Three Years of Yards Per Route Run: Tight Ends

| 5 years ago

Three Years of Yards Per Route Run: Tight Ends

For the second day of the Yards Per Route Run three-year series, we turn to the tight end position. It is a very interesting time in the NFL to be a tight end. Not only are some of the best names in the NFL tight ends like Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui and a personal favorite, former Brown Greg Estandia, but we are also hitting a cross roads for the position.

While some of the all-time greats are nearing the end of the road, we are entering a new age with tight ends playing all over the field to create mismatches and put up numbers like we’ve never seen and the two groups found a way to coexist on the various lists below.

In case you missed it yesterday, this metric shows us how many yards a player has on their average pass route regardless of if they were thrown at or not. It gives an opportunity to see which players are playing at an elite level and which have played very well on a per-snap basis, suggesting they might deserve more opportunities. 

In order to qualify for these lists, a tight end needed a total of at least 300 pass routes in the past three seasons. That provided a sample of 56 tight ends.


Earning the Yards

The first part of the Yards per Pass Route run equation is yards, and there shouldn’t be any real surprises on the list. While these players have compiled the numbers over the years, not all of the names strike as much fear as they once did. Only three of the players on the top yardage list had a PFF receiving rating above +9.0 last year, and that includes Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates who don’t have much time left in the league. It is interesting to see just how far ahead of the pack Jason Witten, Vernon Davis, and Gates have been over the last three years, though.


RankPlayerCurrent TeamYards
1Jason WittenDAL3099
2Vernon DavisSF2963
3Antonio GatesSD2810
4Tony GonzalezATL2444
5Kellen WinslowSEA2404
6Brent CelekPHI2374
7Dustin KellerNYJ2326
8Rob GronkowskiNE2196
9Heath MillerPIT2081
10Dallas ClarkTB1985


Out in Routes

The other part of the equation is pass routes. While it isn’t hard to realize that yards and opportunities to get yards should be correlated, these two lists match more than you might expect. Gronkowski and Dallas Clark drop off the list, while Greg Olsen and Brandon Pettigrew join. Olsen has seen a consistent number of pass routes over the last three years, with somewhere between 400 and 500 in each. Pettigrew, on the other hand, has seen his pass routes increase each year, and he ran the third-most last year behind Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham.


RankPlayerCurrent TeamRoutes
1Jason WittenDAL1665
2Tony GonzalezATL1611
3Vernon DavisSF1499
4Kellen WinslowSEA1490
5Dustin KellerNYJ1396
6Heath MillerPIT1386
7Greg OlsenCAR1377
8Brandon PettigrewDET1336
9Antonio GatesSD1321
10Brent CelekPHI1318


Yards Per Route Run–The Top

Now for what you’ve been waiting for: the Top 15 tight ends in Yards Per Route Run. The first notable point is how far ahead of the pack Graham and Gronkowski are compared to everyone else. Despite having a 19.18 drop rate last year, Jermichael Finley finished third on the list and also has a sizeable lead over his competition. One player who hasn’t been in the news this offseason is Jeremy Shockey. Over the last two years he was benched in New Orleans, and was used more as a blocker than as a receiver in 2011 with Carolina. However, he cracks the Top 10 thanks to having the seventh-highest YPRR in 2009 and third-best behind Graham and Gronkowski in 2011.

It feels like every year I’m wishing Cleveland would get Evan Moore on the field more. He has consistently been the Browns’ best tight end in this metric, yet Ben Watson still gets more snaps. Alex Smith takes some passing downs as well, and Jordan Cameron is also waiting on the bench. The Titans’ Jared Cook is another player who made this list with a relatively low number of pass routes. He had an amazing 2.39 YPRR in 2010, leading to 500 routes in 2011.


RankPlayerCurrent TeamYardsRoutesYards/Route
1Jimmy GrahamNO18157862.31
2Rob GronkowskiNE21969612.29
3Antonio GatesSD281013212.13
4Jermichael FinleyGB19509712.01
5Vernon DavisSF296314991.98
6Jason WittenDAL309916651.86
7Aaron HernandezNE16659021.85
8Jeremy ShockeyFA15158401.80
9Brent CelekPHI237413181.80
10Evan MooreCLE8044531.77
11Dallas ClarkTB198511221.77
12Fred DavisWAS16209181.76
13Jared CookTEN11946941.72
14Marcedes LewisJAC16689701.72
15Owen DanielsHOU172210221.68


Yards Per Route Run–The Bottom

The run-blocking tight end is a dying breed in the NFL, and those are the kind of players who don’t do well in this metric. As it turns out, it’s also hard to stay employed if you don’t produce yards on your pass routes. The top four men on this list are without an NFL team. Of the five men who made this list and are currently on NFL rosters, all five were free agents heading into this offseason. Four of them signed one-year contracts for less than a million dollars, and will be backups at best on their team.

One name should stand out, and that is John Carlson. He signed a five-year deal with the Vikings where he will be making more money this year than the nine other names on the list put together. He should fit right in with Minnesota who had Visanthe Shiancoe and Kyle Rudolph average just over a single yard per route last year.


RankPlayerCurrent TeamYardsRoutesYards/Route
1Daniel GrahamFA4677120.66
2Jim KleinsasserFA2443350.73
3Justin PeelleFA2343190.73
4Chris BakerFA2603330.78
5Donald LeeCIN4795460.88
6Will HellerDET3854180.92
7Alge CrumplerFA3133330.94
8Dante RosarioSD6947350.94
9John CarlsonMIN8699120.95
10Leonard PopePIT4974991.00


Follow Nathan on Twitter: @PFF_NateJahnke and check out our main Twitter feed too: @ProFootbalFocus

| 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.

  • hpgrant

    The reason Jim Kleinsasser does not have a team is his retirement after the 2012 season. packfan6 indeed.

    • Nathan Jahnke

      That is fair. The reason I put FA is because FA is commonly used for free agent, so the majority of football fans understand that as the player is not with a team. When I see RET in the football world, my mind goes to returner before it goes to retirement, so I wanted to avoid any confusion. Kleinsasser’s contract expired, so he is a free agent. Just one who hasn’t signed with any team because he decided he is done rather than no one wanting him.

  • Mauha Deeb

    Why when I google “packfan6″ does Nathan Jahnke, the writer of this article, show up as the second hit?

    • Neil Hornsby

      I think that was his original “nom de plume” before he became an analyst and started writing for the site full-time.

  • theeraser

    Wow that doesn’t look good for Dante Rosario, a pure pass catching tight end.