Signature Stats Snapshot: Tight Ends

| 6 years ago

Signature Stats Snapshot: Tight Ends

There are some positions where their job is straight forward. On field goals, the kicker needs to kick the ball between the uprights. For offensive linemen, they line up in the same spot every play, and on pass plays they stop people from getting to their quarterback. On run plays they block for the runner.

One of the most complex positions is the tight end. There could be anywhere from zero to three on the field, and they can line up anywhere from the backfield to the offensive line to an outside receiver. They are asked to block, and to learn pass routes from each of these positions. On the rare occasion, they even run the ball, and Jason Witten has 42 career passing yards. There is nothing on offense that the tight end doesn’t do.

Because of that, the majority of Signature Stats we have for offensive players apply to tight ends. Here we’ll take a look at each of them, and which tight ends are excelling in various areas of the game.

Drop Rate 

We start with Drop Rate. Here we compare how many times a tight end saw a catchable ball and how many of those were dropped. We consider a play a drop where the tight end gets his hand(s) on the ball, and we believe he should have been able to catch it but didn’t. Simply, if a tight end were to never drop a pass, their drop rate would be zero, and if they were to drop one ball for every four receptions they have, the drop rate would be 25.0%.

Drop Rate, Top 10

#NameTeamTargetsReceptionsDropsCatchableDrop Rate
1Tony GonzalezATL50350350.00
1Owen DanielsHST44300300.00
1Evan MooreCLV23160160.00
1Dennis PittaBLT20150150.00
1Todd HeapARZ18130130.00
1Daniel FellsDEN19120120.00
7Fred DavisWAS49361372.70
7Rob GronkowskiNE47361372.70
9Vernon DavisSF31271283.57
10Dustin KellerNYJ42251263.85

Clearly the most impressive players are the two at the top of the list because of the high number of receptions without having a drop. Both Tony Gonzalez and Owen Daniels were mediocre here last year with a combined nine drops, but they’ve improved this year.

The middle are tight ends who have been targeted less, due to injuries or players who are backups or playing inDenver. The bottom of this section is almost as impressive as the top, as they’ve just had one mistake each. Any one of these players would rank in the top three last year if they keep this up from here on. Possibly more interesting is the players at the bottom of the list.

Drop Rate, Bottom 5

#NameTeamTargetsReceptionsDropsCatchableDrop Rate
28Ben WatsonCLV442342714.81
29Brent CelekPHI372042416.67
30Jermaine GreshamCIN372452917.24
31Dallas ClarkIND442663218.75
32Lance KendricksSL251351827.78

To no surprise, a rookie is the worst in the league by this count, and he has seen just two targets in the last two games because of it. The big surprise is with Dallas Clark who had just three drops in six games last year. It’s interesting to note that Ben Watson is on this list while one of his backups, Evan Moore, is without a drop. Even though these five players are at the bottom of the list, they likely aren’t the five worst receiving tight ends in the league. It’s safer to assume the actual five worst are rarely thrown at to begin with.


Deep Passing

Next, we take a look at deep passing. Here we take passes where the quarterback threw the ball at least 20 yards downfield. Tight ends aren’t typically thought of as getting downfield with regularity, but it happens. Here are all of the tight ends who have been targeted six or more times on deep throws this year.

Deep Passing, by Targets

#NameTeamTarget %TargetsReceptionsDropsYardsTDs
1Ed DicksonBLT22.71011181
2Jimmy GrahamNO12.99702081
3Jason WittenDAL10.26401430
4Fred DavisWAS12.2630910
5Jeremy ShockeyCAR15.8631710
6Rob GronkowskiNE12.8610261

There are really two primary things to take from this table. One is how ridiculously good Jimmy Graham has been this year. He has three catches and 60 yards more than any other player in this category. The other is that Baltimore seems determined to make Ed Dickson a deep threat and it simply isn’t working out. Last year only three tight ends saw more than 10 deep targets, so the way the Ravens and Saints have used these players is unusual.

Something else to note is that Vernon Davis has been in the Top 5 in terms of deep targets in 2008, 2009 and 2010. However, this year he has only been targeted deep three times.


Slot Performance

The third situation we’ll look at is when a tight end lines up more like a wide receiver than he does a tight end. Typically when you think of a tight end, you think of him lining up, hand in the dirt, right next to the offensive tackle. Sometimes, however, they stand up and slide out to create a different spacing issue for the defense to deal with. Here are the 10 tight ends who have lined up in the slot most often:

Slot Performance

#NameTeamSnapsTargetsReceptionsDropsYardsTDsSnap %
1Jimmy GrahamNO15431231393044.3
2Greg OlsenCAR15330182200169.8
3Rob GronkowskiNE14322171253246.8
4Jared CookTEN13515111134160.0
5Ed DicksonBLT13428161134063.6
6Tony GonzalezATL12930200185260.0
7Antonio GatesSD101158197053.6
8Dustin KellerNYJ9916120148138.1
9Aaron HernandezNE8819151165150.0
9Jason WittenDAL881591136025.4

Again, we find Jimmy Graham topping the list in snaps in the slot, targets, catches and yards. Now he just needs to start scoring touchdowns at the position. The duo of New England sophomores also found their way onto the list and look as good as anyone when playing from this spot. Possibly the most noteworthy number is that Gates has only been targeted 15% of the time when he lines up in the slot compared to 20% of the time when he lines up in the traditional tight end position. This has been a trend for him in the past, which isn’t as true with other tight ends.


