Modern NFL fans widely consider San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates as the most prolific at his position today.
At 6’4 and an athletic 260 pounds, the 31-year old converted basketball player from Kent State has become—unarguably—the most dominant pass-catching tight end in football by catching 529 passes for 7,005 yards and 69 touchdowns since signing with the Chargers as an undrafted free agent in 2003.
Gates supplanted another former basketball-playing tight end, Tony Gonzalez, formerly of the rival Kansas City Chiefs and now currently of the Atlanta Falcons who was—and still is in some circles—considered the best tight end in football before Gates burst on the scene.
Gates has been named All-Pro five times (2004, 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2010) and named to the Pro Bowl seven times (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010) Gates was also named to the NFL 2000’s All-Decade team.
Today there are game-changing pass-catching athletic tight ends such as Tampa Bay’s Kellen Winslow, Philadelphia’s Brent Celek, Seattle’s Zach Miller, San Francisco’s Vernon Davis and Jason Witten of Dallas whom create mismatches on offense.
None of them possess Gate’s unique athletic skill set and basketball background except for one unheralded player who may breakout big in 2011.
Cleveland Browns tight end, Evan Moore.
Like Gates, Moore was also undrafted and also played basketball for two years at Stanford.
At 6’6 and 255 pounds, Moore has the ability to put opposing defenses at a disadvantage and create a inviting red-zone target.
Moore exploded onto the scene in 2009 with a six catch, 80 yard debut—fittingly against Gate’s team—the San Diego Chargers. Moore would go on to start five games for Cleveland and finish the 2009-10 season with 12 catches for 158 yards.
In the 2010-11 season, Moore would start four games for the Browns and finish with 16 catches for 322 yards and one touchdown. Moore also seemed to develop a real chemistry with—then—rookie quarterback, Colt McCoy.
So far in the 2011-12 pre-season, Moore has been one of McCoy’s favorite targets as he has caught six passes for 61 yards and two touchdown passes, highlighted by a 21-yard yard pass from McCoy—that would later be overturned by a successful Pat Shurmur instant replay challenge—in a 30-28 loss to the Detroit Lions in Week 2.
The only concern for Moore seems to be his inability to stay on the field , as he would also suffer a mild head concussion against the Lions and despite his big-play and pass-catching potential, injuries have seemed to have slowed his promising career.
Moore is being counted on to be a big contributor in Cleveland’s tight-end friendly West Coast offense which has a mobile and accurate quarterback in McCoy, emerging wide receivers in Greg Little, Joshua Cribbs and Mohammed Massaqoui and a formidable backfield duo of Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty, Moore will have a great opportunity for a breakout season in 2011.
If Moore is able get fully healthy by the season opener at home against the Cincinnati Bengals, look for Moore to step up and come up big for the Browns and become Cleveland’s version of Antonio Gates.
And add his own name to the exclusive list of elite pass-catching tight ends in the NFL.