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Tight Ends Making Impact in NFL

As passing offenses around the NFL evolve, more teams are factoring the tight end into the game plan.

"I've never seen this many tight ends this good at one particular time," says CBS analyst Shannon Sharpe, one of eight tight ends enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "We've never seen the position this dominant. This is the golden age of tight ends."

Through the first five weeks of the NFL season, tight ends have combined for 765 catches for 8,992 yards and 76 touchdowns. That is the most by players at that position in all three categories through the first five weeks of any season in NFL history.

Year Receptions Year Rec. Yards Year Rec. TDs
Source: NFL


In each of the past four years, NFL tight ends broke the single-season record for the most receptions for the position. Last year, players at the position combined for 2,401 catches. Tight ends also combined for 26,197 receiving yards and 197 touchdown catches in 2012, both of which rank second to 2011's record totals (27,080 yards, 198 TDs).

Tight ends are putting up numbers at a record pace this season, with projected totals for the season of 2,543 receptions, 29,895 receiving yards and 252 receiving touchdowns.

Year Receptions Year Rec. Yards Year Rec. TDs
Source: NFL *Projections for 2013 season


"The importance of the tight end position has increased with the new emphasis on the passing game," says NFL Network analyst and former NFL head coach Steve Mariucci. "Teams are throwing the ball more often.

"The way to create mismatches with defenses is to have versatile tight ends. That's why we're seeing a lot of basketball player tight ends -- Tony Gonzalez, Jimmy Graham and Antonio Gates. You can play them in line and run some regular offense, and also stand them up and split them out in the slot or wide out and play them in a spread out type offense. Now you pose a problem to defenses and how do we match? Do we substitute nickel? Do we play base defense? It's a problem. Teams are utilizing two tight ends very well and it's hard to substitute with them. You don't know what you're going to get; either bunched up run plays or spread them out wide pass plays."

New Orleans' Graham leads the NFL with 593 receiving yards and is tied for second with 37 catches and six touchdowns. He has recorded a 100-yard performance in each of his past four games, tying the record for the longest streak by a tight end in NFL history. Gonzalez accomplished the feat in 2000 and Graham did it in 2011. Graham is the only tight end in league annals to record two separate such streaks. During this streak, Graham has 548 yards, the most by a tight end over any four-game span in a single season in NFL history.

Gonzalez, who is the all-time leader at the position with 1,275 receptions, 14,607 receiving yards and 106 touchdowns, has recorded a catch in 200 consecutive games, the second-longest streak by any player in NFL history (Pro Football Hall of Famer JERRY RICE, 274 games). Last week, he surpassed MARVIN HARRISON and moved into sixth place all-time in career receiving yards. Gonzalez already ranks second in NFL history in receptions and is sixth in touchdown catches.

Earlier this season, Dallas' Jason Witten (834) passed Shannon Sharpe (815) and moved into second place among tight ends in career receptions. San Diego's Gates is fourth all-time with 674 catches. Witten (9,261) and Gates (8,759) rank third and fourth among tight ends in receiving yards and Gates' 85 touchdown catches are the second-most by any player at the position.

"I think Kellen Winslow and Ozzie Newsome really revolutionized the position and now you're seeing more and more of these guys," says NBC analyst and former NFL head coach TONY DUNGY. "They're difficult to defend and I think you're going to continue to see more tight ends become big-time playmakers."

Tight ends have put up big numbers through the first five weeks of the season and a number of them rank among the leaders in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches.


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