AFC East: Tony Gonzalez

Tom Brady and Matt RyanGetty ImagesTom Brady and Matt Ryan have both come in for heaping praise ahead of Sunday's meeting.

ATLANTA -- There are $100 million reasons why Matt Ryan should be talked about among the NFL’s elite quarterbacks. One thing the Atlanta Falcons quarterback doesn’t have that his Sunday-night counterpart possesses is a Super Bowl ring.

Ryan's showdown with New England Patriots star Tom Brady is sure to be a hot topic throughout Week 4. He already lost one such head-to-head matchup, when Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints got the better of Ryan and the Falcons in the season opener (23-17).

So how will Ryan fare against the Pats? He’ll need help from all phases, something he didn’t receive in last week’s loss to the Miami Dolphins.

ESPN.com Falcons team reporter Vaughn McClure and Patriots reporter Mike Reiss break it down:

McClure: The Falcons were touted as a Super Bowl contender -- and possibly a favorite -- going into the season. But now, at 1-2, they find themselves in almost a must-win situation at home. How will the Patriots respond to the hostile environment they’ll enter Sunday night at the Georgia Dome?

Reiss: With 13 rookies on the 53-man roster -- including receivers Aaron Dobson (second round) and Kenbrell Thompkins (undrafted), who are playing key roles -- there is an element of unknown for the Patriots when projecting how the team will respond. Some of these players simply haven’t experienced this environment and prime-time stage. It’s rare for a Patriots team to be relying on such a large number of rookies for significant contributions, and that is one of the interesting storylines from a New England perspective this week. Other storylines are if this might be tight end Rob Gronkowski's season debut, if receiver Danny Amendola will also return after missing two games with a groin injury and if the defense -- which has been solid against lesser competition (Jets, Bills, Buccaneers) -- can limit an explosive passing game that is easily the best the unit has seen to this point in the season. Give us a feel for how things are going for the Falcons on offense.

McClure: Not too well, at the moment. Head coach Mike Smith’s biggest complaint is how inefficient his team has been in the red zone. During the Week 3 loss to the Dolphins, the Falcons were 2-of-5 in red zone opportunities. For the season, they are 6-of-12 (50 percent) in terms of touchdowns in the red zone, but offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter wants that number to be a bit higher. Having bruising running back Steven Jackson in the lineup would no doubt help in goal-line situations, but Jackson will miss Sunday’s game while nursing a hamstring injury. Receiver Roddy White is also a solid red zone target, but White is not 100 percent healthy coming off a high-ankle sprain. Ryan still has Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez as primary scoring weapons. How do you think the Patriots will keep up with the speedy receiver and ageless tight end?

Reiss: I think it starts with how they decide to match up against the Falcons’ “11 personnel” (one back, one tight end), because that looks like the most explosive package -- receivers Jones, White and Harry Douglas, with Gonzalez at tight end and either Jacquizz Rodgers or Jason Snelling at running back. Last Sunday against the Buccaneers’ “11 personnel,” the Patriots stayed in their base defense but played with three cornerbacks in the secondary -- their way of staying sturdy against the run but adding a coverage element to the secondary. I’d be surprised if we see that this week because the Falcons are much more potent in the passing game. So I could envision the Patriots turning to a coverage-heavy dime defense (six defensive backs), specifically with Jones and Gonzalez in mind, with the thought that a lighter box might be enough to limit the running game. For the Falcons, how are things shaping up on defense?

McClure: The defense has had its issues. Take the Miami game, for example. The Falcons held a 23-20 lead with just less than five minutes remaining in regulation. The defense needed to close, needed to put pressure on Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, needed to lock down the receivers. Instead, the Falcons played soft coverage after the Dolphins reached midfield and couldn’t disrupt Tannehill’s rhythm. In the end, Tannehill engineered a 13-play, 75-yard drive that ended with his game-winning touchdown pass to Dion Sims. Not playing tight coverage and not wrapping up on tackles cost the Falcons in that game, and it could cost them the rest of the season if they don’t find a way to correct those problems immediately. They could use their defensive leader, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who was placed on injured reserve (foot) with a designation to return in Week 11. One other aspect noticeable in Miami was how the Dolphins tight ends won their one-on-one matchups against the Falcons on that final drive. That being said, will Atlanta have to contend with one of the best tight ends in the league, Gronkowski?

