NFL

Is 2015 The Year of the NFL Tight End?

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Practice makes perfect is how the old adage goes.

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has had plenty of practice on his textbook technique of spiking the football on each of his touchdown celebrations.

The “spike” is complete and just another day in the office for the leagues premier tight end.

Gronkowski leads the NFL in touchdown receptions (4) and is third-overall in receiving yards (207). He is not alone in the onslaught of devouring defensive secondaries. The large masses of fierce play-making tight ends are vastly taking over the NFL landscape. This leads us to this question.

Is this the year of the tight end?

If the first two weeks of action in the NFL are any indication then a resounding “yes” would be the answer.

In Week 1, the NFL witnessed five different tight ends have multiple touchdown performances led by Gronk’s three touchdown game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The NFL has never been absent of elite play-making tight ends. The difference between the way it was and the way it is now is the amount of tight ends that are becoming the center of attention for quarterbacks on almost every NFL roster.

Last season, former New Orleans Saints, current Seattle Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham was in a contract dispute over his salary being paid as a tight end or receiver. He lined up off the line of scrimmage more frequently than with his hand in the dirt next to the tackle.

The legitimacy of his argument gave proof to how tight ends are being used in the NFL. No longer are tight ends viewed as the sixth offensive linemen on the field. The position has evolved into a hybrid-NBA power forward slash receiver squeezed into the confines of an NFL uniform.

Pittsburgh Steelers Ben Roethlisberger revealed some of the success the position is having due to the way offenses are used in the modern NFL.

“I’m not going to tell you any trade secrets on that play,” Roethlisberger said regarding Heath Miller catching his 43rd touchdown pass of his career Sunday against the San Francisco 49errs and moving into fourth place all-time on the franchise’s list. “Spread them out, you can have multiple options. That was just one of the options, so you don’t have to worry about checking and making a bunch of adjustments.”

Spread offenses, along with modern-era day tight end have given the surge in recent production early in the NFL season.

Tight ends are having their biggest impact in the end zone.

20 players are tied for the top six spots for the most touchdown receptions after two weeks of games in the NFL. Eight of those players are tight ends. The list includes Gronkowski, Tyler Eifert (Cincinnati Bengals), Eric Ebron (Detroit Lions), Crockett Gilmore (Baltimore Ravens), Travis Kelce (Kansas City Chiefs), Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Jason Witten (Dallas Cowboys) and Dwayne Allen (Indianapolis Colts).

Eifert ranks in the Top 20 in receptions (tied for 13th), yards (20th) and touchdowns (tied for 2nd). He tore his ACL last year in Week 1 and has returned with a vengeance leading the Bengals in all receiving categories. Pretty impressive numbers considering he plays in the same offense that features Pro Bowler A.J. Green.

“I want to be someone Andy (Dalton) can trust,” Eifert said after Cincinnati’s win over the San Diego Chargers. “My goal? To be the best tight end in the league. That’s what you shoot for. Keep doing my job, stay healthy and everything will take care of itself.”

The combination of so many receiving threats at tight end has the position tied with receivers with multiple touchdown games after two weeks. Amongst the 109 touchdown passes thrown in the first two weeks of the NFL season, 33% have resulted in a score from the tight end position.

Another avenue of discussion is the impact tight ends are having over running backs scoring touchdowns via the pass.

The theory of throwing to the running back out of the backfield has been thrown to the curb early in the 2015 NFL season. Running backs are being disregarded for the option of hitting the tight end down field for the score.

Only seven receiving touchdowns have been scored by running backs over the first two weeks of the season. In comparison, tight ends have 36 touchdown catches.

Could it be a matter of time before tight ends lead the league in receiving categories?

It’s not an absurd notion that one of the today’s top-tier tight ends (even running backs) set aim at top spot.

The last tight end to lead the league in catches was Tony Gonzalez, who had 102 catches in the 2004 season. Prior to their recent run of dominance, receivers have led the league in receptions which includes every season from 1987 to 2014 (minus 2004).

Ironically (and it’s hard to believe), from 1974-1983, not one receiver led the NFL in receptions. Washington Redskins Hall of Famer Art Monk snapped the streak of non-receivers leading the league before another two years absent on the leader list. Over a span of 13 years (1974-1986), only once did a receiver lead the league in receptions.

The position (tight end) has changed to parallel the high-octane passing offenses that line-up offensively across the NFL. It was just a matter of time before offensive coordinators exploited defenses with another weapon to big and fast for linebackers to contain.

Is it the year of the tight end?

It certainly seems so.


About Bo Marchionte

Bo Marchionte

Bo Marchionte is an NFL writer for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade. His background includes being staff for the Texas vs. The Nation All-Star game as a talent evaluator for player personnel along with an internship scouting with the Toronto Argonauts and Winnipeg Blue Bombers for the Canadian Football League. Bo’s draft background includes working for the NFL Draft Bible and currently owns and operates College2Pro.com. He has done radio spots on NBC, Fox Sports and ESPN and their affiliates in different markets around the country. Bo covers the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pittsburgh Panthers along with other colleges in the northeast.