As training camps get into full swing, every team wishes they had the perfect player to complement their team. One of the more versatile roles today comes from the tight end position.
The ability to block for the run, catch the pass, and line up in wide receiver sets makes the tight end a dangerous position. Today, we look at how to put together the perfect tight end.
Legs: Tony Gonzalez
The 6’5’’ two-sport college athlete is a natural selection for the legs position. As a college athlete at University of California Berkeley, Gonzalez played both football and basketball, giving him the ups over linebackers and cornerbacks.
After his breakout junior season in college, Gonzalez left basketball for the NFL, and his legs made a huge difference.
Since joining the Kansas City Chiefs in 1997, Gonzalez has had four 1,000-yard receiving seasons, and three seasons where he scored more than ten touchdowns.
Though he has never caught 100 passes in a season, it is the power in his legs that has allowed him to have a double digit yards per catch average every year since his rookie season.
Hands: Antonio Gates
As the top receiver in the San Diego system for a long time, Gates has flourished in his six-year career, recording four straight seasons of 70+ catches and 900+ yards, including an 1,100 yard season in 2005.
He has had two seasons of double digit touchdowns, and has managed to record over 11 yards per catch every season, including a phenomenal 16.2 yards per catch average in his rookie season.
Despite a slight decline in 2008, Antonio Gates is still a menace, and is always a guarantee to reel in a few balls.
Body: Heath Miller
The Pittsburgh Steelers have always been the embodiment of a run first, pass second team, especially when the legs on your team have been such studs as Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis.
That’s why it is so imperative for them to have a big, bruising Tight End to assist in the blocking game. Enter Miller.
At 6’5’’ 256-lbs. Miller is a menacing force in the run and pass blocking schemes Pittsburgh employs. His body also allows him to be a nice extra receiving option, as it can be quite tough to take down a big boy such as Miller.
He’s had two straight 40+ catch and 500+ yard seasons, and with a new contract extension, Miller can continue to be a dual threat, as long as he keeps laying out the defense.
Head: Dallas Clark
The vision of a tight end is an often overlooked trait, but it is a key ingredient when building an NFL player.
Tight ends often run short curls or in and out routes, designed to attract attention from a Linebacker. Dallas Clark takes advantage of the “assumed” route running role of the tight end by being split wide, almost as a slot receiver, and going up against a linebacker, can run different routes to success.
Clark is a tight end who sees like a receiver, and is one of QB Peyton Manning’s favorite targets. This different placement of the tight end has allowed Clark to have over 600 receiving yards each of the last two seasons, and at least four touchdowns a season since 2004. Many teams now imitate the Colts style of offense by splitting their TE out wide, but few can see the whole field, running outside or inside, and make the catch and score like Clark.
Intangibles: Jason Witten
Arguably the biggest role, outside of a blocker and receiver, is the ability to be the safety blanket for the quarterback. Witten epitomizes that role as the tight end for the Dallas Cowboys.
At a massive 6’5’’, Witten allows roommate and teammate Tony Romo to find him all over the field, and the numbers don’t lie. Since Romo has taken over as the starter in Dallas, Witten’s numbers have risen, to a career high 1,145 yards on 96 catches and seven touchdowns in 2007.
The fact that Witten averages over 11 yards a catch for five straight years show that, whenever Romo is in a pinch on a third and long, and is stuck scrambling, he can look for the big tight end, who will make the catch and get the yards. Being the safety net for a QB is a vital role, and Witten plays it to perfection.
Whether catching, blocking, or just being the safety net in case of an emergency, the tight end has emerged from extra lineman, to solid threat anywhere on the field. The players selected above are some of the elite tight ends in the NFL, and little needs to be said why combined, they make the perfect NFL player.