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Yesterday, I posted some graphs on league-wide passing distribution. In that post, I noted that tight ends grabbed about 16% of all receiving yards in 2002-2003, but that number has increased to over 20% in recent years.  But that’s just receiving yards: as you might expect, targets and receptions have seen a similar climb:

te rec tar
But more targets aren’t the only thing driving the increase.  Tight ends are also averaging slightly more yards per catch, too.  That increase has come despite the general decrease in yards per completion, so this may be a sign that tight ends are more athletic than they were 15-20 years ago, and that teams are sending them on more downfield rights.  In addition, catch rate has also been increasing, although in a more volatile way; still, tight ends are catching more passes, at higher rates, and for more yards.  In the picture below, yards per reception is plotted against the left Y-Axis, and catch rate is plotted against the right Y-Axis.
tar catch rate

Whatever the reason, tight ends seem to be a larger part of NFL offenses they were a decade ago, and for good reason: they’re getting better.

  • Quinton White

    Someone sort of mentioned this yesterday in the comments, but couldn’t this purely be an effect of function, rather than say more athleticism (although as function changes, then you might select more athletic TEs, or if you randomly got a more athletic TE, you would use them differently)? If you start shifting more TEs out of the formation and have them play from the same spot on the field as WRs and run routes like WRs, etc., then their stats are going to converge towards WRs. I guess what I’m saying is that although I think it is intuitive and probably true that TEs are better receivers now, really you could take the same exact group of TEs, split them out from the formation, and they would or could produce the stats here. Feel me? Of course, the counter argument is “Gronk is da mahst wicked footbah playah the wahld has evah seen”