Reiss: We might not know the answer for sure until 90 minutes before kickoff, but things have been pointing in that direction. The one area the Patriots could use Gronkowski most, at least initially, is in the red zone. One season after ranking first in the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage (which we acknowledge isn't a foolproof stat), the Patriots rank last (4-of-13). It’s going to be hard to win a game like this settling for field goals. Speaking of which, let’s not overlook special teams. The Patriots are getting good contributions in that third phase of the game, with a 53-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski a highlight in Sunday’s victory over the Buccaneers. How about the Falcons?

McClure: Yet another area in which the Falcons could use much improvement. Against the Dolphins, returner Douglas fumbled a punt he admitted he shouldn’t have fielded in the first place. It translated into a Dolphins touchdown three plays later. The usually reliable Matt Bryant missed a 35-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. And the Falcons had three penalties on special teams: two holds and an illegal block above the waist. Through three games, the Falcons are ranked 26th in punt return average and 30th in kickoff return average, although they’ve returned just one kickoff. Those special-teams issues are enough to cause special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong to blow a gasket. Speaking of that, is Brady still yelling at his receivers?

Reiss: Could you hear him down there in Atlanta? That was probably the most talked about storyline after New England's 13-10 win over the Jets on Sept. 12, whether Brady’s on-field frustrations were making things tougher on the young receivers than they needed to be. But it was mostly yelling at himself this past Sunday. He was upset with an end zone interception he said he shouldn’t have thrown. And he missed some open receivers, too. So while Brady’s stats were better last week, his performance wasn’t up to his own high standard, and it was actually more about him than the young pass-catchers, who turned in their best performance of the season. What is Ryan saying about this matchup?

McClure: Ryan said plenty about the Patriots when he addressed the media in the locker room Wednesday. He said he expects to see a lot of man-to-man coverage and complimented the Patriots for being very sound with their technique. He believes the front seven does a great job of creating pressure in both the run game and against the pass. Of course, Ryan gave much credit to Brady for being one of the top quarterbacks in the league for such a long time. In fact, Ryan joked that he hoped to be around as long as Brady. And Ryan singled out Vince Wilfork for not only being a disruptive force up front, but for being a 325-pound guy who plays a lot of snaps. So what’s the word from Bill Belichick?

Reiss: Belichick complimented Ryan, saying among other things that Ryan has very few bad plays. He shared his belief that consistency is the mark of any great player and Ryan is “pretty consistent -- every play, every game, every series.” And, according to Brady, Belichick said the following to players this week: “If you love football, then Sunday night at 8:30 in Atlanta will be the place to be.” Hard to imagine many would disagree about that. This is going to be fun.

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Keller doesn't make TE Power Rankings cut

March, 29, 2011
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I understand why New York Jets tight end Dustin Keller didn't generate more attention in ESPN.com's positional Power Rankings this week.

He's one of those players you need to watch on a regular basis to fully appreciate him. Keller's numbers don't stack up with the most prolific tight ends because he doesn't get the opportunities they do.

That's the only reason he didn't make the Power Rankings cut, finishing 12th. Only three voters on our panel listed him on their ballots. Here's mine:
  1. Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers
  2. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
  3. Dallas Clark, Indianapolis Colts
  4. Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers
  5. Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville Jaguars
  6. Dustin Keller, New York Jets
  7. Benjamin Watson, Cleveland Browns
  8. Zach Miller, Oakland Raiders
  9. Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons
  10. Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions

Keller is a weapon all over the field. He's not just a threat in the red zone. He can stretch a defense, too. Only six tight ends had multiple plays of 40-plus yards last year. Keller was one of them.

