The NFL tight end position continues to evolve as many tight ends play a prominent role in the passing game of offenses around the league.
Last season, NFL tight ends totaled their most receptions (2,249) and receiving yards (24,659) ever in a single season. Through Week 10, tight ends have totaled 1,307 receptions and 14,798 receiving yards and are on pace (2,323 receptions and 26,307 receiving yards) to surpass last season’s record.
“The guys are more athletic, now from when I first came into the league,” says CBS analyst and former NFL tight end SHANNON SHARPE, who currently ranks second all-time at the position in receptions (815) and receiving yards (10,060). “They can run and they can make the catch. You are not surprised when a tight end makes a great catch because it’s almost commonplace now for guys like VERNON DAVIS, ANTONIO GATES, TONY GONZALEZ, TODD HEAP and JASON WITTEN to name a few. There are so many guys that are athletic.”
Gates has created mismatches throughout his career with his size when facing safeties and his speed versus linebackers. As Chargers quarterback PHILIP RIVERS’ No. 1 receiving option, Gates is tied for an NFL-best with nine touchdown receptions and leads all tight ends in receiving yards (663).
The All-Star tight end is five touchdown receptions shy of surpassing his own record for the most ever by a tight end in a single season (13 in 2004), which he currently shares with Vernon Davis (13 in 2009).
“When you look around the league, every team has a guy at that position that can make a play,” says Gates. “Just to see how far the position has evolved since tight ends were predominantly there to block is incredible. It’s becoming more of the role of a receiver. There are a handful of tight ends that lead their team in receptions.”
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HEY ROOKIE: A number of NFL rookie tight ends have been a factor for their respective teams this season. Rookie tight ends are better prepared to serve as pass-catching targets upon entering the NFL due to an increase of college programs running pro-style offenses.
The New England Patriots’ rookie tight end duo of ROB GRONKOWSKI and AARON HERNANDEZ has certainly transitioned well. Hernandez (34) needs four receptions on Sunday against Indianapolis to surpass GREG BATY (37 in 1986) for the most receptions by a Patriots rookie tight end in franchise history. Gronkowski already has a Patriots rookie record with six touchdown receptions this year.
“Teams are not afraid to use their young tight ends,” says NFL Network analyst and former NFL head coach STEVE MARIUCCI. “They are very confident with their ability to get open and catch the ball. The young talent at the tight end position is here to stay.”