Back in the day in the NFL, there was this position called fullback. These were 230-260 lb men who could run block, pass block, catch the ball and run with the ball. They could literally do just about everything on the football field (even throw the ball occasionally). They really don’t exist anymore in the NFL. There were 11 players listed as fullbacks in the NFL in 2022 who took offensive snaps. Former Bronco Andrew Beck was one of them.
The only player in the modern NFL who has a similar role is the tight end. While they rarely run the ball (other than Taysom Hill, who is a unicorn), they are tasked with run blocking, pass blocking and (in most cases) pass catching. Hill had 96 carries in 2022. The rest of the TEs in the NFL combined for 30. Hill is basically the modern version of Tim Tebow with a little more accuracy on the rare instances when he throws the ball (19 pass attempts in 2022).
The old way of evaluating tight ends (by catches, rec yards and TDs) is pretty worthless because it misses context (targets) and utilization (snap counts). Footballoutsiders.com has a stat used to compare TEs as receivers (defense-adjusted yards above replacement, DYAR) which is nice, but it completely leaves out blocking, a skill that gets regularly overlooked in any player who doesn’t play on the OL (fistbump for the Tackle Bros - there will be a meeting in the conference room tomorrow at noon). Regarding DYAR
These statistics measure only passes thrown to a receiver, not performance on plays when he is not thrown the ball, such as blocking and drawing double teams.
As receivers, the top 10 DYAR TEs in the league in 2022 are listed below (min 25 catches)
The best receiving TEs in the league only produced 150-250 more receiving yards than a “replacement level” TE while the worst receiving TEs in the league cost their teams about 50-75 yards. This also does not take into account penalties (along with blocking). The only Bronco TE who had enough catches to show up on this list is Greg Dulcich. However, Eric Tomlinson, Eric Saubert and Albert Okwuegbunam can be found on the 10-24 catches list. They had DYARs of 8, -20 and -25 respectively. That means that the three of them actually cost the team more receiving yards than would have been gained by an average NFL TE.
For Tomlinson, this should not be a surprise. He is ostensibly an offensive tackle who happens to by listed as a TE. The 270ish pound man entered the season with 18 career catches on 28 targets over six NFL seasons. So Tomlinson was in the game to block, but how did he do as a blocker? SISdatahub.com has blocking data for tight ends.
The only TE who was one the Bronco roster with any playing experience before yesterday’s signing of blocking TE, Chris Manhertz, was Greg Dulcich. The Eric’s are both still free agents and Beck has agreed to has agreed to sign with the Texans (cause he’s a loser, baby).
I was surprised to see how often tight ends, even elite receiving tight ends, stay in to pass block. For example, Travis Kelce and George Kittle both had 38 snaps in 2022 where they was used to pass block. 24 different TEs allowed at least one sack this season. Three TEs, Adam Trautman, Jack Stoll and Durham Smythe allowed three sacks.
If we look at the pass blocking data for the TEs we find that one of them, Drew Sample, allowed a sack on 12 pass blocking snaps. Conversely Parker Hesse and Marcedes Lewis both have more than 100 PB snaps and didn’t allow a sack. Admittedly, I have no idea if they were blocking one-on-one on most of those are if they were helping an OT or RB double-team a defender.
Notice where both Tomlinson and Manhertz fall on the table above. Both were undeniably blocking TEs with more than five PB snaps for every target. I’d love to have a routes run number for all the TEs, but I was unable to find that data on a free site.
- RB Snaps = run blocking snaps, RB Snap % = percentage of team rushing attempts that they blocked on
- PB Snaps = pass blocking snaps, PB Snap % = percentage of team passing attempts they were blocking on
- RBS/PBS = ratio of run block snaps to pass block snaps
- PB Snaps/TGT = pass block snaps per target
- BRB% = blown run block %, STFF% = % of run blocks on which their defender shoved them into the runner causing the runner to stumble or fall
The most interesting data to me is the PB snaps per target column. These are receiving tight ends who are so valuable as receivers (and in some cases so bad as pass blockers) that their coaches want them running routes on passing plays and not trying to block. Mark Andrews was the poster boy for this in 2022. He has 112 targets and was only asked to pass block 7 times. On the other end of the spectrum you have Marcedes Lewis who had 7 targets and was asked to pass block 104 times.
If we plot the data for TEs who had two or more targets per game we get this graph
The true “receiving TEs” or move TEs are in the upper left quadrant. The blocking TEs are in the bottom right. Notice how there are only two guys in the top right quadrant - Tyler Higbee and Tyler Conklin (something about the name Tyler?). The above only looks at pass blocking though. If you go back and look at the table, you will see that I have included run blocking data.
The tight end with the most run blocking snaps in 2022 was Cole Kmet of the Bears with 389 RB snaps. Kmet also led all TEs in blocking snaps in 2022 with 473. He was one of the reasons the Bears led the league in total rushing yards in 2022 with 3014. The Bears also led the league in YPC with 5.40. Of course, having a great runner at QB helped.
There were only four TEs in 2022 who had more than 400 blocking snaps. Kmet, Geoff Swaim, Hesse and Higbee. Kmet and Higbee were both used as receivers. Swaim and Hesse were not - combining for 27 total targets.
So let’s try to answer the titular question now - were there any tight ends in the NFL in 2022 who were good at catching the ball while at the same time being good pass and run blockers? If you accept that premise that those who weren’t asked to pass block very often were not good pass blockers, then we can exclude guys like Kyle Pitts, Darren Waller and Mark Andrews because of how infrequently they were asked to pass block. For all I know, they might be great pass blockers, but their offensive coordinators found them too valuable as receivers to NOT have them running routes. That being said, Mark Andrews has never had more than 29 pass blocking snaps in a season and he averages 15 per season. That could be because he is so valuable to the Ravens as a receiver, or because he is a terrible pass blocker. Frankly it doesn’t matter. He is not used to pass block, regardless of the reason.
We need to look at the guys who are good at catching the ball AND good at run blocking - the other two parts of the “good at everything” triangle. The assumption here is that if you can run block as a tight end, you can probably pass block (I know this is not a great assumption because many OL guys can run block and are poor at pass pro). Setting the threshold at three targets per game, there were 29 TEs with 51 or more targets in 2022. RBP% is how often you don’t screw up as a run blocker.
SIS has no blocking data for TJ Hockenson for 2022 (no idea why). For the first three years of his NFL career has been an average or below average run blocker. Unlike Andrews, Hooper, Pitts, Jordan Akins and Mike Gesicki who (at least on paper) all appear to be really good run blockers. All of them went the entire year without having a blown run block or getting stuffed in the run game. Other elite receiving TEs who were good or great run blockers in 2022 were Dawson Knox, Kelce, and Kmet.
The only tight end who got used heavily to pass block, got used heavily as a receiver and was elite at run blocking in 2022 was Tyler Higbee. Kelce didn’t get used to pass block too often (which makes sense). So the answer to the question in the title is yes, but in 2022 there was only one who did it all and did it often.
I don’t doubt the Kelce and Andrews could probably be good pass blockers if they were asked more often to do it, but it seems rather silly to have a highly paid elite receiving TE doing something that you could find a street veteran to do as a TE (pass block). In other words, if you want a TE for pass blocking, sign a guy like Eric Tomlinson or Durham Smythe or Parker Hesse or Chris Manhertz. Those are blocking TEs who are only useful in the passing game if the defense forgets that they can catch the ball. If I can use a vehicle analogy, you don’t haul dirt with a sports car, that’s what pickup trucks are for. Kelce and Kittle are sports cars. Tomlinson and Manhertz are pickup trucks.