Through the first four weeks of the season, Keller had 19 receptions for 254 yards and five touchdowns. But he didn't get as much consideration when Santonio Holmes returned from a four-game suspension and joined a receiving corps that included Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery.

So when you check the final numbers for tight ends last season, you see Keller ranked 11th in receptions, ninth in yards, sixth in average yards (minimum 40 catches) and tied for eighth in touchdowns.

It's easy to see how he can get bumped from the Power Rankings top 10 when opinions are in play and an injured star such as Clark must be accounted for.

As for the rest of my ballot, the players I must justify are Watson's inclusion and Washington Redskins tight end Chris Cooley's exclusion.

As with a few of my previous Power Rankings ballots, this comes down to personal taste. Cooley has great numbers, but so would a lot of other tight ends if they were targeted 123 times in a season. Furthermore, those targets are quick, high-percentage throws. Cooley had only nine plays of 20 yards or more and none that went at least 40 yards. He also fumbled three times.

A lack of big plays also is why I had Gonzalez rated so low. He had only five plays of 20-plus yards and none over 40 yards.

Witten was targeted a league-high 126 times, but he had 17 more receptions, 153 more yards and six more touchdowns than Cooley.

Watson, to me, was a bigger force in Cleveland's offense than other tight ends were to their teams. He finished fifth among all tight ends in receptions, fifth in yards and 13th in average yards (minimum 40 catches). Watson tied Cooley for third with 40 first-down receptions -- but on 25 fewer targets.

Check back later for my rundown of AFC East tight ends.

Ron Artest wants to play TE for the Jets

December, 31, 2010
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I must apologize to my readers.

Perhaps I imbibed too much eggnog last week and was enraptured by all those Burl Ives tunes, but amid all my Christmas mirth I missed one of the greatest stories of the year.

Artest
Artest
Volatile basketball star Ron Artest announced he wants to play tight end for the New York Jets.

What could go wrong?

Artest was a guest on "Pardon the Interruption" two days before Christmas. He has been making the media rounds for mental health awareness. Insert your own Jets joke here.

Maybe there's room in the organization for someone with scandal experience. Artest, a 6-foot-7 Los Angeles Lakers forward, has been involved in many wacky incidents over the years, most infamously the 2004 brawl with fans in Detroit. Artest is the subject of a Toronto art exhibit that focuses on his history of outlandish behavior.

"PTI" co-host Tony Kornheiser asked how serious Artest is about the NFL.

"It's definitely an ambition," Artest said. "I think you only live once if I'm not mistaken. I wish I lived twice. So any time I have a chance to take advantage ... still being athletic enough, when you think about my dreams as a kid -- boxing, playing football -- you think about certain things. You think 'If I had the opportunity to play, why not take advantage of it? Why let it sit on the table?

"If there's a possibility, and if I do get a chance, you won't see Ron Artest saying 'Nah, I'll pass.' You'll see Ron Artest saying 'I wan to see if I can do it.' "

Artest turned 31 in November and hails from Queens. He's a longtime Jets fan.

"If I did get the opportunity I would not have a preference for a team because I'm not good enough where I can say I want to play for a particular team," Artest said. "But in a perfect world it would be the Jets, tight end for the Jets."

Basketball players sometimes make great tight ends. San Diego Chargers star Antonio Gates played basketball -- and no football -- at Kent State. Tony Gonzalez, a future Hall of Famer with the Atlanta Falcons, played college hoops.

The Jets experimented with Cleveland State power forward J'Nathan Bullock last year, but he couldn't make the team.

Last year, I examined what kind of football player Lebron James would've been had he gone that route. James was an All-Ohio receiver as high school sophomore, and some NFL observers quoted in the story projected him as a star tight end.

