NFL tight ends have recorded 900 or more receiving yards in a season 65 times. Not one of those instances were done by a rookie. And it's been 15 years since a rookie tight end even flirted with 900-yard mark.
It's all Jeremy Shockey's fault. We can blame him inflated expectations of rookie tight ends.
Shockey was the 14th-overall pick of the New York Giants in 2002. The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder All-American from Miami (FL) barreled into the NFL (literally, see video below), catching 74 passes for 894 yards and two touchdowns. Since 2002, no first-round tight ends have sniffed Shockey's Pro Bowl season. In fact, zero have topped 55 catches or 600 yards.
Since 2000, 15 tight ends have been drafted in the first round, and their immediate impact has been minimal.
- Three had 40 receptions and three had 70 targets.
- Six had a catch rate lower than 60 percent.
- Two had 500 yards and six had fewer than 300 yards.
- Six averaged 10 or fewer yards per catch.
- Zero caught more than four touchdowns and more had 0-1 touchdowns (six) than three or more (four).
"The position is flooded with nuance," says Ollie Connolly, senior football analyst at Cox Media and draft analyst for All 22. "Coaches have to trust them to be able to do the fun stuff — stretching the seams or flexing out as a receiver — and to do the boring stuff — chipping pass-rushers, working combination blocks and perhaps being a foundational component of a split-zone or outside-zone ground game."
Shockey was one of three tight ends selected in the first round in 2002 (Daniel Graham, Jerramy Stevens), and though Shockey was the only one to do anything notable offensively, teams didn't stop investing high picks in the position.
At least one tight end was drafted in the first round each year between 2000-10 (13 total). But after a decade of pedestrian numbers, the investments finally stopped. Tyler Eifert (No. 21 to Cincinnati in 2013) and Eric Ebron (No. 10 to Detroit in 2014) are the only first-rounders since 2010. And 30 of the 32 teams haven't taken a first-round tight end since 2008 — Detroit also drafted Brandon Pettigrew in 2009 and Cincinnati took Jermaine Gresham in 2010.
"Teams favor veterans as the rookies get up to speed," says Connolly. "Traditionally rookies are fairly adept in one of the skills — with the recent trend being guys who are essentially bigger and slower receivers. That limits the volume of packages they're in, their reps and therefore their targets and production."
HERO Sports NFL Draft analyst Todd Worly has one tight end (O.J. Howard) in his latest first-round mock, and Connolly has three tight ends among his top 50 prospects (David Njoku, Evan Engram and Howard).
"I think there are a couple of guys who can make an immediate impact because of the volume of isolation formations spreading across the league and the positional flexibility of the prospects," Connolly continues. "Njoku, Howard, and Engram can lineup anywhere from the backfield to a plus-split as a true receiver. And each of them offers serious matchup problems in the red zone. "
Barring an unexpected plummet on April 27, the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Howard will be a first-round pick and expected to be an immediate playmaker for the Miami Dolphins (Connolly), Cleveland Browns (ESPN's Todd McShay), Buffalo Bills (ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr.), Houston Texans (Worly) or one of the other 28 teams he lands with.
It's possible Howard has 74 catches for 894 yards like Shockey did 15 years ago. But it's more likely he'll have 33 catches for 361 yards like the average first-rounder since 2000.