Many of you play NCAA or Madden football on your console of choice. If you do, chances are pretty good you have succeeded in causing your friends/family/roommates/neighbors to throw controllers, curse the gods, and swear off their friendship entirely by going for it on 4th and 20, scrambling around for 10 seconds, and then throwing up a prayer to an open guy right in the middle of field, a tight end perhaps.
When I start a dynasty in those games, one position I specifically recruit is the tight end spot. I don't want rush blockers, I want speed and hands. I have noticed over the years that there is consistently a defensive mismatch with fast tight ends. They are generally being covered by linebackers that can't keep up and like clockwork they make a break and they're open - as long as they're fast enough.
The NFL has started to realize this trend, as evidenced by an unprecedented 20 TEs selected in the 2010 draft, nearly half of them coming in the first four rounds. And boy did they ever pay immediate dividends.
A quick recap of today's divisional playoff game TE performances:
- Rob Gronkowski, Patriots - 145 rec. yds, 3TD
- Aaron Hernandez, Patriots - 116 all-purpose yds, 1TD
- Jimmy Graham, Saints - 103 rec. yds, 2TD
Three of those guys are second-year players out of the 2010 draft, and Rob Gronkowski has already rewritten all the single-season records for a TE, as well as leading the NFL in receiving touchdowns (first TE in history).
What does this mean?
Well for starters, the prototypical linebacker may gradually move away from Ray Lewis and become more of a cover position where speed is needed. You may even see more safeties being moved to LB to try and create a better speed matchup or DEs focusing on jamming a TE rather than rushing a QB.
One thing is for sure: most coaches aren't going to wait around for evolution to pick up the slack and produce huge, fast linebackers. The defensive schemes are likely to get pretty salty in the years to come, in order to combat the surge of offensive production from tight ends.
The trickle down effect will also mean that college TEs will focus on their catching and route-running more than their blocking, which may cause running backs to suffer, although college football seems to be going to the way of Oregon's speed attack anyway, which relies less on blocking tight ends.
Positional innovation is likely to continue; the more ways you can use the same personnel, the better you can keep the other team on their heels. Personally, I am very excited to see where this takes the game of football.
Tom Brady will start putting punters out of work.