While receivers benefit from a pass oriented league, a lot of tight ends have done the same as well. Teams are getting creative with tight ends (or as they now call themselves for financial implications “pass catchers”) and utilizing their unique size/speed combination to become matchup nightmares in the slot. This strategy was even evident in the draft when the Lions spent the 10th overall pick on Eric Ebron. Nobody when talking about Ebron mentioned his ability to do traditional tight end things such as blocking (if anything it was about his lack of). They only talked about the mismatches he would create lined up in the slot (I’m not a big fan of the Ebron pick but that’s for a different time). The tight ends I mention could all fit the “new breed” at the position. While some have more traditional tendencies, their respective coaches will be continuously looking for ways to take advantage of the mismatches they provide.
Zach Ertz, Eagles: If recent history is any indication, tight ends that go on to become dominant in the passing game tend to really emerge in their second or third year. Some recent examples of this include Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Jordan Cameron and Julius Thomas. Ertz looks like he is the next player to fit that bill. At 6’4 250 with plenty of athleticism, Ertz had a solid rookie season in 2013. However, all reports are that he has been completely dominant this offseason and it has carried over into the preseason games. With his ability to make defenses pay over the middle of the field and as a redzone target, Ertz is going to be Pro Bowl caliber talent for a long time.
Jordan Reed, Redskins: At 6’3 236 pounds coming out of Florida, Reed reminded a lot of experts of Aaron Hernandez (aside from the whole allegedly killing people thing). He showed why in glimpses in his rookie year, but the main issue with Reed is that he already has a concussion history. When on the field, Reed has the ability to stretch defenses and should play a big role in Jay Gruden’s offense that emphasizes vertical passing. On top of that, Reed is one of the biggest targets at Robert Griffin III’s disposal so he should get plenty of redzone opportunities.
Kyle Rudolph, Vikings: Through the first three years of his career, Rudolph has yet to top 500 yards in a single season. That figures to change in 2014. In previous installments, I have mentioned that despite Norv Turner’s shortcomings he knows how to get the most out of his playmakers. This is especially the case with the tight end position as the production of guys such as Antonio Gates and Jordan Cameron could attest to. At 6’6 259 pounds, Rudolph is going to be a huge redzone threat for the Vikings, be he has the ability to make plenty of plays over the field as well. With unknowns at the quarterback position, Rudolph’s week to week consistency could be underwhelming. However a final line with around 800 yards and double digit touchdowns isn’t out of the equation.
Ladarius Green, Chargers: All of the previously mentioned tight ends could have plenty of superlatives in terms of how athletic they are. Despite that, none of them can compare to Green. At 6’6 240 pounds, Green runs a 4.53 forty and was used on the outside a receiver in college at Louisiana-Lafayette. This was on display in 2013 as Green averaged a ridiculous 22.1 yards a catch. While Antonio Gates is still on top of the depth chart, he is getting older and Green is the clear heir apparent to take over as the starter. Whether it is in the slot or as a tight end, the Chargers are going to get Green much more involved using creative ways to utilize his ridiculous physical gifts.
Dennis Pitta, Ravens: A fractured and dislocated hip cost Pitta most of the season until he returned in December. It was evident in the Ravens passing game as Joe Flacco had his struggles and losing a safety valve in Pitta could have played a big role. This year, Pitta has an offensive coordinator in Gary Kubiak who loves utilizing his tight ends. While most fans focus on Torrey Smith and the newly signed Steve Smith, chances are it is Pitta who could be in for the biggest year of them all. It wouldn’t be the least surprising if he led the Ravens in receptions in 2014.