Ask any football fan and they'll to you, in recent years, no position has skyrocketed further up the charts of overall perceived importance to a successful team than Tight End. Our modern era has its roots from the greats of the 90's, such as Shannon Sharpe and Ben Coates, laying the framework for the new century's superstars, such as Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, and of coarse, the GOAT, Tony Gonzalez. In fact, to rise of the tight end has been so quick that in the span of Gonzalez's career, we went from being a league in which he was one of the only receiving-threat TE's to a league where most teams would not even consider a strictly blocking TE to be a viable starting option.
However, it wasn't until the jerk up in Boston, the evil emperor in a cut-off hoodie, came around with his new Gronk-and-Hernandez rampaging double-the-TE-double-the-fun philosophy that things really picked up speed. Suddenly, the talk of the town is how every team needs not just one, but two stud TE's if they want to compete in the pass-driven league. Think of the defensive mismatches! Think of the scoring opportunities! It would be like playing Madden on the easy level against a toddler!
Well, as with most overly-hyped things, the two TE set has yet to catch on in any real way. It was no doubt phenomenal for NE while it worked, but now that Hernandez is incarcerated and Gronk can't seem to fist-pump his way out of injuries, the spectacle of the two TE set in New England has been, for now, quelled without any team seriously vying for the mantel. While it still remains to be seen if any teams will mimic the success the Patriots had while it lasted, one thing is for sure a residual effect of the two TE legacy: Tight Ends are now officially a highly coveted, inarguable, top-tier position of need for any team that doesn't have an above average one. No more are the days of thinking mere serviceable TE's will do!
Well, that's where I think conventional wisdom is very much wrong. Let's look at the last three seasons. In these last 3 seasons, arguably as good a 3 year stretch for TE production that the NFL has ever seen, there have been just 4 occurrences of thousand yard seasons. Two were by Graham, one by Gronkowski, and one by Witten. The majority of the elite and above average TE's in the league usually hover around the 700 to 900 yard range with roughly 5 to 7 TD's. Again, this is the best of the league not named Graham, Gronkowski or Witten. These numbers, while certainly not bad by anyone's measure, are nonetheless hardly that impressive. For many teams, this would be the equivalent of a WR2's numbers and for the lower end of that spectrum on better teams, WR3.
Two hot ticket names connected to the Jets in this years draft are TE's Eric Ebron and Jace Amaro. Both have been projected by many, many analysts and many, many fans as a fine choice for the Jets to make at #18, in spite of all the other glaring holes on this team and the surplus of talent that exists at many other positions of need in this draft. Personally, I think if either were picked at that spot, it would be a wasted draft pick. This isn't just because I don't think they'll pan out to being quality TE's, which I don't, but rather, because the 18th pick is too high a spot in the draft for almost any TE in the league right now, for a team with as many needs as ours. Here's why:
If a WR drafted at the 18th pick put up the kind of numbers that the majority of the elite and above average TE's have been producing these past few years, he would be called disappointing at best and a bust at worst. Those are the kinda numbers you only feel good about when they are put up by a WR chosen in the second to fourth rounds and lines up as your WR2 and WR3. If your WR1 is putting up 900 yards and 7 TD's, WR is typically considered a position of need for you. Now, there are those who would retort that you can't hold a TE up to same measurements of success as a WR. I completely agree. However, I am not talking measurements of success, I am talking measurements of value. The numbers just aren't there to support an argument for TE's who aren't among the greatest ever at their position - Let me emphasize it: Greatest ever at their position -to be of first round value to a team.
Of course, there's also the argument that having a a big threat at TE helps draws coverage off WR's and that can't be measured in numbers. But to that I counter, is that really what a first round pick is for when you have a team as thin as ours? To me, that's a luxury you fill when you have very few remaining holes on your team. The Jets are days away from cutting Holmes. We don't have that young receiving threat on our team. Not a WR1 nor a WR2. I'm a BPA kinda guy all the way, but it needs to be weighted for value and to me, a really great TE1 only has equal value to an average WR2. That means the only time you pick a TE in the first is when you think he's both a stud and you have most other positions squared away. That's not the case with our roster and I certainly don't think that's the case with Ebron or Amaro. I know folks are desperate for playmakers, but for all the value a quality TE is worth, we'd be just as good developing a guy from rounds 2 through 4. I'm not even saying we should draft a WR in the first either. Again, lots of holes. But the way you rebuild a depleted receiving core is not by wasting a first rounder on a TE who is almost assuredly not the second-coming of Gonzalez.