Monday Night Story Line: A look at the tight ends
Plenty of big names will be on display Monday night as the Eagles travel to Dallas to face the Cowboys. Terrell Owens is always talking, sometimes about his "best pal" Donovan McNabb. Tony Romo either will or won't have his girlfriend present. The Eagles' Brian Westbrook, who might be the best player on the field, could very well touch the ball on every play. There is no shortage of story lines when these division rivals meet.
However, rarely is a spotlight focused on the team's tight ends, and there's where we'll shine it today. Although one of the starters at this underrated fantasy position is a star, the other generally has been a disappointment.
Although Witten's value is rarely in question, and he's sure to be active in almost every league, the Eagles' L.J. Smith has teased fantasy owners -- and the Eagles -- with his play. But he hasn't become the star many expected he'd be. The talent is there for Smith to be a top-10 tight end, although fantasy owners remain a bit cautious, and rightfully so. Smith battled injuries much of 2007, but from 2004 to 2006 he hauled in 13 touchdown passes. Witten gets so many looks because he generally is Romo's second receiving option after Owens, and as the second option in Philadelphia (behind Westbrook), Smith is in line for a breakout season.
The Eagles' receiving corps lacks a star -- DeSean Jackson has played in one NFL game, so let's not go overboard yet -- and Smith got off to a good start last week with five receptions and a touchdown against the Rams. The truth is, Smith has been a favorite target of McNabb near the goal line for quite some time. In 2006, Smith received 18 red zone targets, third among tight ends. Smith was given the franchise tag by the Eagles this summer, meaning he has a one-year contract and surely wants to earn a long-term deal somewhere. Reaching a career mark in touchdowns would be a good start toward reaching that goal. Smith hasn't scored a touchdown against the Cowboys since his rookie season, but he has been a big-play performer. In his past three games against the division rivals, he has just two catches in each game. But he's totaled 174 yards in those games, meaning he averages 30 yards per catch.
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Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. He has twice been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. You can e-mail him here.