NFL Tight Ends On The Rise
NFL 2012 Football
In today's NFL, more teams are factoring the tight end into the offense.
For the third consecutive year, NFL tight ends broke the single-season records for the most receptions (2,341), receiving yards (27,080) and touchdown catches (198) for the position. Seventeen tight ends caught at least 50 passes last year, eclipsing the previous record of 14 set in 2009.
"I've never seen this many tight ends this good at one particular time," says CBS analyst SHANNON SHARPE, one of eight tight ends to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "We've never seen the position this dominant. This is the golden age of tight ends."
In a banner 2011 season for the position with standout performances by tight ends across the league, ROB GRONKOWSKI of New England and JIMMY GRAHAM of New Orleans led the way. Gronkowski (1,327) and Graham (1,310) are the only tight ends in NFL history with at least 1,300 receiving yards in a season, surpassing the previous record for the position held by Pro Football Hall of Famer KELLEN WINSLOW (1,290 in 1980).
Gronkowski also became the first tight end in NFL history to lead the league in touchdown catches outright with 17, also a singleseason record for tight ends. And Graham (99) is now the third NFL tight end with at least 99 catches in a season, joining TONY GONZALEZ (102 in 2004, 99 in 2007) and DALLAS CLARK (100 in 2009).
The versatility of today's tight ends causes matchup problems for the defense, which is crucial in the NFL's never-ending chess game between offensive and defensive coordinators.
"You look at the majority of the explosive pass plays on the field, it's because of tight-end representation," says ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback TRENT DILFER. "Not because tight ends get them every play, but because of their influence on the field.
It's the hardest riddle for the defense to answer, especially if you have two of them that can complement each other."
When an offense trots out a two-tight end, two-receiver personnel group, the defense must be ready for anything, particularly when one or both of the tight ends is a receiving threat.
"The versatility tight ends bring offenses is beyond huge," Dilfer says. "You can't comprehend how much versatility and multiplicity you can have in your system with a tight end presence on the field. It simplifies what the defense can do."
The 17 tight ends that caught at least 50 passes during the 2011 season:
|Jimmy Graham||New Orleans||99||1,310||11|
|Rob Gronkowski||New England||90||1,327||17|
|Aaron Hernandez||New England||79||910||7|
|Jason Witten Dallas||79||942||5|
|Kellen Winslow||Tampa Bay||75||763||2|
|Vernon Davis||San Francisco||67||792||6|
|Dustin Keller||New York Jets||65||815||5|
|Antonio Gates||San Diego||64||778||7|
|Jermichael Finley||Green Bay||55||767||8|
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