The Pewter Plank’s Position Preview series rolls on to the tight ends. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have two of the youngest, talented and most unrecognized tight ends in the NFL. With better production from the offense and more wins that will change … this season.
Throughout the Tampa Bay Buccaneers history, the organization has been featured some talented tight ends. Whether it was Ring of Honor member Jimmie Giles from the early days of the franchise (1978 – 1986), to Ken Dilger from the Super Bowl team, to Kellen Winslow II when he was basically the only offensive weapon on the Buccaneers.
Still, none of those Buccaneers tight ends of the past can match up to the production of the two tight ends that the Buccaneers currently have on the roster.
During the 2016 season, Cameron Brate became a favorite of Jameis Winston’s and caught eight touchdowns, breaking the team record for tight ends. Then during the 2017 draft, they watched top tight end O.J. Howard fell all the way to pick nineteen and of course, they could not pass up adding his talents.
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Last season the Buccaneers played a lot of 12-man personal (two TE sets) to get both of these great talents on the field at the same time.
Most of the work came from the aforementioned duo. Brate and Howard caught 88 percent of passes (74), for 91 percent of the yards (1023), and 92 percent (12) of the touchdowns among the tight ends.
Brate and Howard both played a large number of snaps seeing around 52 (Brate) to 55 (Howard) percent of the snaps. With Howard signed through 2022 and Brate resigned (6 years, $40.8 million) through 2023 they will be dangerous weapons for years to come.
There are other tight ends on the Buccaneers roster so let us look into the unit as a whole with the 2018 season on the horizon.
Currently on the roster:
Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard, Anthony Auclair, Alan Cross (FB/TE), Donnie Ernsberger, Jason Reese, and Tanner Hudson.
Players on the bubble:
Anthony Auclair, Alan Cross, Donnie Ernsberger, Jason Reese, and Tanner Hudson.
The main player on this list is Anthony Auclair. He outplayed Luke Stocker last season in the third tight end role. He is firmly entrenched there as camp opens, leaving a battle for the rest of names on the roster.
Two of the names to focus on are Alan Cross who also played some fullback and undrafted free agent Donnie Ernsberger who the Buccaneers made a priority to sign after the draft. Now with the main three tight ends set this battle during training camp for the fourth tight end may not be that exciting since most teams do not carry fourth tight end on the 53 man roster. It will likely come down to tremendous special teams play to make the team.
O.J. Howard’s continued growth into an elite tight end is a must. Before he landed on IR last season, he was heading in that direction. In his last five games, he caught 12 passes for 205 yards and three touchdowns.
Obviously, he was on the uptick and if he continues that trajectory it will be a win for the Buccaneers offense. He may actually overtake Brate at some points as he out snapped him slightly last season, and in those five weeks, he outplayed him as well.
Tight End outlook:
The Buccaneers have arguably the best tight end duo in the league and with more teams now going to two tight end sets both players can be on the field at the same time. Howard’s blocking ability helps him to block and then shoot down the seam uncovered for touchdowns as we witnessed a couple of times last season.
The Buccaneers offensive talent is clearly on the rise and the tight end position is no exception as they get more weapons around quarterback Jameis Winston in an attempt to make the team as successful as possible.
With a great wide receiver corps, tight ends on the rise and hopefully an added spark from the running game this offense could be a thing of beauty and will be interesting to watch, and if they all continue to rise together they should give opposing defenses a difficult time.