Pluses — Solid possession receiver; reliable. Minuses — Doesn't scare any defenses with pedestrian speed.

8. Alge Crumpler, Falcons: Pluses — Consistently productive, even though he's rarely noticed. Minuses — Not the type who'll take over games or make defenses shake.

9. Marcus Pollard, Lions: Pluses — Works well in space as we saw last year in Indianapolis. Minuses — Has Joey Harrington, not Peyton Manning throwing him the ball; will play in an offense with a ton of weapons, which may reduce effectiveness.

10. Freddie Jones, Cardinals: Pluses — Good speed and big-play ability. Minuses — Has bounced around a little, because he's not consistent.

Bubba Franks, Packers: Franks is solid everywhere, but not above average anywhere. Still, he's a valuable weapon inside the 20 as he had 7 TDs last season in just 34 catches.

Daniel Graham, Patriots: Opened last season on fire, then cooled off considerably, becoming less and less a factor.

Dallas Clark, Colts: With Pollard gone, Clark becomes Manning's new tight end weapon, which could equal a big season.

Chris Cooley, Redskins: Had six TDs last season on 37 catches. Now, if the Skins could only find a QB, Colley's numbers could rise.

LJ Smith, Eagles: Lost in the Donovan McNabb-Terrell Owens connection last season, Smith caught 34 passes and scored 5 TDs. His numbers may go up, especially if Owens misses any time.

Doug Ritchay

Editor's note: Doug Ritchay is a longtime sportswriter and former Packers beat writer for the Green Bay News-Chronicle. E-mail at

Packer Report Top Stories