Buccaneers: Could this be the end of tight end Luke Stocker?

Nov 27, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Luke Stocker (88) gets pumped up as he is introduced before the game against the Seattle Seahawks at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 27, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Luke Stocker (88) gets pumped up as he is introduced before the game against the Seattle Seahawks at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

After being able to reel in two young rookie talents to the tight end group of 2017, could this off-season be the end for Buccaneers veteran tight end Luke Stocker?

After being selected 104th overall in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL draft Luke Stocker was expected to be the future of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the tight end position, but things never panned out. The 6’5″ 255 pound mountain of a man is about to head into his seventh season in the pewter and red, but has little to show for it.

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Through the seven years in the Bay area, Stocker has been mainly used as a blocking tight end and now even some as a fullback(which may have saved his career once already).  His big body potential has helped him survive as long as he has, and it is quite obvious if you take a look at his stats, his blocking ability has kept him afloat.

Since 2011, Stocker has only been able to log 382 receiving yards with two touchdowns. Only one of his seasons he has played in has Stocker had more than 100 receiving yards! For some fans this may be quite a shock, but Stocker has consistently played in a shadow of another tight end throughout his career.

Now entering the final year of his three-year contract, Stocker is without dead cap space. This means if the Bucs decided to move on, it would not cost them. This is another bad omen for the veteran to go along with the rookie couplets he will be competing with this off-season.

As it stands now, the Bucs have seven tight end/H-back players currently on their roster. If you take a look at the names you can already solidify that O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate make this 53-man roster without question, but after the first two there are some serious questions.

First of all, will the Bucs carry four or five tight ends? If you base it off the 2016 season, Head Coach Dirk Koetter only carried four so we will base this article off of that reference.

As mentioned Brate and first round draft pick Howard are locks, but who is left? The final names to make the final two spots left on the roster would be returning players such as Alan Cross, Austin Johnson (signed at the end of last season), Tevin Westbrook, and Stocker. Add undrafted Canadian rookie phenom Antony Auclair to the mix and we have a five-deep competition for two spots.

So just who makes it? If you take a look  back to the PewterPlank’s way to early 53-man roster prediction it notes that Auclair, Johnson, and Stocker all make the roster. Well… things changes, but let us get something out of the way quick.

Westbrook will not make this roster.

Now since that is over.

Through the first few weeks of OTAs, writers have been able to sift through the minimal coverage of the Bucs and have come to some guesstimates. To begin, it has been clear that Koetter believes his offense can utilize the talent of former undrafted H-back Cross to its full potential. Throughout clips provided by the media, Cross has been seen working with the first team which bodes well for his chances to make the roster. Cross has been seen working his lead blocking ability, which is something Stocker specialized in and could hurt his playing time significantly if he is able to make the 53-man.

As for undrafted rookie Auclair… Auclair looks to be the young French-Canadian version of Stocker himself, but who can also contribute in the passing game.  The 6’6″ 254 pound rookie has already been mentioned highly of Koetter, and coach has even admitted that they were lucky to grab him after the draft. Koetter was able to mention in an interview that the Bucs viewed him as a mid-round draft pick. If one puts two and two together, it is obvious that the Bucs think Auclair has the capabilities to make this team.

So what about Johnson? If the team is looking for a true fullback for this offense, Johnson is your guy. The former Saint was brought in towards the end of last season, even appearing in one game. This leaves one to imagine that the team valued Johnson enough during this past season to pick him from the streets before one of the other 31 teams could grab him. Speculate how you want, but Johnson’s ability to lead block is there.

Due to the fact that a majority of the playing time will be handled by Howard and Brate, will the team want to keep Stocker around? Stocker’s best bet to make this roster will now be left up to his lead blocking ability and special teams play. Since Howard is a dual threat tight end who can block on first and second down, it leaves those snaps on his side of the plate away from Stocker. The same argument can be used for prized undrafted rookie Auclair, who plays a similar dual threat type game.

So speculating that both rookies will make the roster along with Brate, it leaves one final spot in the tight end room. By looking at the names Cross, Johnson, and Stocker… it is obvious that who ever is viewed as a better lead blocker will win this job.

Will Koetter choose the big bodied Stocker, the true full-back Johnson, or the smaller H-back Cross? This will be a training camp battle to keep an eye on.

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