It wasn’t long ago that NFL coaches and executives bemoaned the dwindling supply of quality tight ends. With many would-be tight ends opting for college basketball, the NFL suffered a dropoff at the position.
Not any longer.
Last season, NFL tight ends totaled the highest number of receptions ever (2,249) and receiving yards (24,659) in a single season. But those numbers might fall this year, because tight ends are on pace to produce 2,323 receptions and 26,307 receiving yards.
Consider: Of the top 50 receptions leaders in the AFC, 13 are tight ends, led by Antonio Gates of the Chargers (40), Dallas Clark of the Colts (37, injured) and Benjamin Watson of the Browns (36). In the NFC, six of the top 23 receptions leaders are tight ends, led by Jason Witten of the Cowboys (46), Brandon Pettigrew of the Lions (42) and Tony Gonzalez of the Falcons (41).
“The guys are more athletic now from when I first came into the league,” said former NFL tight end Shannon Sharpe, now a CBS analyst. Sharpe is second all-time with 815 catches and 10,060 receiving yards. “They can run and they can make the catch. You are not surprised when a tight end makes a great catch because it’s almost commonplace now.”
Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, who actually switched from basketball to football, is tied for the NFL lead with nine touchdown receptions, and leads all tight ends with 663 receiving yards.
“Just to see how far the position has evolved since tight ends were predominantly there to block is incredible,” Gates said. “It’s becoming more of the role of a receiver.”