Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFL tight ends have evolved

Ravens safety Ed Reed has seen the evolution of the tight end position firsthand.

No longer considered glorified tackles or safety valves, the new breed of tight end is a matchup nightmare, a dangerous combination of size and speed with the strength of a power forward.

"They're more athletic guys, bigger guys, taller guys," Reed said. "Kind of basketball bodies."

While there have been playmaking tight ends before, from Kellen Winslow and Ozzie Newsome to Shannon Sharpe and Tony Gonzalez, the caliber of athlete at the position — and how he's being used — has changed significantly over the past decade.

Six of the top 17 in receptions this season were tight ends, who are in a golden age and figure prominently in today's conference title games.

In New England, 6-foot-6, 265-pound Rob Gronkowski is a cult hero, leading the league with 17 touchdowns and catching 90 passes for 1,327 yards. His teammate, ex-Florida star Aaron Hernandez, had 79 receptions and, used out of the backfield, was the Patriots' leading rusher in last week's AFC division win over the Broncos.

Vernon Davis lifted the 49ers into today's matchup with the Giants with his 14-yard touchdown catch with nine seconds left against the Saints.

"The tight end position is taking off," Davis said. "It's almost as if you have to start (covering) tight ends with cornerbacks … because they're fast. These guys are strong, and they're making plays. They're making plays like wide receivers."

Just ask the Bucs. The Saints' 6-6, 260-pound Jimmy Graham combined for 202 receiving yards in two games this season against them. The number of tight ends who had more than 500 receiving yards has increased every season since 2006, when 12 eclipsed that mark, until this season. In 2010, an NFL-record 22 achieved the feat, and 20 did this season.

The NFL is all about matchups, and the Grahams, Davises and Gronkowskis give defensive coordinators fits because they're often too fast for a linebacker, too big for a defensive back and can beat tight coverage with leaping catches.

But ESPN analyst and former Bucs quarterback Trent Dilfer said another reason tight ends are more successful is the game has changed. With rules limiting contact around the line of scrimmage and the league cracking down on dangerous hits, Dilfer said it's taking away the defense's ability to dominate the middle of the field.

"No longer is the intimidation factor relevant in the middle of the field," he said. "I've seen routes being called with tight ends and slot receivers that you never even thought about running 10 years ago because you'd get your guys killed. So now you get all this chunk yardage in the middle of the football field with players that don't have to necessarily have top-end speed."

With colleges using spread offenses, tight ends are more prepared to be part of the passing game when they enter the pros, and teams have made them building blocks. Kellen Winslow Jr. has been one of Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman's favorite targets.

But one ex-coach is skeptical of the position's importance in relation to the rest of the offense.

"If I'm drafting on offense, you go get your quarterback and your left tackle first," former Ravens coach and current Fox analyst Brian Billick told USA Today. "I'm not sure I wouldn't put that tight end at the next level; even in front of that great impact receiver."

Information from Times wires contributed to this report.

Comments
Q&A: Ex-Bucs RB Warrick Dunn on Brooks, Winston, Ring of Honor

Q&A: Ex-Bucs RB Warrick Dunn on Brooks, Winston, Ring of Honor

Former Bucs running back Warrick Dunn will be reunited with Derrick Brooks — his teammate both at Florida State and with the Bucs — when they work together Sunday as "Legends" captains for the NFC squad in Sunday's Pro Bowl in Orlando."Wh...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Oh Gahd, the Patriots are back in the Super Bowl! Don’t worry, lots of new story lines for LII vs. E-A-G-L-E-S

Oh Gahd, the Patriots are back in the Super Bowl! Don’t worry, lots of new story lines for LII vs. E-A-G-L-E-S

TAMPA – Unless you are a Chowd who drives the cah wicked fah and pahks in the yahd, you probably aren't all that jacked up about the Patriots returning to Super Bowl LII against the Philadelphia Eagles in Minneapolis. Anybody but Bill Belichick...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Patriots, Eagles bring plenty of local ties to Super Bowl

Patriots, Eagles bring plenty of local ties to Super Bowl

The Bucs aren't playing for a Super Bowl, and the game itself won't come to Tampa for three more years. But there's no shortage of cool local connections and ties on the Patriots and Eagles' rosters. You've already heard some of these stories, and yo...
Published: 01/22/18
Lessons of another Belichick-Brady Super Bowl

Lessons of another Belichick-Brady Super Bowl

TAMPA — Next victim, please.Shouldn't we just start penciling the Patriots into the Super Bowl before every season?It would save us a lot of time.Mind you, the rest of the NFL is fighting Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and this foregone conclus...
Published: 01/22/18
Crisco, dune buggy and a face-plant: Fired-up Philly fans take to the streets

Crisco, dune buggy and a face-plant: Fired-up Philly fans take to the streets

PHILADELPHIA — Not even a coat of Crisco on light poles across the city could keep Philadelphia Eagles fans from scaling new heights in celebrating their team’s first Super Bowl appearance in 13 years and setting up a rematch with the AFC champion N...
Published: 01/22/18
Eagles blow out Vikings to win NFC title

Eagles blow out Vikings to win NFC title

PHILADELPHIA — Confetti filled the air, fireworks erupted overhead, and fans sang "Fly, Eagles Fly!" No one dared head for the exits. There was too much to celebrate.The Eagles are going to the Super Bowl.The makeshift podium hadn’t taken space on Ph...
Published: 01/21/18
Updated: 01/22/18
Patriots rally past Jaguars to return to Super Bowl

Patriots rally past Jaguars to return to Super Bowl

Published: 01/21/18
Jones: Saluting CBS, honesty and goats (not to be confused with GOATS)

Jones: Saluting CBS, honesty and goats (not to be confused with GOATS)

Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.Best coverageThe best football broadcast I’ve ever seen was Super Bowl XLIII. That was NBC’s coverage of the Steelers’ last-minute victory over th...
Published: 01/21/18
Shrine Game journal: USF players’ thoughts are with grieving QB Quinton Flowers

Shrine Game journal: USF players’ thoughts are with grieving QB Quinton Flowers

ST. PETERSBURG — USF had expected to have four former players in Saturday’s East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field, but QB Quinton Flowers had to miss the showcase game after learning that his grandmother had died late last week."I most definitely ...
Published: 01/20/18
Late score gives West victory over East in Shrine Game

Late score gives West victory over East in Shrine Game

ST. PETERSBURG — With less than a week to install a playbook, offenses can have it tough in college showcase games.And for 58 minutes on Saturday in the East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field, the teams combined for just one offensive touchdown.But...
Published: 01/20/18