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Tight ends should not be ignored

Tight ends have long been the Rodney Dangerfields of the gridiron, seen as more Daffy than Bugs, more Garfunkel than Simon.

A measly 14 members of this proud fraternity have been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame — amazingly just seven during the modern era (since 1946 ... and where is Todd Christensen while we're at it?).

Heck, their job title alone still brings out the giggling third-grader in ... a lot of people I know. (Hey, grow up, guys!)

But times have changed.

Tight ends are no longer required by law to toss rose petals at the feet of running backs, supply juice boxes for wide receivers on demand or give quarterbacks their lunch money and like it.

They have emerged as red-zone threats, third-down specialists and targets of choice who can be a fantasy owner's secret weapon.

Since the NFL adopted rules changes that opened up the passing game during the late 1970s, tight ends have become known as much for their pass-catching ability as for their blocking prowess. Some — like San Diego's Antonio Gates (71 receptions for 924 yards and nine touchdowns in 2006), Baltimore's Todd Heap (73-765-6) and Tony Gonzalez of Kansas City (73-900-5) — are even prominently featured in their teams' offenses.

Many Fantasy Football owners (including the oaf the kids call "Daddy") have often overlooked the position and waited until the later rounds before addressing the need — a strategic fallacy considering that receivers are easier to find than cracks on the sidewalk (see Marques Colston, Mike Furrey and Jerricho Cotchery in 2006) and that every owner is promised two competent quarterbacks on draft day.

Though there are some good ones, the tight end pool as a whole doesn't run deep, and to wait too long to grab one could create a gaping hole in your weekly lineup.

Gates, Heap and Gonzalez are the créme de la créme, but the drop-off after them isn't steep.

The New York Giants' Jeremy Shockey, Philadelphia's L.J. Smith, Jason Witten of Dallas and Alge Crumpler of Atlanta are proven talents and assets to any roster. Cleveland's Kellen Winslow Jr. caught 89 passes for 875 yards last season after injuries made him a spectator for two years, and Chris Cooley has quietly averaged 55 catches, 607 yards and 6 TDs over the last three seasons for Washington.

A handful of talented youngsters looking to make their mark could also step into the spotlight this season.

No tight end has generated more buzz during the preseason than second-year 49er Vernon Davis, who, when not picking ill-advised fights with human shopping mall Larry Allen, has impressed with his strength, speed and soft hands.

Pittsburgh's Heath Miller has only scratched the surface of his ability and should bounce back nicely from a disappointing sophomore season with a return to health by QB Ben Roethlisberger, and Raiders rookie Zach Miller, perhaps the position's biggest sleeper, could be given quite a workout if Daunte Culpepper, JaMarcus Russell, Yosemite Sam or whomever the Raiders' name as their starting QB is left running for his life behind a line that had many holes but created few.

Strange things are afoot

I've put my football cheat sheets aside this week as my split-personality baseball team has decided to hit again, with Mark Teixeira and Carl Crawford leading the charge.

Batting just over .400 for the week has led to a modest four-point surge and a move up from 11th place to eighth. More importantly, it has put me in position to regain the 10 to 12 offensive points I lost when Eric Chavez became the invisible man for three weeks, which could help me sneak back into the the top four.

Of course, that won't happen until I get the Devil's phone number from Dad, who has led our league for 17 consecutive weeks and counting.

Mom, make him mow the lawn or something.

My Week 19 lineup:

C: Russell Martin and Yorvit Torrealba; 1B: Mark Teixeira; 2B: Mark DeRosa; 3B: Nomar Garciaparra; SS: Felipe Lopez; OF: Carlos Lee, Carl Crawford, Torii Hunter, Eric Byrnes and Josh Willingham; CI: Ryan Theriot; MI: Ray Durham; U: Dave Roberts; P: Mariano Rivera, Takashi Saito, Huston Street, Eric Gagne, Fausto Carmona, Kevin Gregg, Pat Neshek, Chuck James and Greg Maddux. DL: Eric Chavez.

Stu Rosenberg's fantasy sports columnruns Fridays. He can be reached at 578-2300or srosenberg@iwillnevertradeforericchavezagain.com.

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