After New England's tight end duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez combined for 169 receptions, 2,237 receiving yards and 24 touchdowns in 2011, will NFL teams scramble to put together their own tight end duo to create similar mismatches in the future?
Looking at the Eagles, they have Brent Celek, whom NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger called the best "all-around tight end" in the game. After being allowed to get more involved in the passing game as the season progressed, Celek finished second on the team with 62 catches for 811 yards and five touchdowns. Celek led all NFL tight ends in average yards after the catch per reception (8.1).
The wild card for the Eagles at tight end is Clay Harbor. The 2012 season will be Harbor's third in the league. Harbor's numbers to date include 21 career catches for 235 yards and two touchdowns. But Harbor is athletic enough that even at 6-3, 252 pounds, the Eagles will line him up wide outside the formation.
"Clay Harbor's going to be a good football player," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. "He's a physical guy, athletic. He can run. He has big-play capability."
But Mornhinweg also noted that Harbor must work "diligently" this offseason which will be Harbor's first with access to the team facilities.
With the draft on the horizon, the consensus among reporters is that it's not a strong year for elite tight ends. Dwayne Allen out of Clemson is considered the top prospect and he was given a second-round grade by Tony Pauline, who covers the draft for Sports Illustrated. The rush to create the next dynamic tight end duo might force Allen or one of the other top prospects - Stanford's Coby Fleener or Missouri's Michael Egnew - to be selected at the end of the first round.
Mornhinweg understands the importance of having two good tight ends and believes that he's had that luxury from his days in Green Bay to San Francisco and even during his tenure with the Eagles.
Believe it or not, the Eagles lined up in more two tight end sets this season than the Patriots. With 263 snaps in the two tight-end set, according to Stats Inc., the Eagles ranked 10th in the NFL. New England was 12th. Four teams - led by San Francisco's 348 snaps - lined up with two tight ends more than 300 times in 2011.
The difference for the Patriots is how often they go to their tight ends. Quarterback Tom Brady attempted nearly 39 percent of his passes to a tight end and 41.9 percent of his completions were made by a tight end last season. Both of those percentages rank first in the league among quarterbacks with at least 100 total pass attempts. For the Eagles, Michael Vick targeted a tight end with 22.2 percent of his attempts and 22.9 percent of his completions were hauled in by a tight end.
But when the Eagles have the newly franchised speedster DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant as well as LeSean McCoy coming out of the backfield, do the Eagles need to center their offense around a two tight-end set? No, but when tight ends can create mismatches in the middle of the field as well as provide a security blanket for the quarterback - the more weapons the merrier.
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