Gonzalez has advice for Patriots TEs

August, 17, 2010
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The New England Patriots made upgrading their tight ends a priority in the offseason.

They practically wiped their depth chart clean and started over, signing free agent Alge Crumpler and drafting a pair of tight ends: Rob Gronkowski in the second round and Aaron Hernandez in the fourth.

The Patriots this week are holding joint practices against the Atlanta Falcons in advance of their preseason game Thursday night in the Georgia Dome.

Who better to talk to about the Patriots' tight ends than Tony Gonzalez, a surefire Pro Football Hall of Famer?

"I have watched both tight ends," Gonzalez told reporters Tuesday, "and they are rookies. So they are still learning this game.

"I do see a future for them."

Gronkowski is a more multidimensional tight end, but has a disconcerting injury history that caused him to slip in the draft relative to his talent. Hernandez has made a stronger impression in Patriots camp with his receiving skills but is lacking as a blocker.

"Hernandez, with the receiving part of it, has got that down," Gonzalez said. "He can keep improving on that. If you are going to be a tight end, and you want to be called a tight end, then you better learn how to block. That is what the position is.

"With [Gronkowski], I think he has a pretty good receiving game and he has got the blocking pretty good."

Gronkowski and Hernandez would be wise to soak up as much as they can from Gonzalez this week. Gonzalez's next reception will be his 1,000th. He has been named to 10 Pro Bowls and voted All-Pro five times.

"You have to be a complete tight end," Gonzalez said. "You can't just be a receiving tight end, or just a blocking tight end. You have to do both things at a pretty high level.

"You can do one a little bit better, but something I tell every player coming into the league is that you get out of it what you put into it. It's not about what you do at practice. It's about what you do before practice and after practice. If you are one of those guys who goes straight in after the horn rings to shower and go home then I don’t think you can be ever as good as you could be."

Wycheck: Crumpler still has plenty to give

March, 18, 2010
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The New England Patriots have a tight end who has caught an NFL pass.

Crumpler
Crumpler
Alge Crumpler actually has snagged 367 of them for 37 touchdowns.

Multiple outlets are reporting the Patriots have reached terms with Crumpler, a four-time Pro Bowler who spent the past two seasons with the Tennessee Titans.

The Patriots had a major void at tight end after losing free-agent Benjamin Watson to the Cleveland Browns and releasing Chris Baker. Those moves left them with only Robbie Agnone and Rob Myers, undrafted rookies on last year's practice squad, on their roster.

"It's a loss," Titans radio analyst and former tight end Frank Wycheck said of Crumpler's departure. "He's such a great professional, a stand-up guy win or lose. Theyr'e going to lose that leadership and that presence.

"The Patriots are getting a guy who fits the mold of what they've done over the years, bringing in guys you can trust to step up and play well."

In Crumpler's time with Tennessee, he evolved into a balanced tight end. He was known as a dangerous receiver for the Atlanta Falcons. He caught 24 touchdown passes in his last four seasons with them before joining the Titans as a free agent.

Wycheck said Crumpler excelled when the Titans gave him greater blocking responsibilities. Crumpler played a significant role in helping speedy running back Chris Johnson hit the corner throughout his 2,000-yard rushing season.

"He really blocked well, something he hasn't gotten enough credit for over his career," Wycheck said. "He's a really stout blocker, really holds the edge well.

"He embraced the role of going both on the line as a lead blocker and still being an effective receiver."

Crumpler had 27 receptions for a career-low 222 yards and one touchdown last season. Bo Scaife was the primary receiver at tight end, catching 45 passes for 440 yards.

Wycheck noted Crumpler won't be breaking down the middle of the field like he used to. But Crumpler still has incredible hands and the size to post up between the hash marks.

"It'll be a little bit of a change because everybody remembers Ben Watson tracking down Champ Bailey from behind," Wycheck said. "If you're expecting Alge to run like Ben Watson, that won't be the case."

