Breaking Down the Roster - Part Four: Tight End

Opening Statement

In this next edition of Breaking Down the Roster, I have taken a look at a position that is arguably more vital than wide receiver. Tight ends are not only great receiving threats, especially in the end zone or down the middle of the field, but they also serve in the more traditional role as an extension of the offensive line.

Their versatility makes tight ends so unique and why their presence can help transform an offense. I use the same formula to rate tight ends in the receiving game as I do wide receivers. You can check out the list of tight ends for the 2010 regular season here. Until I can get better stats from NFL.com, its difficult to measure how tight ends performed when they were on the line and used as an extra blocker. I will reference Pro Football Focus later, another stat-based website that has attempted to tackle this issue.

As always, my stats and measurements at www.queuestats.com are created to help fans gain a better understanding of the NFL and team success.

The Stats

Denver has 5 tight ends - Daniel Coats, Virgil Green, Dan Gronkowksi, Richard Quinn and Julius Thomas. Green and Thomas are two rookies drafted in May to help a unit that was surprisingly non-existent for the entire season beyond pass-blocking in McDaniel's offensive scheme.

Meanwhile, Gronkowski was actually very good on the line and may take over for Daniel Graham as Denver's primary blocking tight end.

Here are some quick stats from 2010:

  • A tight end caught 27 passes, or 8.1 percent of Denver's total receptions
  • Only Graham had over 100 yards on the season with 148. Gronkowski had 65 yards on only 8 receptions and Quinn caught 1 pass for 9 yards.
  • Total touchdowns scored by a TE: 0
  • Games without a reception: 4
  • Best Outings: Graham - 2 receptions for 41 yards @ SD; Gronkowski - 3 receptions for 30 yards @ SF

Going forward from here, there is no doubt that Denver needs more production in the receiving game. This will not only add a dimension to the offense that only scored 20.6 points per game (17th) last year, but also help improve the production at quarterback.

One of the great stories in 2010 was the immense production New England's offense got out of their rookie tight ends. For the season, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez  combined for 87 receptions, 1109 yards and 16 touchdowns.

In comparison, Welker and Branch combined for 134 receptions, 1554 yards and 12 touchdowns. While Tom Brady's presence was a huge factor, sixteen touchdowns for two rookies is no small feat and is a great indicator of their abilities as receiving tight ends.

Not only did New England's tight ends flourish under the leadership of a future HOF quarterback, but they played a huge role in helping Brady achieve one of his best seasons in his career and one of the best seasons a quarterback has ever had, where he compiled an NFL-best 107.9 quarterback rating (according to my new QB formula).

So what now? It was abundantly clear that EFX were not too high on the group of tight ends on Denver's roster, using two late round picks in the 2011 NFL Draft to grab athletic, receiving tight ends. 

Denver will only keep three tight ends at most. If that is the case, the coaches may feel the need to have some experience on the team since Fox has made it clear he envisions the rookies making an impact in 2011.

There are three things that I believe Fox and McCoy will need to pay attention to when helping Dan Gronkowski mature in his second year as well as developing rookies Thomas and Green.

  1. According to Pro Football Focus, Gronkowski ranked as the third most effective tight end in pass protection with just 1 sack and 1 pressure allowed on 61 pass blocking snaps. Interestingly enough, Daniel Graham was right behind him in fourth place. For those who feel the need to retain a blocking tight end, Gronkowski is a great fit considering his youth.
  2. Much of this is simply up to the coaching staff helping the rookies develop the skills and fundamentals required to be a tight end. Often times players get so much of the credit, but this new coaching staff must give Thomas and Green the best opportunity to succeed, both in practice and in games. Even though training has not begun and so much is in doubt, Fox and McCoy need to design plays that will take advantage of these rookies' athleticism.
  3. Finally, it will be up to either Kyle Orton or Tim Tebow to look for them during the games. As good as Lloyd was last year, a wide receiver is the least important player on offense. Although Denver's red zone success last year was respectable with a success rate of 55.8 percent (13th), much of that had to do with Tebow's insertion into the starting role. In Denver's last 3 games, they were a solid 66.7 percent in red zone efficiency. Having a tight end will go a long way in helping Denver improve in this area and increase their offensive scoring as a whole.

In Summary

After doing this research, it was clear that Denver needed an upgrade at the tight end position. The front office did their job in drafting two, young rookies that appear to have great potential. It is now up to the coordinators and position coaches to get them the training and playing time needed to make an impact.

Since I do not like to form opinions without data or some form of concrete evidence, I can only hope this position plays a greater role in 2011 than it did last year.

And, Go Broncos!

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