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A golden age for tight ends

Posted by Doug on March 24, 2006

Maybe it's the new rules --- or rather the new enforcement of the old rules, starting in 2004 --- that is creating a glut of pass-catching tight ends. Or maybe it's just a fluke that several good ones have entered the league in the past few years. In 2005 tight ends accounted for 18.2% of receiving yardage, which is the highest figure since 1985. Below is a table indicating the percentage of receiving yards and TDs accounted for by tight ends each year since 1978.


Year PctYD PctTD Top Tight Ends
1978 17.6 22.2 Childs (869/4), Casper (852/9)
1979 16.9 20.6 Childs (846/5), Newsome (781/9)
1980 16.7 22.2 Winslow (1290/9), Casper (796/4)
1981 16.6 22.0 Winslow (1075/10), Senser (1004/8)
1982 18.6 25.6 Winslow (721/6), Newsome (633/3)
1983 18.7 24.7 Christensen (1247/12), Winslow (1172/8)
1984 20.3 24.1 Christensen (1007/7), Newsome (1001/5)
1985 20.5 23.8 Christensen (987/6), Shuler (879/7)
1986 16.5 17.7 Christensen (1153/8), Bavaro (1001/4)
1987 15.9 18.4 Bavaro (867/8), Christensen (663/2)
1988 14.1 15.4 Jackson (869/6), Shuler (805/5)
1989 13.2 16.1 Holman (736/9), Jackson (648/3)
1990 13.4 16.6 Jones (747/5), Jackson (670/6)
1991 12.9 17.6 Cook (808/3), Novacek (664/4)
1992 12.4 16.1 Novacek (630/6), Sharpe (640/2)
1993 15.7 20.3 Sharpe (995/9), Green (942/5)
1994 14.2 18.3 Coates (1174/7), Sharpe (1010/4)
1995 14.8 14.7 Coates (915/6), Sharpe (756/4)
1996 14.0 16.0 Sharpe (1062/10), Walls (713/10)
1997 16.0 21.6 Sharpe (1107/3), Dudley (787/7)
1998 15.2 20.3 Sharpe (768/10), Wycheck (768/2)
1999 14.6 20.5 Gonzalez (849/11), Walls (822/12)
2000 15.5 21.0 Gonzalez (1203/9), Sharpe (810/5)
2001 14.5 24.3 Gonzalez (917/6), Sharpe (811/2)
2002 15.4 19.7 Shockey (894/2), Heap (836/6)
2003 16.7 19.7 Gonzalez (916/10), Sharpe (770/8)
2004 17.3 25.8 Gonzalez (1258/7), Gates (964/13)
2005 18.2 23.2 Gates (1101/10), Shockey (891/7)

This kind of tight end production was commonplace back when Christensen, Winslow, and Newsome roamed the earth. Now it's back. And where are those extra receptions and yards coming from? From the running backs, it turns out.


Year PctYD PctTD Top Receiving RBs
1978 26.6 15.3 Young (704/5), Galbreath (582/2)
1979 27.7 19.7 Washington (750/3), Hofer (662/2)
1980 29.1 19.5 Harper (634/3), Brown (623/2)
1981 27.7 21.2 Andrews (735/2), Brown (694/2)
1982 25.1 18.1 Andrews (503/2), Wilder (466/1)
1983 24.0 18.6 Nelson (618/0), Andrews (609/4)
1984 21.0 15.7 Allen (758/5), Wilder (685/0)
1985 23.1 17.3 James (1027/6), Craig (1016/6)
1986 25.3 17.2 Anderson (871/8), Walker (837/2)
1987 23.9 15.5 Walker (715/1), James (593/3)
1988 23.9 17.5 Byars (705/4), Williams (651/3)
1989 21.7 17.6 Byars (721/0), Thomas (669/6)
1990 20.7 17.7 Byars (819/3), Williams (699/0)
1991 18.8 14.2 Thomas (631/5), Delpino (617/1)
1992 21.6 15.2 Harmon (914/1), White (641/1)
1993 21.1 11.9 Kirby (874/3), Harmon (671/2)
1994 21.3 13.8 Watters (719/5), Centers (647/2)
1995 18.9 11.8 Centers (962/2), Loville (662/3)
1996 19.0 13.4 Centers (766/7), Alstott (557/3)
1997 19.2 12.7 Lee (825/3), Faulk (471/1)
1998 17.7 12.5 Faulk (908/4), Lee (667/2)
1999 18.7 13.4 Faulk (1048/5), Barber (609/2)
2000 19.6 14.1 Anderson (853/2), Faulk (830/8)
2001 18.6 13.1 Faulk (765/9), Staley (626/2)
2002 19.0 14.0 Garner (941/4), Holmes (672/3)
2003 18.4 12.0 Tomlinson (725/4), Holmes (690/0)
2004 16.4 10.6 Westbrook (703/6), Davis (588/1)
2005 15.4 10.7 Westbrook (616/4), Jordan (563/2)

It appears that last season was the first time in more than 20 years that no running back caught 700 yards worth of passes.

All this fits with my half-baked theory that screen passes just do not work anymore. When I was a kid, I never saw a screen pass that didn't go for 12 yards or more. I wondered why they didn't run more of them. Now it seems that defensive linemen are just too smart. Instead of a jailbreak, they let one guy pressure the quarterback and the rest of them peel back and maul the receiver.

This entry was posted on Friday, March 24th, 2006 at 6:11 am and is filed under History. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.