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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2023 State of the Bucs: Tight Ends

Taking a position-by-position breakdown as the Buccaneers head into the 2023 season, continuing with tight ends

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Position Group: Tight End 

Players: Cade Otton, Cameron Brate, Ko Kieft, Kyle Rudolph 

2022 Evaluation: After the departure of Rob Gronkowski and O.J. Howard last offseason, the Buccaneers prioritized the position in the 2022 NFL Draft, selecting Washington's Cade Otton in the fourth round and Minnesota's Ko Kieft in the sixth round. Both made significant contributions in their first year with the Bucs, as Otton served as a prototypical hybrid 'Y' tight end and Kieft was utilized for his blocking prowess. 

Otton, who earned the starting gig, finished the year with 391 receiving yards on 42 receptions, a 9.3 average per catch and two touchdowns. His most notable play being the game-sealing touchdown against the Rams off a chip-and-release route. Otton gained the trust of 45-year-old Tom Brady by showcasing his ability to maintain his blocks, sink when breaking on routes, and finding space versus zone coverage. He was a threat underneath and out of the flat, bolstering the Bucs' offense. Kieft primarily served as an in-line blocker to create in the run/pass game, so his stats did not overwhelm. Kieft concluded the season with 80 yards on seven receptions and a touchdown. He made an impact on special teams' coverage, accumulating a team-high 11 tackles (seven solo) on special teams. 

Cameron Brate, a former undrafted free agent out of Harvard, has been one of the Bucs' longest-tenured players. His 33 career touchdown receptions rank third in Bucs history, behind only Mike Evans and Jimmie Giles. Brate dealt with a myriad of injuries in 2022 that hindered his production on the field. He was carted off the field in Tampa Bay's 20-18 loss to the Steelers, suffering what was ultimately ruled a sprained neck after further evaluations. The neck injury came just two weeks after Brate suffered a concussion in the Week Four game against the Chiefs, which sidelined him for the Week Five matchup against the Falcons. In 11 games, Brate tallied 174 yards on 20 receptions in 2022, playing 47% of the team's offensive snaps. 

The Bucs signed 12th-year veteran Kyle Rudolph to a one-year deal on the eve of training camp to round out the tight end room. Rudolph spent the 2021 season with the New York Giants after a productive decade with the Minnesota Vikings. He originally entered the NFL as a second-round pick in the 2011 draft out of the University of Notre Dame. He is an accomplished blocker who can stay on the field for all three downs. Prior to his stint with the Bucs, Rudolph posted career totals of 479 receptions for 4,745 yards and 49 touchdowns. He had established himself as a red-zone threat throughout his tenure and in 2022 with Tampa Bay, Rudolph was primarily used as a blocker. Rudolph spent a vast majority of the year on the inactive list, concluding the 2022 season with 28 yards on three receptions and a touchdown. 

2023 Outlook: The Bucs currently have three tight ends under contract for the 2023 season – Otton, Kieft and Brate. Brate will turn 32 this summer and veteran Kyle Rudolph is due to become an unrestricted free agent in March. Otton and Kieft signed their four-year rookie contracts in the spring and Brate will be entering his tenth season with the Buccaneers after injuries derailed his 2022 campaign. With the emergence of Otton this past season and looming salary cap troubles, the Bucs could opt for a cap-friendly signing of a tight end in the later rounds of April's draft, or a discounted veteran in free agency to add depth.

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