Impact: The Wingmen

Tight Ends are playing a huge role in the NFL today. This season, QB’s hooked up with their machines for 198 touchdowns. In 10 postseason games, tight ends are responsible for 15 scores. It may be the year of the quarterback, but tight ends had a huge impact.
By J Owen Shroyer

The position of tight end has changed. No longer just expected to block, but also a productive member of the passing attack.
Troy Aikman dials up his memory to compare the position from when he played to now:

“When I was playing, there were two guys like that—Dallas’s Jay Novacek and San Francisco’s Brent Jones. I remember going into the 1997 draft, and we had lost Novacek [to a back injury]. Jerry Jones said we needed to get another Jay Novacek. I said I was all for it, but they’re just not around. We wound up drafting David LaFleur in the first round [after] the Chiefs drafted Tony Gonzalez. All of a sudden these guys with basketball backgrounds became very prominent in the NFL. Now virtually every good offense has a guy like that.”

Rob Gronkowski (Image via flickr by shanecdevine)

Rob Gronkowski Stats- 90 receptions, 1,327 yards, 17 TD Set TE record for yards and TDs by a TE. He lines up in the backfield, in the slot, and of course at the typical TE position on the line. He is not a nightmare to cover, he is impossible to cover. NFL record 3 TDs in a postseason game this year. See the full story: Get Gronk’d. Aaron Hernandez

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 6:   Aaron Hernandez #8...

Hernandez dives for endzone (Image by Getty Images via @daylife)

Stats- 79 receptions, 910 yards, 7 TD No doubt the tandum of Gronkowski and Hernandez is the best ever. Would you believe they were both taken in the same draft (2010)? Hernandez’s speed and agility are a perfect counterpart to Gronkowski’s power and ability to spread the field.Brady loves him as a check down, letting Hernandez make a play in open space.  His numbers would be more impressive if he didn’t have to share the touches with Gronk, but then again, they benefit from each other.

Jimmy Graham (Image via flickr by pnther60)

Jimmy Graham Stats- 99 receptions, 1,310 yards, 11 TD Remember what Aikman said about basketball players? If it wasn’t for Gronk, Graham would have been the record setting tight end in yards.  Drew Brees can hit Graham in the falt, and let him go to work. Graham had 3 TD in 2 postseason games, including a 66-yard bomb against San Francisco.  Graham led the Saints in all major receiving categories this year.

Vernon DavisStats- 67 receptions, 792 yards, 6 TD The most impressive physical specimen in the league, Davis is one of the biggest/strongest men in the league. He can run with most defensive backs. Just look at this play by the big man.
(One of his 4 TDs this post season) He had the biggest impact on the 49ers playoff run.

Antonio Gates (Image via flickr by PigSkinTV)

Antonio Gates Stats- 64 receptions, 778 yards, 7 TD Everyone knows this guy by now; he has been one of the games most dominant tight ends since he entered the league in 2003. 76 career TDs. His health has marred his production in the last 2 seasons (9 missed games, unhealthy in many others). Tony GonzalezStats- 80 receptions, 875 yards, 7 TDT The original. Currently owns the NFL record for receptions (1,149), yards (13,338) and TDs (95). He is the best to ever play the position. Still having a major impact after 15 years of NFL play.

Jermichael Finley (Image via flickr by elviskennedy)

Jermichael Finley Stats- 55 receptions, 767 yards, 8 TD Just another weapon for Aaron Rodgers. This was his first full season in 4 years of experience. Set career highs in receptions, yards and TDs. He caught 44 first down passes.

Jermaine Gresham Stats- 56 receptions, 596 yards, 6 TD Second year man set career highs for receptions, yards and TDs this year in only 14 games. Between AJ Green and Gresham, QB Andy Dalton has some big weapons.

Brent Celek Stats- 62 receptions, 811 yards, 5 TD He has never missed a game in his 5 year career. Although he didn’t set any career highs this season, he showed his consistency in the passing attack. Vick will continue to look for Celek for first downs (35) and in the red zone.

Jason Witten Stats- 79 receptions, 942 yards, 5 TD One of the league’s best. In his 9 year career, the only time he has not started a game was his rookie year. Perhaps the Cowboys should rely on Witten more going forward.

Brandon Pettigrew Stats- 83 receptions, 777 yards, 5 TD 3rd season with the Lions. Set career highs in every category (having Matt Stafford healthy all year helps with that).  Good for 37 first downs, Stafford’s second favorite target in the leagues 4th best passing attack this season.

Dustin Keller Stats- 65 receptions, 815 yards, 5 TD Career highs in all categories. Keller has never missed a game in his 4 year career. Steady contributor at TE for the Jets, only had 100 yards in one game this year (101 yards against Jacksonville), yet still averaged 12.5 yards a catch and had a career high in yards.

Don’t Sleep On Fred Davis (WSH), Kellen Winslow (TB), Heath Miller (PIT), Owen Daniels (HOU), Jake Ballard (NYG), Jared Cook (TEN).

All these guys contributed in big ways, and will continue to do so next year. It is a new age for the position of TE, contributing in the passing game is something that is expected, and if you don’t, you wont see the field.

2 responses to “Impact: The Wingmen

  1. These guys are definitely unreal athletes and are absolute beasts in the offensive production (and pass and rush blocking) aspect of the offense. Are they really “impossible to cover”? Certainly, Tight Ends have been a vital part to many teams’ offensive success this season, but that is because teams with great Tight Ends also have a one or maybe even two receivers that warrant the cover of a defense’s number 1 corner. My conclusion is that teams with a great, athletic Tight End (in the Patriot’s case 2 Tight Ends) spread the defensive talent too thin. That forces the defense to either shut down one or the other and hope that a linebacker or lesser defensive back can hold the other to less than absurd offensive numbers. To put a twist on a Michael Vick quote, “You can’t design a defense to stop this abundance of offensive talent.” The Tight End position is certainly headed in an offensive direction and the amazing talent that has come into that position has been well documented in this article. I don’t want to give too much credit to these guys just yet. They are great players who are helped by the talent around them. They also help the talent around them by demanding attention from the defense.

  2. I see what you’re saying Anonymous, but I have to poke at your claim with an analogy. Can we claim that kickers aren’t as good if they only kick short field goals? What I’m trying to say is, just because it’s easier for them doesn’t mean we should take credit away. No, a team is not going to put a Revis or an Asomugha on a TE; the team would rather them cover a faster, more explosive WR. Offenses are exploiting a weakness in coverage ability of linebackers. But if you’ve watched these playoffs, I’m sure you’ve seen what they can do (Vernon Davis, Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham) and as of now, the good ones are “impossible to cover”.

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