"But I see him like Tony Gonzalez the past few years. Alge uses his smarts and experience. No one expects him to be the Alge that he was in Atlanta, but he's still playing really well and enjoying the game."

How I See It: AFC East Stock Watch

September, 29, 2009
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham


Falling

1. Chad Pennington, Dolphins: All the guy wanted to do was stay healthy for consecutive seasons, something he hadn't done since 2002-03. Sadly, Pennington didn't get his wish. Last year's Comeback Player of the Year and runner-up to Peyton Manning for league MVP probably is done for the season because of another injury to his throwing shoulder.

Pennington faces a potentially career-threatening situation. His right shoulder has been operated on twice already and likely will need to undergo the knife again. He will be 34 years old before the start of next season.

2. Terrell Owens, Bills: For the first time in 186 games, Owens failed to catch a pass in Sunday's lopsided loss to the New Orleans Saints. Fans went gaga over the Bills' decision to sign Owens. They gobbled up tickets. A crazed horde famously turned out at Buffalo Niagara International Airport, where one lunatic dressed up as a popcorn box to welcome Owens.

Yet through three games, Owens ranks fifth on the team with five receptions for 98 yards and one touchdown. Running back Fred Jackson has three times as many catches. Tight end Derek Schouman didn't play Sunday and is out for the season, but he has almost double Owens' total.

3. Thomas Jones, Jets: In Week 1, the numbers looked appropriate for last year's AFC rushing leader. Jones ran 20 times for 107 yards and two touchdowns. But 77 of those yards were gained on two fourth-quarter plays. Extract them, and he averaged 1.7 yards per attempt.

His next outings haven't been much better. Jones carried 14 times each of the past two games, gaining 54 and 20 yards.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
Fred Taylor gives New England's rushing attack a much-needed jolt.


Rising

1. Fred Taylor, Patriots: Finally, the Patriots effectively ran the ball. After a couple of weeks in which quarterback Tom Brady aired it out 100 times, the Patriots insisted upon running against the Atlanta Falcons.

Laurence Maroney, the starter in Weeks 2 and 3, left the game with a thigh injury in the second quarter. Taylor carried the load by rushing for more yards in the first half than any Patriots back had gained in each of the first two games. Taylor finished with 105 yards and a touchdown.

2. Mark Sanchez, Jets: One solid game could be happenstance. Two solid games might be coincidence. But three in a row establishes a standard. I guess Jets fans should expect the rookie to perform well every week.

In a 24-17 victory over the Tennessee Titans, Sanchez demonstrated some youthful exuberance that needs to be reigned in a tad, but he once again played more like a four-year pro than a 22-year-old. He completed 17 of 30 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Sanchez also scored on a spectacular -- albeit reckless -- 14-yard run.

3. Brandon McGowan, Patriots: When the Patriots signed him as a free agent, he appeared to be a depth player and special-teamer. McGowan not only has been starting, but he also has been a factor.

With Sunday's game tied at 10, McGowan forced Falcons back Michael Turner to cough up the ball on the Patriots' 31-yard line. It was a key play that prevented the Falcons from asserting themselves. They didn't score again. McGowan also was a significant reason why future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez was limited to one catch for 16 yards.

T.O. streak one quarter away from ending

September, 27, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham


ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills receiver Terrell Owens has maintained the NFL's longest active streak for games with at least one reception at 185.

The streak is in jeopardy.

Early in the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Saints in Ralph Wilson Stadium, Owens has zero catches.

Bills quarterback Trent Edwards tried to force a pass to Owens near the end of the third quarter, but the pass got deflected and intercepted.

Here's the list of employed players with the longest active streaks (Marvin Harrison hasn't retired, but he is at 190 and counting). Sunday's games not included.

