Like receivers, tight ends have also been prime beneficiaries of the league wide passing boom these past few years. More than ever tight ends have become matchup nightmares around the league. Some are built and can run like receivers, while others are built like defensive ends with sub 4.6 speed and can haul in passes with the best of them. Of the four tight ends I selected to breakout in 2015, two of them burst onto the scene in a big way. The other two however did drastically improve on their 2014 numbers so it’s worth monitoring their development to see if that trend continues. What I wrote about the four players entering 2015 can be found here.
Tyler Eifert, Bengals: In my preseason write-up, I mentioned how Eifert’s imposing frame and Jermaine Gresham’s departure could lead to big things especially in the redzone. Considering he hauled in 13 touchdowns in 2015, I’d say he exceeded expectations. When he has stayed healthy, nobody can question Eifert’s ability and for good reason.
In his first year as a starter, he hauled in 52 passes for 615 yards to go along with those 13 scores despite missing three games. Considering all the mouths the Bengals offense had to feed as well and the numbers are even more impressive. With both Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu out of the picture, Eifert figures to see even more targets in 2016. Unfortunately, the injury bug bit once again this time in the form of needing ankle surgery. There is talk he might miss the first few games of the season, but when healthy Eifert figures to produce at a very high level.
Hit or miss: Hit
Jordan Reed, Redskins: With his ability to create mismatches in the slot and natural pass catching ability, I predicted Reed would catch 70 plus passes if he managed to stay healthy. Despite missing two games, Reed had a fantastic season. Hauling in over 75 percent of throws in his direction, Reed caught 87 passes for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns in a true breakout campaign. While Kirk Cousins is bound to regress from his incredible 2015 performance, it is worth noting that towards the end of the year he formed a very nice rapport with Reed.
In the Redskins last four regular season games, Reed hauled in 29 passes for 378 yards and five touchdowns. That carried into the playoffs as Reed had nine receptions for 120 yards and a touchdown in a playoff loss to the Packers. Defenses will have time to adjust and game plan for Reed this offseason, but health permitting he has the chance to be a special pass catcher at the tight end position.
Hit or miss: Hit
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Buccaneers: Despite being a raw talent, I was high on Seferian-Jenkins entering 2015 in a tight end friendly scheme. Even though he missed nine games due to a strained shoulder, he built off of his rookie season numbers catching 21 passes for 338 yards and four touchdowns. Granted, this does include a five catch 110 yard and two touchdown performance which was heavily dictated by garbage time.
2016 has all the makings of a “make or break” season for Seferian-Jenkins. The latest we’ve heard about him was being removed from an OTA practice last month. So naturally, we’ll probably start hearing rumblings that the Buccaneers have been “concerned about his character” in coming months. If everything clicks, the sky is the limit for the one known as ASJ. At this point, it’s up to him if that talent will shine to light in a fantastic situation in Tampa.
Hit or miss: Miss
Richard Rodgers, Packers: I selected Rodgers as I figured he would be a beneficiary of the newfound targets as a result of Jordy Nelson’s injury. One thing I did make sure to add was while this may not be a true breakout campaign, there’s a very good chance he’s an important part of the offense with 50 to 60 balls thrown his way. In that regard, the prediction would be validated.
Rodgers was actually targeted 85 times in 2015 hauling in 58 for 510 yards and eight touchdowns. One of those probably earned him plenty of free drinks around Green Bay as he caught the Hail Mary as time expired to beat the Lions in Detroit. While his yards per catch total proved uninspiring, there is a chance Rodgers figures to improve on that with fewer targets in 2016. With a healthy Nelson, he figures to see more open opportunities down the seams. Look for him to continue being a solid contributor in what figures to once again be an explosive Packers offense.
Hit or miss: Push