The Sideline Observer

Sports and Culture Commentary

2018: The Year of the Tight End

As the 2018/2019 NFL regular season comes to an end it’s time to take a deep dive into the significant trends of the season. Man, I just got some serious Sunday scaries writing that sentence. In my eyes this has been one of the best football seasons to date. After a dramatic and politically infused season last year with players kneeling, Trump tweeting, and fans threatening to boycott.The league bounced back with some incredible talent, with mediocre teams from last year boosting to the top of the rankings.

From Khalil Mack turning the Bears around from 5 and 11 squad a playoff team, and Jared Goff and the Rams looking like vaguely familiar to the greatest show on turf, what a ride it has been. But one aspect of this season that has gone largely unnoticed is the emergence and depth of tight ends throughout the league this year.

For years when you were drafting your fantasy football team there were only a select few tight ends to consider drafting such as Rob Gronkowski and Greg Olsen. Without them you were probably screwed and you weren’t going to get much fantasy production from the position that year.

But this year has been different. As Rob Gronkowski’s monopoly on the position has decreased as his injuries mount, the ceremonial Kevin Durant-Lebron torch has been passed on to a new generation. Most notably to 49er’s tight end George Kittle.

The Iowa product Kittle has exploded onto to scene in year two, racking up 72 receptions, 1,154 yards and 4 touchdowns. In week 14 against Denver Kittle had a career day where he went for 7 receptions, 210 yards and an 85 yard touchdown. Kittle encompases the skill set a tight end needs in this day and age to succeed. He can block as well as any tight end in the league, but what separates him is his elite speed that allows him to take the top off the defense. He’s a wide receiver in a tight end’s body.

But it hasn’t just been Kittle who has made a name for himself this year. Indianapolis Colts tight end Eric Ebron has a bounce back year after a disappointing three years in Detroit. Ebron was drafted 12th overall hailing out of University of North Carolina, and had high expectations coming in. But the Lions and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cutter (what a football guy name) were unable to utilize him. Colts head coach Fran Reich on the other hand has been to tap into Ebron’s talent, and propel him to his best season of his career. Ebron’s most notable game of the season came against the Jaguars when he went off for three touchdowns, one of which was a running touchdown.

Jared Cook, similar Ebron has had the best season of his career. Cook has found his niche in Oakland hauling 63 receptions, 848 yards and six touchdowns. Cook started off the year with a bang, as he went for 9 receptions and 180 yards. He has been one of the few bright spots, in a disastrous season in Oakland.

I can’t write a blog about tight ends and not mention the two current best in the game Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz.

Kelce leads the league with 93 receptions, 1,220 yards and and 10 touchdowns. The numbers speak for themselves. It is no longer a debate if Gronk is the best tight end in the league anymore, Kelce in the driver seat. Kelce has a similar skill set to George Kittle with elite speed for a tight end, to take the top off the defense. Kelce has been apart of the one of the most electric offense in recent memory, with Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill.

Zach ertz has cemented himself as on the of the elite tight ends in the league. In an up and down season for the Birds, Ertz has consistently remained one of their best offensive options. He has caught 101 balls, 1,038 yards and 6 touchdowns. He reminds me of a former NFC east great in Jeremy Shockey.

As the years go on, I think the next great tight end debate will be who’s better, George Kittle or Travis Kelce? My money is on George Kittle.

-Jackson

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