AFC East: Final Word

September, 25, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham


Five nuggets of knowledge about this weekend’s games:

Fred Jackson has one more game to himself. The Buffalo Bills gave Jackson a vote of confidence that he could be a one-man show out of the backfield when they trimmed Dominic Rhodes on roster cutdown day. Jackson has thrived. With Pro Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch serving the last of his three-game suspension for Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints, Jackson has one more chance to show he can be The Man.
David Butler II/US Presswire
Fred Jackson has the Bills' backfield all to himself for another week.

Jackson ranks fifth in rushing with 220 yards and is coming off a 163-yard game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He also has 11 catches for 108 yards and a touchdown. Lynch might not get the same percentage of touches as last year when he comes back.

I'm eager to see if Wes Welker and Julian Edelman both play Sunday. It might be the only way to prove they're not the same person. Reports say Welker should play Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. He missed the last game because of a knee injury. Edelman didn't play in the season opener, perhaps because of an ankle injury, but the Welker lookalike recorded game-highs with eight catches for 98 yards in Sunday's defeat to the New York Jets.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady seemed to suggest afterward Edelman would have played in Week 1 if healthy and that it wasn't an either-or decision between Welker and the rookie. Welker and Edelman simultaneously on the field? The Falcons will be seeing double.

The Miami Dolphins face another grueling tight end matchup. They couldn't contain Tony Gonzalez in Week 1 and were trampled by Dallas Clark in Week 2. They combined for a dozen receptions for 256 yards and two touchdowns. Now the Dolphins get to face San Diego Chargers star Antonio Gates. The Dolphins went into their first two games fully cognizant of the threats Gonzalez and Clark posed. The Dolphins devised a game plan to stop them. They failed anyway.

Where are the Jets' heads? It would be understandable after their first two performances that the Jets would be feeling invincible these days. They're 2-0 and coming off an emotionally charged triumph over the Patriots. The defense has been phenomenal. Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez has been unflappable.

But the Jets need to keep their start in perspective. Next up is a wounded opponent. The Tennessee Titans are 0-2 but much better than their record suggests. If the Jets can put the Titans away and get to 3-0, then people are going to start mentioning them as a Super Bowl contender. Whether that's legitimate or not is moot. That kind of talk will intensify.

Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis will have Week 3 off -- relatively speaking. I know this is going to come off a slap in the face to Justin Gage, but after shutting down Andre Johnson and Randy Moss in consecutive games, Revis can shut it down Sunday by comparison. Revis kept Johnson and Moss -- two of the three or four most dangerous receivers in the NFL -- to eight catches for 59 yards. Gage is the best receiver Tennessee has, with nine catches.

Take your pick: Patriots or Falcons O?

September, 24, 2009
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Getty Images
Who would you rather have on offense -- Atlanta's Matt Ryan and his array of weapons or Tom Brady & Co. in New England?

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham


A Sunday afternoon showdown will feature an offense that was one of the NFL's greatest in 2007 and another that might be the most balanced this year.

The New England Patriots will host the Atlanta Falcons in Gillette Stadium.

Which offense would you rather have?

The Patriots essentially have the same offense that shredded the record book two years ago. The quarterback, running backs, top two receivers, offensive line and tight end are the same -- and they've added Fred Taylor and tight end Chris Baker -- but they sure haven't recaptured the aura through the first couple of games.

The Falcons, meanwhile, are a formidable team on the rise, with weapons at every position.

Quarterback: Tom Brady, despite his shaky play so far, still is one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks.

Falcons sophomore Matt Ryan represents the future.

Running back: The Patriots have a committee of Laurence Maroney, Taylor, Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris and BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

The Falcons aren't as deep, but All-Pro Michael Turner is their feature back. Jerious Norwood is a respectable backup.

Receiver: The Patriots' depth chart looks loaded. Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Joey Galloway and Julian Edelman. But Welker has been banged up, and Galloway has been ineffective.

Atlanta has Roddy White, Michael Jenkins and Marty Booker. Not nearly as inspiring a unit, but White is a game-breaker.

Tight end: Benjamin Watson has been sensational some games, but invisible in others during his time in New England. He's also frequently hurt. Baker started in Week 2, but he hasn't shown much after a promising camp.