Yards Per Route Run

Next up we take a look at Yards Per Route Run which is as simple as it sounds … it’s how many yards a player has accumulated divided by how many times he runs a pass route. It’s a better indicator of how good a receiver is than yards per catch and yards per target; with a complete explanation to why here Stat Sheet Misconceptions: Yards Per Catch, Revisited.

Yards Per Route Run, Top 10

#NameTeamTargetsRec. YardsSnaps in RouteYPRR
1Jake BallardNYG203221222.64
2Jeremy ShockeyCAR382921212.41
3Jimmy GrahamNO706482702.4
4Fred DavisWAS495172222.33
5Rob GronkowskiNE474952292.16
6Dustin KellerNYJ423721812.06
7Jason WittenDAL594752411.97
8Joel DreessenHST182061051.96
9Evan MooreCLV23153801.91
10Owen DanielsHST444062291.77

This list is full of players you would expect to see as well as those who might need a few more targets. Jimmy Graham, Owen Daniels and Rob Gronkowski are the Top 3 in terms of PFF receiving ratings and made the list. The top of the list is Jake Ballard, who has seen his targets increase in each of the past four games. It’s also interesting to see that former teammates in New Orleans rank second and third with almost exactly the same numbers and teammates in Houston both made the Top 10. Finally, we see Evan Moore make another list, and his yards per pass route run is significantly higher than any wide receiver on the roster. Now that we’ve seen the best of the group, it’s time for the bottom:

Yards Per Route Run, Bottom 5

#NameTeamTargetsRec. YardsSnaps in RouteYPRR
28Lance KendricksSL251751461.20
29Daniel FellsDEN191791501.19
30Kellen WinslowTB562822451.15
31Marcedes LewisJAX291711551.10
32Ed DicksonBLT442332171.07

The most surprising here is Lewis whose 2.11 Yards Per Route Run last year ranked him in the Top 5. Both Kendricks and Fells aren’t too surprising as the starters in Denver and St. Louis were near the bottom of the list last year as well. Seeing Ed Dickson at the bottom of the list leads one to wonder if Joe Flacco is missing Todd Heap more than we thought he might.


Pass Blocking Efficiency

For our final Signature Stat, we look at how good tight ends are at pass protection. This is how Khaled explained pass blocking efficiency a little over a month ago in his Signature Stats Snapshot: Pass Blocking Efficiency, and I couldn’t do it any better so I’ll just quote him: “Pass Blocking Efficiency equals the total number of pressures (with hurries and hits valued at three quarters the worth of sacks) taken away from number of snaps in pass protection (or cumulative for offensive line), and then divided by the snaps in pass protection”..

Pass Blocking Efficiency, Top 10

#NameTeamPass Block SnapsSacks AllowedHits AllowedHurries AllowedTotal Pressure AllowedPBE
1Jake O'ConnellKC370000100.0
1Ben WatsonCLV340000100.0
1John GilmoreNO310000100.0
1Marcedes LewisJAX260000100.0
1Jermaine GreshamCIN260000100.0
1Kellen WinslowTB170000100.0
7Anthony FasanoMIA55001198.6
8Randy McMichaelSD42100197.6
9Michael HoomanawanuiSL53101296.7
9Brandon PettigrewDET46011296.7

Here we find a number of players that were struggling at the receiving metrics. Ben Watson, Marcedes Lewis, Jermaine Gresham, and Kellen Winslow all made previous bottom lists, but this shows partially why they still are on the field. We also see teams like the Saints and Chargers who have a tight end who is strong at receiving and another that is good at blocking. It’s hard to find someone who is good at both, so this system works for them. Now that we’ve seen the top, it’s time to see the bottom:

Pass Blocking Efficiency, Bottom 5

#NameTeamPass Block SnapsSacks AllowedHits AllowedHurries AllowedTotal Pressure AllowedPBE
39David JohnsonPIT22003389.8
40Jeff KingARZ32202489.1
41Vernon DavisSF25004488.0
42Jeremy ShockeyCAR23004487.0
43Anthony McCoySEA31212586.3

At the bottom we see Anthony McCoy who has been significantly better at run plays than pass plays, so it’s surprising we have seen so much of him. The next two on the list can be forgiven because of how good they are at catching the ball, so if they struggle on the rare times they are asked to pass block it’s not much of a surprise. Then we have two backup tight ends who have made more of an impact elsewhere even though they don’t have the big names.


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| Director of Analytics

Nathan has been with Pro Football Focus since 2010. He is the Director of Analytics, an NFL analyst, and a fantasy writer.

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