Rob Gronkowksi and Jimmy Graham redefined the athletic requirements and statistical expectations for tight ends in 2011. Both broke the 1,000-yard receiving mark and established themselves as the most dangerous player on their respective offenses.
Any tight end entering the NFL this season faces the increased pressure from being judged by the position's new lofty standards. There are four rookie tight ends who have the chance to be the versatile, dynamic playmakers teams now crave at the position.
They have the best chance to come close to emulating the achievements of Graham and Gronkowski.
The Indianapolis Colts received a bonus back in April, when they were able to select the draft's top two tight ends in Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. They will be invaluable weapons for rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and give the Colts the potential to create an offense similar to the one the New England Patriots dominated the league with in 2011.
Fleener was Luck's favourite target at Stanford and perfectly fits the mould of the modern NFL tight end. He can operate in line or be split out wide and possesses the speed to stretch defenses deep and has wide receiver-like ability after the catch.
With Fleener utilised on vertical routes, Allen will have plenty of room to work the underneath zones. The John Mackey Award winner as college football's best tight end might be a more complete player than Fleener.
He is an excellent in-line receiver and blocker and can be particularly effective in the screen game. That should add even more flexibility to the Colts' passing game.
With Reggie Wayne aging and no other marquee wideouts, the Colts will have to rely on their rookie tight end pair for much of their offense. That should lead to some big first-season numbers, with Fleener explosive enough to have a monster debut season.
Fourth-Rounder Ladarius Green Is in the Perfect Offense to Suit His Skills
The San Diego Chargers managed to find the natural heir apparent to Antonio Gates when they selected ex-Louisiana-Lafayette star Ladarius Green in the fourth round. Green finds himself in a perfect situation to take the league by storm after a quiet preseason.
Head coach Norv Turner has never been shy about featuring undersized but incredibly athletic tight ends, and Green is just that. Like Gates, he is a tall, angular pass-catcher blessed with tremendous natural agility.
He has the leaping ability to go up and snag high passes and pluck the ball out of traffic in the red zone. Turner's offense is in the Coryell mould, meaning there are plenty of deep crosses and vertical post patterns on the outside, opening up the underneath for an active tight end.
Injuries and age have slowed Gates considerably, meaning Green could find himself featuring sooner rather than later.
New York Giants Project Adrien Robinson Is the Ultimate Sleeper Candidate
Adrien Robinson is a player the New York Giants hope they can turn from raw prospect to polished playmaker. They did the same for Jason Pierre-Paul, and general manager Jerry Reese wasted no time comparing Robinson to the star defensive end.
That's high praise for the 6'4", 264-pounder who only had 12 receptions last season. Robinson has ideal size for the position and can combine his frame with elite athletic intangibles.
Robinson has long-striding quickness and a tremendous vertical leap. He certainly offers more big-play potential than Bear Pascoe and Martellus Bennett.
The Giants have a clear need for a dynamic playmaker at the position, creating an opportunity for Robinson.
Tight ends have been completely transformed from complementary or supplemental parts of a passing game to featured weapons.
The players on this list perfectly fit the new mould, expertly represented by Graham and Gronkowski. They have also entered ideal situations to enjoy similar levels of production.