Alex Smith is the starter in a suddenly deep group of tight ends
In the weeks prior to the 2008 NFL Draft, Buccaneers.com will analyze each position on the team in regards to the draft, looking at depth, selection history and available players. As usual, this look at the draft, free agency and the Bucs' roster is not intended to reflect the intentions or strategies of the team's personnel decision-makers. Today we focus on the tight end position, where the Buccaneers have already added two experienced free agents in Ben Troupe and John Gilmore and could very well be settled at the spot heading into training camp.
The first rush of free agency is over and the 2008 NFL Draft is inching ever closer, but one position at which the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may very well be set is tight end. That's one possible interpretation of the Bucs early free agency moves, which included the inking of veteran tight ends Ben Troupe and John Gilmore.
Further evidence that Tampa Bay may not have tight end high on their list of needs heading into draft weekend comes from a look at the team's selection history. The Bucs' most successful tight ends have often been added through means other than the draft, and the club has rarely spent high picks at the position.
On the other hand, Jon Gruden's offense makes significant use of tight ends – sometimes two or three at a time – and the club is making an effort to solidify its depth at every spot on the roster this offseason. The Bucs may indeed have a room full of talent at the tight end position, but that won't stop them from looking for more. Even if no new faces join that group before training came, it will still be a position to watch in 2008, if for nothing more than to see how the newest players are integrated into the offense.
Troupe has developed a reputation as an athletic pass-catcher in his four years with Tennessee, while Gilmore has carved out a niche as a fierce, finishing blocker. The Bucs, however, know that pigeonholing either tight end into such a narrow category would be shortsighted, and instead expect the two new players to contribute in both areas.
The two veterans will join the returning Alex Smith, a budding young star who has shown flashes of brilliance in his first three seasons in Tampa. The trio will give the Bucs an experienced, multi-talented corps of tight ends that can excel in either catching passes or paving the way for the Bucs' running backs.
In addition, Jerramy Stevens, who led the team's tight ends in 2007 with four touchdowns, remains available as an unrestricted free agent and could sign with the Buccaneers as well as any other team.
Head Coach Jon Gruden has already expressed excitement this offseason about the flexibility at the position, not to mention his well-known fondness for running two-tight end sets. With the new additions at the position and the continued growth of Smith, the production out of the tight ends could be in for a boost, even after an impressive 2007.
Last season, the Bucs' tight ends – Smith, Anthony Becht and Stevens – accumulated nine touchdown receptions on the year, two more than the team's wide receivers snagged.
But before we check out the tight ends that are still available in free agency or could be targeted in the draft, here's a look at the players the Bucs currently have under contract at that position:
|**Tight Ends Currently Under Contract**|
|**Player**||**Exp.**||**2007 (Rec., Yds., Avg., TD)**||**Career (Rec., Yds., Avg., TD)**|
¹ - Gilmore signed with the Buccaneers as a free agent on March 1, 2008. Gilmore's 2007 stats were accrued with Chicago. ² - Fells signed a reserve/future contract with the Buccaneers on January 11, 2008. Fells spent the entire 2007 season on Oakland's practice squad. ³ - Troupe signed with the Buccaneers as a free agent on March 10, 2008. Troupe's 2007 stats were accrued with Tennessee.
Two tight ends that were on the Buccaneers roster in 2007 entered the 2008 offseason as unrestricted free agents – Anthony Becht and Jerramy Stevens. Becht already signed a deal to join the St. Louis Rams in early March, while Stevens has yet to sign a deal with any team.
|**Free Agent Tight Ends from the 2007 Buccaneers**|
|**Player**||**Exp.**||**2007 (R., Yds., Avg. TD)**||**Career (Rec., Yds., Avg. TD)**|
As mentioned above, the tight end position was extremely productive for the Buccaneers in 2007. Accounting for more receiving touchdowns than all the team's wide receivers combined and helping pave the way for the league's 11th-best rushing attack were just a few of the accomplishments posted by the Bucs' tight ends.
Here's a further breakdown of some numbers relating to the tight end position:
Tight End Position Numbers: