Go ahead and think about some of the key moments during the Dolphins' magical 2008 season? If you're like me, you probably think about TE Anthony Fasano at least once. Yet, for some reason, it seems like Fasano doesn't get the attention - or the love - that some of Miami's other key pieces get.
Sure - his 2008 numbers are nothing special at the surface. His 34 receptions ranked Fasano 24th among tight ends and his 454 receiving yards ranked him 17th. But his 7 touchdown catches ranked him 3rd among tight ends in '08 and was the most a Dolphins' tight end has posted since Keith Jackson in 1994. Fasano also caught over 64% of the passes thrown his way - which is very good. In comparison, Tony Gonzalez, the league leader in receiving yards last year among tight ends, caught just under 62% of the passes thrown to him. So a 64% success rate is well within what you should expect from the game's top tight ends.
But numbers don't tell the whole story. When I think about Fasano, I think about two of the most critical plays of the season last year - both occurring during the final two weeks of the regular season. I think about Fasano's tremendous one-handed catch on 3rd down against the Chiefs in which Anthony reached back to catch a pass that was behind him and then carried two Kansas City defenders into the endzone with under five minutes to play in the game, putting the Dolphins ahead by seven points. The other play I think about, of course, is Fasano's diving catch in the endzone against the Jets one week later, putting Miami on top for good. That play saw Fasano adjust as the ball was in mid-air to make the catch between two defenders along the right sideline.
Those two plays sum up Fasano's performance in 2008 - he was clutch. How clutch? The fourth quarter was the quarter in which Fasano had the most receptions and yards. But even more important was Fasano's contributions on 2nd and 3rd downs and in the redzone. Fasano, in situations when it was 2nd or 3rd down with between 3 and 7 yards to go, Fasano was the target of a pass 19 times - catching 12 passes for 12 first downs. And on 3rd down and less than 3 to go, Fasano caught 2 passes (both for first downs) on 3 attempts.
In the redzone, Fasano was "money" as well. He was targeted 9 times in 2008 from within the opponent's 20 yard line. He caught 6 of those passes - 5 resulting in touchdowns.
That's not bad for a tight end's first year as a starter. That's what people seem to forget. We might just be scratching the surface of what Fasano could become. He spent two years on the bench in Dallas behind Jason Witten after being a 2nd round pick out of Notre Dame. And when you look at both his numbers as a receiver and his ability as a blocker, it's hard not to think about another former tight end to play for Bill Parcells. Yes - I'm talking about Mark Bavaro, who played 6 seasons for Parcells in New York as a Giant. Both Fasano and Bavaro have very similar playing styles.
Both tight ends play a tough brand of football. Both can catch and block. They are of similar size - Bavaro at 6'4, 245 and Fasano at 6'4, 255. And when you compare both of their numbers in their first year as a starter, they are eerily similar:
Fasano - 34 receptions, 454 yards, 7 touchdowns, 13.4 ypc
Bavaro - 37 receptions, 511 yards, 4 touchdowns, 13.8 ypc
The next season, Bavaro caught 66 passes for over 1,000 yards receiving. While Fasano's production might not jump that much, it would be unreasonable to think that his production won't increase somewhat. When I watch him play, I really see the makings of a big-time tight end.
I fully expect an even better 2009 from Fasano and I will be looking for an extension for Fasano at some point between now and the conclusion of the season. I don't think there's any way this regime lets Fasano test out the free agency waters next offseason.