Future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez has integrated himself nicely in Atlanta's offense. He leads the club with 12 catches for 144 yards and two touchdowns.

Offensive line: The Patriots have three linemen (left tackle Matt Light, left guard Logan Mankins, center Dan Koppen) who've made a Pro Bowl. Right guard Stephen Neal is a capable right guard, while right tackle Nick Kaczur could eventually lose his gig to rookie Sebastian Vollmer.

Atlanta's crew is more anonymous (nobody made the Pro Bowl last year), but it did pave the way for Turner to rush for 1,699 yards last year and reduced the number of sacks allowed from 47 two years ago to 17.

Around the AFC East: Bills O works without Turk

September, 23, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham


Buffalo Bills
Miami Dolphins
New England Patriots
New York Jets

Amish draft expert nails pre-draft predictions

April, 29, 2009
4/29/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

As I wrote Friday, I visited my parents in rural Ohio before driving to the Buffalo Bills' headquarters for the NFL draft.

My folks are surrounded by Amish families. One of their neighbors is emerging Amish draft expert Eli Yoder. He trotted his buggy up the driveway just before I hit the road Saturday and imparted some predictions I shared before the draft began.

I thought it would be fun to review his prophecies. Yoder is a carpenter by trade. I think it's fair to say he nailed them.

Next year, I'll start hitting him up for info a lot earlier.

  • The New England Patriots won't find a willing trade partner to move into the top 10 picks in the draft. He gave an over/under on Patriots trades this weekend at 3 1/2. (While Yoder was way under on the number of trades, he nailed the first part.)
  • The Bills won't get a tackle they want with the No. 11 pick and it shouldn't be a surprise if they do not draft Jason Peters' replacement with either of their first-round picks. (Nailed it.)
  • Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis will be the steal of the draft. (Impossible to say for at least a couple years.)
  • Twitter won't catch on. (Impossible to evaluate this prediction now, but Yoder has been saying the abacus will make a comeback.)
  • Connecticut cornerback Darius Butler will be an early second-round pick for the Patriots. (Nailed it.)
  • The Tony Gonzalez trade will cause Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew to slip to the Bills at No. 28. (Yoder's only clear miss. Pettigrew went No. 20 to the Lions.)
  • The Miami Dolphins will ignore their need for another receiver and go defense in the first round. (Nailed it.)
  • The New York Jets will not draft Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman. (Nailed it, although Freeman did go at No. 17, the Jets' original pick.)
  • Neither the Dolphins nor the Jets will select a receiver in the first round unless they trade up. (Nailed it.)

Amish draft expert offers fearless predictions

April, 25, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- I just set up my equipment in the Buffalo Bills' media center after making the three-hour drive along I-90 from my parents' home in rural Ohio.

Before I hit the road, I had another chance to check in with Eli Yoder, the Amish draft expert I told you about Friday. Yoder stopped tending to his plow horses long enough to impart a few predictions.

  • The New England Patriots won't find a willing trade partner to move into the top 10 picks in the draft. He gave an over/under on Patriots trades this weekend at 3 1/2.
  • The Bills won't get a tackle they want with the No. 11 pick and it shouldn't be a surprise if they do not draft Jason Peters' replacement with either of their first-round picks.
  • Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis will be the steal of the draft.
  • Twitter won't catch on.
  • Connecticut cornerback Darius Butler will be an early second-round pick for the Patriots.
  • The Tony Gonzalez trade will cause Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew to slip to the Bills at No. 28.
  • The Miami Dolphins will ignore their need for another receiver and go defense in the first round.
  • The New York Jets will not draft Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman.
  • Neither the Dolphins nor the Jets will select a receiver in the first round unless they trade up.

Video: The latest receiver trade rumors

April, 20, 2009
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ESPN's James Hasty, Tim Hasselbeck and Michael Smith share their thoughts on the latest receiver rumors heading into the draft.

