Tight end is said to have one of the biggest learning curves when adjusting to the NFL. Despite that, we’ve seen players at the position breakout early on in their careers. Granted, some can do this off their pass catching alone but others have it all click later down the line. These three younger tight ends have the pieces in place to take their games to the next level this upcoming season.
David Njoku, Browns: Njoku’s athleticism and field stretching ability flashed as a rookie, but in 2018 he’s poised for a big leap. Not only do the Browns have an upgrade at quarterback in Tyrod Taylor or Baker Mayfield, but they have plenty of weapons as well. Josh Gordon will play more for his first full post-suspension year, and obviously the team traded for Jarvis Landry. Those two players will command plenty of attention, but Njoku figures to see the field more than he did last year with Todd Haley running the offense. If Njoku sees 80 or more targets, a Pro Bowl caliber season isn’t out of the question.
Trey Burton, Bears: Burton is best known for the “Philly Special” from his Eagle tenure, but he was a very attractive free agent prospect this offseason. That’s due to the mismatches he can create at the position with his ability to lineup all over the field. The Bears eventually signed Burton and he’ll be coached by Matt Nagy who worked with another tight end who created mismatches in Travis Kelce last year. I’m not comparing Burton to Kelce obviously, but there could be similarities in how they’re used. Odds are Burton will best all of his previous career highs rather early on in the 2018 season. A year with 60 catches and 800 plus yards wouldn’t be surprising.
George Kittle, 49ers: Kittle started generating a lot of buzz due to his athletic testing at the 2017 combine, but showed as a rookie he was more than just his testing numbers. While he did struggle with drops on occasion, Kittle showed he can make plays after the catch and create mismatches down the seams. Those traits make him a valuable asset to Kyle Shanahan’s offense which features plenty of variety. Kittle may not post monster numbers, but him stepping up would be a big boost for a 49ers offense entering the season with plenty of hype.