Why the Carolina Panthers must find a 'do everything' TE

If there is one thing Carolina Panthers' fan already know about Ron Rivera it's that he isn't the type to mince words. If he says 'we need to find one guy to do it all' then he means it, and at no position was he more focused in his initial press conference that tight end.

At this juncture we've suggested all manor of scenario's at CSR, ranging from pursuing a player like Zach Miller in free agency, the potential of trading for more picks to acquire a player like Kyle Rudolph from Notre Dame, to some suggesting we already have the guy needed on the roster (Gary Barnidge) but he just hasn't been given a chance. Honestly, I don't know the answer for sure- but I do have my opinion and intuition which is we don't currently have the guy Rivera is looking for. This time last year I was advocating that the three headed approach didn't work because it telegraphed our playcalling, and sure enough it did just that.

Meanwhile, I can understand the appeal of a guy like Gary Barnidge and the desire to believe he can be 'the guy', but at this point you kind of have to give the benefit of the doubt to the Panthers organization- if a guy has been buried on the depth chart there tends to be a reason (Dwayne Jarrett most readily springs to mind). 

Across the NFL there has been a recent movement to diversify and revolutionize the TE position. With players like Antonio Gates, Jason Witten and Dallas Clark revolutionizing the position into far more than a 'last resort' in the passing game a good tight end is worth his weight in gold, and I feel this was a severe oversight in the John Fox era. Today, I'll be looking at every NFL playoff team since 200 and where their TE ranked in the NFL in passing yards and ultimately you'll see what Rivera values the position so highly. 

There's good reason why I picked 2007. It seemed that the offseason of 2006 represented the seachange in the NFL where teams realized the importance of a great TE. The San Francisco 49ers took Vernon Davis #6 overall, the highest a TE had ever been selected. This was the time the NFL began to realize that TEs were more than just blockers at the end of the line with Antonio Gates having a 1,000 yard season in San Diego in 2005.

I'm looking purely from the perspective of receiving yards for this study, because really it's the only tangible we have for tight ends. Ultimately, what I aim to show is that the teams who have enjoyed recent success have had a reliable, pass catching TE and know how to use them.

 

2006 NFL Playoffs

San Diego Chargers: Antonio Gates- #1 
Chicago Bears: Desmond Claek- #10 
Baltimore Ravens: Todd Heap- #5  (tied)
New Orleans Saints: Mark Campbell- #40 
Indianapolis Colts: Ben Utecht- #15 
Philadelphia Eagles: LJ Smith- #12 
New England Patriots: Benjamin Watson- #8 
Seattle Seahawks: Jerramy Stevens- #33 
New York Jets: Chris Baker- #21 
Dallas Cowboys: Jason Witten- #6 
Kansas City Chiefs: Tony Gonzalez- #2  
New York Giants: Jeremy Shockey- #11 

Average ranking of playoff team's TEs in 2006: 13.6

 

2007 NFL Playoffs

New England Patriots: Benjamin Watson- #23
Dallas Cowboys: Jason Witten- #2
Indianapolis Colts: Dallas Clark- #7
Green Bay Packers: Donald Lee- #11
San Diego Chargers: Antonio Gates- #4
Seattle Seahawks: Marcus Pollard- #29
Pittsburgh Steelers: Heath Miller- #13
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Alex Smith- #26
Jacksonville Jaguars: Marcedes Lewis- #22
New York Giants: Jeremy Shockey- #8
Tennessee Titans: Bo Scaife- #14
Washington Redskins: Chris Cooley- #5

Average ranking of playoff team's TEs in 2007: 13.6

 

2008 NFL Playoffs

Tennessee Titans: Bo Scaife- #8
New York Giants: Kevin Boss- #25
Pittsburgh Steelers: Heath Miller- #12
Carolina Panthers: Jeff King- #36
Miami Dolphins: Anthony Fasano- #24
Minnesota Vikings: Visanthe Sciancoe- #16
San Diego Chargers: Antonio Gates- #6
Arizona Cardinals: Ben Patrick- #54
Indianapolis Colts: Dallas Clark- #5
Atlanta Falcons: Justin Peele- #43
Baltimore Ravens: Todd Heap- #21
Philadelphia Eagles: Brent Celek- #28

Average ranking of playoff team's TEs in 2008: 23.1

*Note: With teams like ARI and ATL hardly using a TE all season due multiple solid WRs this seems to be an aberration.

 

2009 NFL Playoffs

Indianapolis Colts: Dallas Clark- #2
New Orleans Saints: Jeremy Shockey- #14
San Diego Chargers: Antonio Gates- #1
Minnesota Vikings: Visanthe Shiancoe- #16
New England Patriots: Benjamin Watson- #29
Dallas Cowboys: Jason Witten- #3
Cincinnati Bengals: J.P. Foschi- #33
Arizona Cardinals: Ben Patrick- #46
New York Jets: Dustin Keller- #17
Green Bay Packers: Jermichael Finley- #10
Baltimore Ravens: Todd Heap- #12
Philadelphia Eagles: Brent Celek- #4

Average ranking of playoff team's TEs in 2009: 15.5

*Note: Again, the Cardinals alone threw off the average... without ARI it was 12.8

 

2010 NFL Playoffs

New England Patriots: Aaron Hernandez- #14
Atlanta Falcons: Tony Gonzalez- #11
Pittsburgh Steelers: Heath Miller- #21
Chicago Bears: Greg Olsen- #26
Indianapolis Colts: Jacob Tamme- #12
Philadelphia Eagles: Brent Celek- #22
Kansas City Chiefs: Tony Moeaki- #15
Seattle Seahawks: John Carlson- #34
Baltimore Ravens: Todd Heap- #13
New Orleans Saints: Jeremy Shockey- #25
New York Jets: Dustin Keller- #9
Green Bay Packers: Jermichael Finley- #37

Average ranking of playoff team's TEs in 2010: 19.9

Overall 5 season average: 17.14

 

Analysis: Over the past five seasons playoff teams have averaged having TE's right around the mid-point of the league. Granted, this isn't a perfect formula; for example, Green Bay this year had no TE until #37, but they also had #40... some teams use multiple TEs to fulfill a singular goal or fill in due to injury. What this shows, however, is that unless you have a top 17 TE on average your chances of making the playoffs in the modern NFL are greatly, greatly diminished.

Carolina Panthers 5 year average: 32.2

Did we ever really stand a chance for sustained success with such mediocre TE play? 

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