Is Andre Reed good enough for Canton?

January, 6, 2009
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It's time for the annual debate: Does Andre Reed belong in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Andre Reed was a key component in the Buffalo Bills' run to four straight Super Bowls.

The Hall of Fame announced 17 finalists for induction this year, and Reed was among four with AFC East ties. He was joined by two other Buffalo Bills, defensive end Bruce Smith and owner Ralph Wilson, and Miami Dolphins guard Bob Kuechenberg.

Smith is a lock to get in. He might be the greatest No. 1 draft choice of all-time and retired with an NFL record 200 sacks.

This probably wasn't the perfect year for Wilson to get inducted. Given all the ire generated by selling games to Toronto and deciding to keep head coach Dick Jauron around, the throngs of Bills fans who'd drive down to honor Smith probably would boo Wilson when he stepped to the lectern.

Kuechenberg is an eight-time finalist and getting crotchety about it. Reed has been ornery for years, and this is only his third year as a finalist.

Reed is a lightning rod for Hall of Fame debate.

He retired with the requisite stats, but as NFL offenses have evolved into highly efficient passing systems, what Reed accomplished becomes less and less impressive as time goes by.

Jim Kelly's favorite target during the Buffalo Bills' run to four straight Super Bowls finished with 951 receptions for 13,198 yards and 87 touchdowns. Reed was named to seven Pro Bowls.

When Reed retired he ranked third in all-time receptions behind only Jerry Rice and Cris Carter.

Eight years later, Reed has dropped to sixth on the list with a total that doesn't look nearly as impressive. Offenses have changed too much. Larry Centers has more catches than Steve Largent. Reed, who will be surpassed by tight end Tony Gonzalez next year, has 68 more catches than Keenan McCardell.

Does Derrick Mason belong in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? He has 790 receptions and still is piling them up. He has recorded five seasons of 80 or more catches (three seasons of more than 90, including a high of 103) and seven 1,000-yard seasons.

Reed caught 80 or more passes only three times (he topped out at 90) and had four 1,000-yard seasons.

Odds are, Reed eventually will get in. He could be waiting a long time. Art Monk retired in 1995 with the most NFL catches. He was an eight-time finalist when he entered the Hall of Fame last summer.

But when I think about Reed, I'm not overcome with memories of legendary greatness.

Gonzalez to the Bills would help Fins now

December, 18, 2008
12/18/08
7:38
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

DAVIE, Fla. -- For the past two months, Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano was thrilled Tony Gonzalez refused to embrace a trade to the Buffalo Bills.

Gonzalez

Now Sparano wishes Gonzalez had been dealt. That would mean he wouldn't need to worry about stopping the prolific Kansas City Chiefs tight end Sunday in Arrowhead Stadium.

"It's really difficult because they move him around," Sparano said. "They move him all over the place. The guy rarely lines up as a tight end. He can be the widest on the field. He can be in the slot. He can be in the backfield.

"I mean, he's very difficult to defend that way just to get the matchup that you want to get on him."

Gonzalez was on the trading block, and the Bills reportedly offered a third-round pick the Chiefs were willing to accept. All Gonzalez had to do was sign off.

But the trade deadline came and went before the Dolphins faced the Bills and beat them twice.

Would Gonzalez have made a difference in either of those games or prevented Buffalo's season collapse?

Gonzalez would have been a significant help. Such a dangerous target would have opened up the offense in general and might have kept quarterback Trent Edwards -- and the Bills -- from falling apart in November.

In the nine games since the trade was scuttled, Gonzalez has 63 catches and six TDs.

"When you're playing him, if you're deciding to play man-to-man at all with him, the guy's a basketball player when the ball is in the air and the guy goes and gets the football," Sparano said.

"He's a hard, hard matchup when it comes to tight ends in this league, and that's why he's had the success that he's had and the career that's he had. We've got to figure out a way to do it."

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