The word “value” is constantly used at this time of year. It seems to take on some kind of transcendent meaning as it relates to the NFL Draft. We don’t speak about selecting good football players that will likely improve teams; rather, we debate where players get chosen, as if the overall objective is to “manipulate” the draft.
I love when I hear analysts say after a pick that that particular team could have selected that player later, that they “reached” for a player who did not have the necessary “value” to be picked where he was. Really! According to whom? Apparently some analysts have every team’s draft board and evaluations at their disposal. I’m not on that e-mail chain. I missed that memo.
All this is prelude to a discussion of the tight end position in the NFL, and its evolving impact on offensive concepts. Let’s use 1995 as our initial starting point. Two tight ends were selected in the first round in that draft: Kyle Brady of Penn State by the New York Jets with the ninth overall pick, and Mark Bruener by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 27th pick. Both Brady and Bruener were traditional line of scrimmage tight ends; they were better blockers than receivers. In 13 seasons in the NFL, Brady caught more that 40 passes only twice. Bruener, in 14 NFL seasons, never caught more than 26 passes in a single season, and that was his rookie year. In fact, he ended his career with only 152 total receptions.
The larger point is this: Brady and Bruener would not likely be on team’s draft boards in 2013. If they were, they would be late round addendums far more than serious discussions. They certainly, and this I can say without hesitation, would not be first-round considerations. None of this is meant to denigrate either Brady or Bruener; instead, it speaks to the changing nature of NFL offense over the last decade and a half. And by extension, the shifting premiums placed on different positions, one of them clearly and definitively being the tight end position.
It’s important to go back a little further in NFL history to truly understand the genesis of the receiving tight end. Don Coryell coached the San Diego Chargers from 1978-86. In 1979, the Chargers drafted Kellen Winslow with the 13th overall pick in the draft. Initially, Winslow was utilized the way in which all tight ends of the time were deployed: run blocking and short-to-intermediate routes originating from their conventional line of scrimmage alignment.
Winslow’s remarkable athletic talent was being held back by the traditional limits of the position. Coryell, always an unconventional and alternative thinker, saw the limitless possibilities of removing Winslow from the line of scrimmage and aligning him all over the formation. We know the results. Winslow became an innovative and distinctive player in the evolution of NFL offense, and Coryell clearly expanded the thought processes of football in a creative and imaginative way.Read More »from Cosell’s Take: Modern tight ends present new opportunities and challenges