To avoid making future draft mistakes we must first learn from the past. Although every draft is different, there have been some trends that have played out over the years. Based on draft results from 2000-2010, here are some of the facts we’ve encountered about the tight end position.
The tight end position may not be considered as an offensive “skill position”, but it’s quickly becoming closer to a necessity than a luxury if your team is going to have a legitimate passing attack. When examining the best quarterbacks in the game, you can quickly find an elite pass-catching tight end flanked to their left or right. Peyton Manning has Dallas Clark, Tom Brady has Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, Philip Rivers has Antonio Gates, and Matt Ryan has Tony Gonzalez, just to name a few.
So if you’re a team that is looking for an upgrade at the tight end position, where should you think about pulling the trigger in the draft? According to our research, tight ends selected in the first round have a more than respectable 56.3 percent chance (9 of 16) of working out (becoming a solid starter/contributor). Even more recently (from 2005 to the present), teams have hit on first round tight ends at an amazing 85.7 percent rate (6 of 7). These picks include Pro Bowlers Vernon Davis and Marcedes Lewis as well as key contributors Heath Miller, Brandon Pettigrew and Dustin Keller.
There may or may not be a tight end selected in the first round in this year’s draft due to the lack of an elite prospect along with a plethora of excellent defensive line, wide receiver and cornerback prospects. If your team is going to wait until Round Two to select a tight end perhaps they’d be better off waiting a little longer. Tight ends selected in the second round have just a 31.3 percent hit rate (5 of 16). Whereas solid tight ends such as the Patriots Rob Gronkowski, Redskins Fred Davis, Seahawks John Carlson and the Raiders Zach Miller were found in Round Two, there have been many more Joe Klopfenstein’s, and of course the Ben’s- Troupe and Joppru. The value of the tight ends selected in the second round haven’t proven to live up to the value of the selections.
How did teams that selected tight ends in the third round fare?
Just as most positions, the hit rate of tight ends selected dropped from rounds two to three, but not significantly. Tight ends drafted in the third round were successful at a rate of 20 percent (5 of 25), a dropoff of just 11.3 percent. Pro Bowlers such as Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten and Chris Cooley were third-round picks, as well as Green Bay’s Jermichael Finley. Taking into account the diminished value of a third-round pick compared to a second-round pick, Round Three is not a bad place to find your tight end.
What about the late-round guys?
Since there are very few dual-threat tight ends and it’s a somewhat specialized position, teams have taken stabs at late-round guys with the hopes that they can play a specific role either as a blocker or possibly a red-zone threat. Our statistics show that nine of 115 tight ends selected after the third round have worked out (7.8 percent). In recent drafts, we’ve seen late-round picks Aaron Hernandez, Kevin Boss and Brent Celek work out, along with Indianapolis Colts tight end Jacob Tamme, who set a career high with 67 receptions while filling in for the injured Dallas Clark in 2010. Before then we saw the Houston Texans select former Pro Bowler Owen Daniels with a fourth-round pick, and the San Diego Chargers convert former Kent State basketball player Antonio Gates into a Hall of Fame tight end.
We’ve learned in our research that if there’s an elite, first-round caliber tight end it would behoove a team that had a need at the position to go ahead and select him early. Teams don’t appear to get the bang for the buck at tight end in Round Two, but it’s possible to grab a future Hall of Famer in rounds three and beyond. Now that you have the facts, draft accordingly.
Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPNFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie