Throughout this decade, the usage of tight ends has evolved as the NFL becomes a more passing oriented league. The position comes in all shapes in sizes too. Someone like Rob Gronkowski may of had prototypical size for the position, but few players would’ve been able to achieve what he has as a receiver. Then you have the Jordan Reed types who are essentially larger receivers and serve as matchup nightmares. The tight ends who I mention as candidates to emerge this year may not have that type of impact, but they should see increased roles with their teams in 2017.
Hunter Henry, Chargers: Henry’s rookie year production seemed to fade down the stretch, but he certainly showed what he’s capable of. At a position where first year players usually struggle, he hauled in 36 passes for 478 yards and eight touchdowns. While Henry is unlikely to haul in a touchdown every 4.5 catches, his targets and yards figure to go up. Philip Rivers by the end of the year usually has the deck stacked against him when it comes to the health of his pass catchers. Due to that, a large increase in targets from the 53 targets Henry had last year should be in order. A season with 60 or so receptions for 700-800 yards is certainly in reach. The Chargers can at least rest easy knowing they have a very good in-house replacement for when Antonio Gates decides to retire.
Jack Doyle, Colts: Doyle came out of nowhere to catch two touchdowns in the season opener last season, and it seems the franchise has a nice find on their hands. Undrafted out of Western Kentucky, Doyle has been on the Colts since 2013 but his 75 targets last year were by far the most he has been involved in the passing game. After Dwayne Allen was traded to the Patriots this offseason, that left Doyle as the clear number one tight end in the passing game. While Andrew Luck’s health entering the 2017 opener is uncertain, it wouldn’t be shocking if Doyle received around 100 or so targets and firmly established himself as a reliable pass catching tight end.
Austin Hooper, Falcons: In a Falcons offense with plenty of weapons, targets could be tough to come by. However as a rookie last year, Hooper showed the ability is there. Playing 404 snaps on the year, Hooper was targeted 27 times, but hauled in 19 of them for 271 yards and three touchdowns. The Stanford product in the postseason was thrown to nine times in the Falcons’ three postseason games, so it appeared he earned Matt Ryan’s trust as the year went on. While there isn’t a clear indicator that Hooper will suddenly receive a ton of opportunity in the Falcons offense, keep an eye on him as he figures to produce when called upon.