The evolution of the tight end


The Patriots took two tight ends in the draft, and they weren’t alone.

Baltimore (Ed Dickson, Dennis Pitta), Houston (Garrett Graham, Dorin Dickerson) and St. Louis (Michael Hoomanawanui, Fendi Onobun) also took two, and Detroit dealt for talented Bronco Tony Scheffler a year after taking Brandon Pettigrew in the first round.

A trend? Yup, it is, and for good reason, as veteran college football scribe Tom Dienhart writes over at

Because of the proliferation of the spread offense in the college game, the “move” type of tight end (think Dallas Clark) has come to prominence. Those guys are, in essence, super-sized wide receivers. And if you have a “move” tight end — which has replaced the fullback position in some ways — then you probably want the in-line guy, too, as a blocker.

In the Patriots’ case, this ain’t complicated: Aaron Hernandez is your “move” tight end, and Rob Gronkowski (in that picture from the Patriots’ Twitter feed) is your bigger, in-line type. Hernandez, in fact, was cited directly in quotes from a couple of the guys Dienhart quoted in the story.

“Aaron Hernandez is a good example,” Lions tight ends coach Tim Lappano told Dienhart. “He can play down
next to a tackle, but in the spread, he also not only is in the slot
but also is outside against the corner. Those are multi-dimensional
tight ends who play all over the field. They have a lot of value.”

“In this day and age, if you can get a matchup on a linebacker with the athletes that are playing tight end in college, like Aaron Hernandez – where they split him out – that’s what you want,” added University of Houston co-offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, the record-breaking former  Texas Tech quarterback and one-timePatriots draft pick. “The possibilities are endless when you have a guy who is that fast and that big and can run routes like that.”

It was easy to see all this play out at the Patriots rookie minicamp, with Hernandez playing all over the formation, even playing some outside the numbers and at fullback, and Gronkowski more stationary at the traditional tight end spot. They play the same position, but they sorta don’t.


This is also another example of how college football, in some ways, dictates to pro football how the game will be played.

Think of college football as a farm system that the pros have no control over.

About a decade ago, you saw defensive coaches in college start putting some of their best athletes at safety (making them harder to avoid for an offense and putting them in a better position to make plays) rather than just having big corners who couldn’t run there. And, suddenly, players at that position started coming off the board much earlier in the draft than they had before. More recently, the idea of the Wildcat package, and spread-option (Q series) and single-wing concepts, have popped up in the pros, largely because of their prominence in the college game.

The “move” tight end is another product of the college spread offense and the pro game is adapting.

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