The Art of Scouting Tight Ends – GN Godfather @GNFF_Godfather
The art of scouting the tight end is an interesting process. Teams are looking for match-up nightmares, a combination of size, speed and strength. The tight end needs to be able to run block, pass block, get open and catch the ball consistently. The more a prospect can do, the more snaps he will earn to stay on the field. More playing time means more volume for potential fantasy points.
Analyzing the “Big Three” of NFL tight ends is a look at what kind of the tight end you want on your team. Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz and George Kittle are the only tight ends to produce more than a 1,000 receiving yards in 2018. That’s no simple feat in an era where more three and four wide receiver sets are being used. Quarterbacks are also in the shotgun a majority of the game, weening off of play-action pass more and more. Offensive coordinators aren’t ignoring the tight end position but it’s clear it’s not easy to find the most dangerous prospects in this category out of college. Kelce, Ertz and Kittle have a good amount in common as far as what they bring to the table physically.
TRAVIS KELCE/KANSAS CITY CHIEFS – 103/1336/10
Kelce came into the league out of Cincinnati, drafted by the Chiefs in the third round. Standing at 6-5, 240, Kelce ran a 4.66 and posted a speed score of 111.1 (88th percentile) according to Player Profiler. Kelce definitely towered over the linebackers and safeties who tried to cover him as he played in the slot and also on the line of scrimmage. He averaged 16 yards a reception and showed his YAC ability when he caught the ball. Here’s some DNA of Kelce in 2012 vs Duke below. The Bearcats motioned him consistently and had him pull to set up run blocks. Sometimes he would be behind the line of scrimmage and act as a fullback in the run game. This kept him on the field and set up play-action passes for him.
The Chiefs scouts had to see that Kelce was already a total package as a tight end and his learning curve wouldn’t be too steep. Kelce exploded with a 67/862/5 line in only his second year in the league. That’s impressive because it’s normal to wait for NFL tight ends to take two to three years to emerge. In 2018, Kelce scored 294.6 points in the PPR format, ranking first for the third-straight year.
ZACH ERTZ/PHILADELPHIA EAGLES – 116/1163/8
Ertz got a head start in high IQ football that transitioned him into the NFL game. Out of Stanford, Ertz was a 6-5, 260 hybrid that could run 4.7 in the forty. His college dominator was 31.8% (Player Profiler) as the Cardinal moved him around, even flexing him wide to run slant routes. His versatility also earned him many snaps in the slot running quick outs and wheel routes. Ertz’s blocking was average at best but he posed such a threat in the pass game and in the red zone, he never left the field. Check out his game vs Oregon in 2012 below.
The Eagles staff saw an exceptional route runner with reliable hands, a real safety valve for quarterbacks. As Ertz’s blocking improved, the more volume he earned. Ertz has seen 105-plus targets in each of the last four seasons.
GEORGE KITTLE/SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS – 88/1337/5
Kittle is the newest kid on the block when it comes to dominant tight ends. He put up an explosive 88/1337/5 line in 2018, just his second year in the NFL. There’s definitely a lineage of tight ends coming out of Iowa into the league. Kittle’s physical numbers are off the charts, at 6-4, 247 and running a 4.5, those traits are scary. Don’t forget to mention his speed score of 117.7 (95th percentile), 10.83 agility score (100th percentile), 10.36 catch radius (95th percentile).
But what does he show on film. Below is his tape vs Purdue in 2015. It’s a small sample size as far as receiving but Kittle does not take plays off and shows absolutely ruthless run blocking.
On his touchdown catch, Kittle chips the end on a delay and leaks out into the middle of the field wide open. Nobody can catch him once he’s got space as he accelerates. The 49ers must have had no worries because Iowa’s offense is pro-style and nothing close to the spread. Kittle has been a perfect fit for Kyle Shanahan’s offense and grading out as PFF’s best tight end overall in 2018 (89.8). Kittle may be the most athletic out of this trio and don’t be surprised if he takes the top spot in fantasy scoring with a healthy Jimmy Garropolo back.
SNAP DOMINANT – The “Big Three” did not get off the field in 2018. Here are their snap counts.
1. Kelce – 1122
2. Ertz – 1104
3. Kittle – 930
Yes, there are tweeners playing the tight end position a la Eric Ebron, Noah Fant. These types of prospects aren’t asked to do a lot of blocking or get in the trenches. But just like running backs, touches are important. And for tight ends, more snaps means more touches. Blocking ability should not be ignored.
Big, fast, athletic and physical. Check off those boxes on a TE prospect and analyze their landing spot. Here’s a watch list of tight ends with size/speed similarities to Kelce, Ertz and Kittle.
TE WATCH LIST:
O.J. Howard/Tampa Bay Buccaneers
T.J. Hockenson/Detroit Lions
Austin Hooper/Atlanta Falcons
Ian Thomas/Carolina Panthers
Mark Andrews/Baltimore Ravens