The Case for Drafting a Tight End in the First Round

I started this as what I thought would be the first in a series of articles endorsing the Seahawks drafting Fred Davis in the first round. After a little research my opinion changed, drastically. I kept the title because I felt the irony apt. Here's the list of first round tight ends, their DPAR and DVOA in their first season with their team's passing DVOA in parentheses. The list is dominated by players with more name recognition than actual value. It's pretty telling that the set of tight ends drafted before 2003 are all on the cusp or in the midst of deep decline.

2007
Greg Olsen: 3.4, -3.6% (-19.2%)

2006
Vernon Davis: -3.0, -25.4%, (-14.3%)
Mercedes Lewis: 1.4, -1.5%, (-5.3%)

2005
Heath Miller: 14.2, 29.6%, (27.8%)

2004
Kellen Winslow: -1.0, -28.4% (-13.9%)
Ben Watson: N/A

2003
Dallas Clark: 7.8, 24.1% (36.5%)

2002
Jeremy Shockey: 13.3, 4.6% (16.5%)
Daniel Graham: 0.6, -8.9% (9.4%)
Jerramy Stevens: -0.3, -14.1% (10.8%)

2001
Todd Heap: 3.4, 8.8% (-10.1%)

2000
Bubba Franks: 6.3, 8.3% (5.7%)
Anthony Becht: 2.6, 2.8% (-2.1%)

The case for drafting a tight end in the first round speaks volumes for not drafting a tight end in the first round. Tight ends rarely make a dramatic impact their first season and have a short shelf life. Excluding extraordinary talents, tight ends produce at a top level for a mayfly-like 3-5 seasons. Though first rounders rarely bust, quality tight ends do slip to later rounds. Or out of the draft entirely. If you take the top half of all tight ends with a minimum of 25 passes targeting them in 2007, 21 in all, your distribution by round looks like this:

1st: 7
2nd: 2
3rd: 4
4th: 2
5th: 1
6th: 1
7th: 1
Undrafted: 3

Or sequentially: U, 3rd, 1st, 1st, 1st, 3rd, 4th, 2nd, 5th, 1st, 3rd, 4th, 6th, U, U, 1st, 7th, 1st, 1st, 3rd, 2nd.

The presence of 7 first round picks speaks to the fact that first round tight ends rarely bust. But there are no Tony Gonzalezes or Kellen Winslows in this draft. Fred Davis looks like a fine tight end, but he's not a great blocker and talent-wise, probably more Todd Heap than Kellen Winslow. Should Seattle's pick come and no better talent be on the board, it might make sense to draft Davis. Because he represents a position of need, and because Mike Holmgren's system was able to squeeze 9.5 DPAR out of Marcus Pollard's rusty bones an argument could be made that Davis's value to the Seahawks supersedes his inherent value. Still, the case for drafting a tight end, in a class of tight ends more thick than top heavy, over a safety, lineman or wide receiver (say Malcolm Kelly or Early Doucet) is shaky. After all this, I guess we're where we started: draft best available talent regardless of position.

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