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Friends don’t let friends draft tight ends in the first round

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By: John Gilbert

Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images

Many hate the positional value argument, so here’s some fuel to stoke the fires of the debate about whether the Seahawks would be wise to use a first round pick on a playmaking tight end.

The NFL Combine is underway in Indianapolis, and with that being the case, there is no shortage of physical and athletic measurements being shared over the airwaves and on social media. With that in mind, fans of teams across the league, including those of the Seattle Seahawks, have moved to dreams of adding game changing impact players at positions on both sides of the ball.

When it comes to the Seahawks, regardless of where one stands in the debate about how the Hawks should proceed at quarterback, the Hawks are pretty well stocked at most skill position players. With DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and Jaxon Smith-Njigba a talented trio at receiver and Ken Walker and Zach Charbonnet offering complementary skillsets at running back, it seems that tight end is the only position where there is room for a significant addition who could make an impact on the field in 2024.

Some fans have lobbied for the team to bring back Noah Fant and make use of his ridiculous athleticism, while others have posited that Colby Parkinson could be poised for a significant breakout season. At the same time, some have expressed hope that tight end Brock Bowers, a game changing receiving threat from the University of Georgia, could somehow drop out of the top ten and be on the board when the Seahawks come on the clock with the sixteenth overall selection.

At 6’4”, 240 pounds, Bowers has the size to play the position, and while fans and teams will have to wait to learn the specifics of his athletic measurables, his production in college is unquestioned. During his three years at Georgia Bowers hauled in 175 passed for 2,538 yards and 26 touchdowns, and is now set to get some fanbase very excited about the upcoming season. However, as others have noted in recent days, many tight ends who have been heavily hyped during the draft process have been heavily hyped in recent seasons, so for the purpose of this discussion let’s ignore Bowers and focus solely on what first round tight ends have done in the NFL.

Seeing what first round tight ends have done, and determining whether they were an impact playmaker for an offense is easy when looking at the numbers. So, without wasting any time, here’s the rookie year production of every first round tight end drafted since the turn of the century.

That’s not a whole lot of production for a lot of players who were heavily hyped, and only four of the 26 tight ends selected in the first round outproduced the rookie season of Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who started slow due to a wrist injury after missing much of training camp. However, it’s obviously necessary to look past just the rookie season because rookies enter the league on a standard, four-year contract, with a fifth year option for those drafted in the first round. Thus, with that in mind, here’s a look at the most productive seasons for all first round tight ends drafted in the first round since 2000 during their first five seasons in the league.

And that’s it. Certainly there are several productive seasons in there, but for anyone expecting a first round tight end to enter the NFL and promptly put up thousand yard season after thousand yard season, history says that is unlikely to happen. In fact, with 26 tight ends drafted in the first round since 2000, and a sample of 124 seasons, the group produced just a pair of 1,000 yard seasons, which is a lower number of thousand yard seasons than DK Metcalf recorded during the first five years of his careers, just as a point of comparison. With that in mind, it appears obvious that the league has taken notice given the fact that teams have opted to draft fewer players at the position in recent seasons. Specifically, at it a decade at a time, the number tight ends taken in the first round for the entire league clock in at:

  • 2000-2009: 15 tight ends selected in the first round
  • 2010-2019: 9 tight ends selected in the first round
  • 2020-2023: 2 tight ends selected in the first round (with six years left in the decade, obviously)

In short, if the reason to select a tight end in the first round is to add an impact playmaker who can tilt the field on offense, at the very high end of outcomes, the expectations would be somewhere in line with the 2023 production of Metcalf. In addition, even over the course of a rookie contract, the top quartile of production would be somewhere in line with the numbers JSN posted during his rookie season.

Is it possible that a rookie tight end comes in and dominates? It’s certainly not out of the question. However, history says that the range of outcomes is more likely to be that of a player who has a positive impact, but isn’t quite a difference maker. And, what the data shows is that historically the value spot for tight end has been on the latter part of Day 3, when tight ends have provided more value to their teams than any other position.

In summary, what it all boils down to is that draft picks are lottery tickets, and sure a first spent on a tight end could pay off. However, history says that most teams that have bought just such a lottery ticket likely would have been better off going in another direction.

Originally posted on Field Gulls