NFC South: two-tight-end sets

Of all the later-round picks by NFC South teams in the draft, the guy I’m most intrigued by is Tampa Bay tight end Luke Stocker.

Drafted in the fourth round out of Tennessee, I think this guy is going to be a factor. The Bucs already have a very good pass-catching tight end in Kellen Winslow and I think Stocker’s going to help him. Winslow has some chronic knee problems that have limited his practice time. He’s remained productive on game days, but you don’t know if his knees will hold up forever. I think Stocker can lighten Winslow’s load a bit and I also think you’ll see the Bucs turn to more two-tight-end sets.

Stocker holds Winslow in high regard and he thinks they can form a nice tandem.

“I have watched quite a bit of him, and I remember when he was at Miami watching him then, too,’’ Stocker said in a conference call with the Tampa Bay media, shortly after he was drafted. “Athletically, he is unbelievably gifted, and his skills, just his ball skills as a receiver and things like that, are as good as they get. I think I can add another dimension to their offense. I’m a bigger-body type of guy; I’m a guy to put my hands in the dirt. So I think a combination of a really athletic pass-guy like him and a big, versatile guy like myself can really [help]. A lot of teams in the league are doing that now. Look at the Patriots, look at teams like that, that are really utilizing two-tight-end sets. I think that could be a dimension of offense that we can bring in Tampa now.”

Hearing the last part about the Patriots and using two tight ends made me reach for the always-helpful packet that ESPN Stats & Information sent out at the end of last season. I looked at the league-wide break down on how often teams used two tight ends last season and I wasn’t disappointed when I saw the results.

The Bucs ranked 23rd as the used two tight ends on 282 snaps. For perspective, the Patriots led the league with 631 plays that came with two tight ends on the field. The Buffalo Bills were last, using two tight ends on 109 snaps.

It’s often said the NFL is a copy-cat league and lots of teams copy all sorts of things the Patriots do. I’m also looking at the numbers for the rest of the NFC South and I’m thinking those numbers could factor into the Bucs’ plans to use more formations with two tight ends this year.

The Bucs used two tight ends far less than any NFC South team last season. The Panthers ranked third in the league with 457 plays with two tight ends. Ironically, they were one such play away from tying the San Diego Chargers for second in the league. New offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski is putting an offense similar to San Diego’s, so I think it’s safe to assume the Panthers will be using two tight ends a lot going forward.

The Atlanta Falcons ranked fourth in the league, with two tight ends on the field for 450 of their snaps. The New Orleans Saints were No. 15 in the league, using two tight ends on 343 plays.

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