2015 RSP Preview: “On the Hybrid TE Revolution”

Hybrid TE Revolution? Corporate Fads? Same difference. Photo by ShadyL
Hybrid TE Revolution? Corporate Fads? Same difference. Photo by ShadyL

Just wrapped up the first draft of the Tight End chapter for the 2015 Rookie Scouting Portfolio. I shared a little of it informally on Twitter last night. Here’s a more fully-formed taste of some of the commentary you get along with the rankings, reports, and analysis of the RSP available for download April 1. Pre-order info at the bottom of page. 

One of the reasons this tight end class has fewer proven talents is the rise of the hybrid tight end. There are two extremes of athletes funneled into the position at the college level: Fullbacks and wide receivers that lack the size to handle NFL-caliber edge defenders alone and lack the speed to stretch the seam.

The hybrid tight end movement parallels a lot of quality and production fads seen in Corporate America. The fad begins with  exceptionally talented people who get matched with a process where they produce exceptional outcomes. Then someone gets the idea that they can reproduce this phenomenon and the success of a few more teams creates a larger demand.

Next thing you know, upper management gets sucked into the idea that it needs to embrace this growing movement and demands middle management to research the idea and embrace it. Middle management does the legwork, realizes that the commitment to this concept first requires firm buy-in and change from upper management before it can truly work.

Upon hearing that they would have to scrap their current way of life to embrace a new one that will have growing pains and actually require real work that they haven’t done in at least a decade, upper management tells middle management to create their own version of the concept, but just leave out the demands for massive change up top.

We just want others to see that we’re on the cutting edge.

Upper management then suggests that leadership of the project be handed off to a company burnout with long-term relationships forged decades ago when he was still once useful to the firm, but is now being allowed to work two more years until he finishes building his retirement home. This is the unofficial signal to middle management that this project is now officially a waste of time. It’s also the opportunity for them to dump all of its worst-performing, least-liked, and/or most troublesome employees onto the new team.

Welcome to today’s state of the hybrid tight end entering the NFL. There will still be exceptional prospects, but the NFL will be picking through a lot of misfits dumped into a narrow role that lack fully transferable skills to help the team with a normal set of demands.

This is one of my underlying reasons for the boom-bust factor tied into this recent influx of hybrid style tight ends. Anecdotally speaking, more teams are using two-tight end sets than in the past. The emergence of two-tight end formations doesn’t always translate to more impactful fantasy production for the individual tight ends involved. Targets in the passing game are often diffused across multiple receivers rather than focused on an individual player.

Hybrid tight ends are earning opportunities with NFL rosters, but any statistical dominance begins with talent with scheme tailored to help it. You just don’t find another Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski and if you do, they’re likely veterans whose price tags are too costly to acquire.

The NFL’s incorporation of college-influenced schemes may be the rage, and there is a continued demand for hybrid tight ends, but the invisible ink reveals that the true individual success of hybrid talent requires coaches to mold their playbooks around players possessing an exceptional blend of skills.

This class has players with budding skills and athletic talent to produce as H-Backs in 3-4 years, but I’m skeptical that teams will want to fully embrace the concepts that will optimize the success of these prospects once they realize how those changes might impact the rest of the offense.

It makes these players toys that get used until the children bore of it or a piece breaks. Then it’s left at the bottom of the toy chest and next thing you know, the kids begin asking for the newest thing on TV or the Internet.

Tight Ends Drafted – Total and By Round (2006-2014)

Graph from 2015 Rookie Scouting Portfolio by Matt Waldman.
Graph from 2015 Rookie Scouting Portfolio by Matt Waldman.

Last year, I predicted we’d see 18 tight ends drafted based on talent and recent offensive trends. Looks like the bubble burst. I presumed that the NFL’s perception of hybrid versatility would continue to drive the number skyward. However, only 3 of the 10 tight ends drafted last year even qualified as hybrids.

Based on the talent concentration of the position, and the fact that only 8 of the top 20 fantasy tight ends have more than 6 years of experience, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see between 8-12 tight ends selected in May and at least two-thirds of those players have physical dimensions at or above the 255-pound threshold for every-down tight ends.

I think organizations realize that finding an Aaron Hernandez-Rob Gronkowski combination is a pipe dream. And if they did, the combo would be too expensive.

For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, get the 2015 Rookie Scouting Portfolio – available for pre-order now. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2015 RSPs at no additional charge. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 apiece. 

The 2015 RSP, like every other RSP from 2006-2014, will be ready for download April 1. 

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