- A look at what NFL teams really want from a tight end, why two-tight end sets create an advantage, the Patriots after Gronk, and the top 10 tight ends heading into the 2019 season.
On the Monday Morning NFL Podcast, Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling discuss the state of tight ends across the NFL, what teams are looking for in a TE, and why there might not be the shortage of talent at the position that some think there is. Plus, they unveil their ranking of the top 10 TEs in the NFL heading into the 2019 season. Listen and subscribe to The MMQB Monday Morning NFL Podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.
GARY: The Chiefs lost Demetrius Harris, but that’s a team that uses two tight ends effectively. The Ravens are a team that really invested in tight ends. We’ve seen a lot of teams invest in multiple players at the position. What is the advantage of putting two tight ends on the field at once. Is it just the heavier personnel creating the ability to run more effectively?
ANDY: Well, let's talk about that “run the ball” thing first, because the image that people get—I know I had this image for a long time—is that tight ends are bigger than receivers, so two tight ends, so the tight end can probably block, and so we’re going to run behind those blocks. But that's not necessarily what that it means when we say you're running the ball out of two-tight end sets.
When you put an extra tight end in there, he creates more run gaps because he's up near the line of scrimmage. Defenses have to account for every run gap. You make the defense predictable because, the more run gaps they have to account for, the fewer options they have in coverage because it takes bodies to account for those running gaps. So that's really the value of two tight ends. It's crowding the formation a little bit.
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ANDY: What makes the Rams so unique—and I know we're not talking Rams and wide receivers here—but why teams have struggled to catch up to them is they play two-tight end concepts out of three-receiver sets. So they put their three wideouts on the field—they do that every single snap, 11 personnel—but their formations are basically the same as what teams do when other teams use with two tight ends. So the Rams’ running game is built off of that. They make you defend that stuff. It's really about the gaps and the foundational look of the run plays that matters most because very few tight ends in the NFL are actually quality blockers, if for no other reason than the guys they wind up blocking very often are defense ends. And I don't care if you're Mark Bavaro as a tight end, you're not going to block many NFL defense ends. It's an inherent mismatch. That's the premise we have to think about. Every time I watch film with a coach and we go over the tight end, all they want is for that guy to survive. Break even. That's an absolute win for a tight end. Really, a victory for a tight end in the running game is if he doesn't get his ass handed to him by a defensive end. A coach once said to me: We need a guy that knows how to get in the way.
GARY: If Gronk had not retired would you have still had him No. 1 this year in our position rankings vote?
ANDY: No, I would have still had Travis Kelce No. 1. Probably. Here's the other part though: I just said tight ends can't block, but the ones who can make a difference. There are a small handful of guys who are plus blockers at that position and Gronkowski was certainly one of those guys. So when we say tight ends can't block, that doesn't mean it's not important when they are able to do that. It's just very uncommon. And Kelce is not a bad blocker, by the way. We've talked about that over the years and Kelce wants to block, he can block, and he's athletic so he's pretty good at blocking on the move.
THE MMQB PODCAST TOP 10 TIGHT ENDS FOR 2019
“Others receiving votes” is included if you listen to the show, along with more tight end discussions including what NFL teams really look for in a tight end, the advantage of playing two tight ends, and how the Patriots might make up for the loss of Rob Gronkowski. Position ranking voting is AP Poll-style among three panelists, with Andy’s votes counting double:
1. Travis Kelce, Kansas City, 80 points (3 first-place votes)
2. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia, 76
3. George Kittle, San Francisco, 72
(tie)4. Hunter Henry, L.A. Chargers, 57
(tie)4. Greg Olsen, Carolina, 57
6. O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay, 50
7. Jack Doyle, Indianapolis, 49
8. Jordan Reed, Washington, 47
9. Jared Cook, New Orleans, 45
10. Evan Engram, N.Y. Giants, 42
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