(Photo by ESPN.com)
Now that New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is heading to injured reserve for the second time in four years, it is safe to say that his reign as the NFL’s best tight end is over. He was already losing ground by missing two games earlier in the season and not producing with Jimmy Garropolo and Jacoby Brissett as his quarterbacks. Let us not forget, Greg Olsen is averaging more yards per game and has as many touchdowns with worse quarterback play and questionable coaching by his side in Carolina.
Two back surgeries in the NFL and NCAA have already been strenuous for Gronkowski to overcome and have exacerbated his long-term durability.
With him possibly leaving under the Patriots mantra of getting rid of players one year too early rather than one year too late culture, it might be time for us to crown someone else as the new king of tight ends.
After the Tampa Bay Buccaneers released their underachieving 2014 second-round pick, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, a Harvard-graduated undrafted free agent from Seferian-Jenkins’ draft class, Cameron Brate, emerged. In his first game after the release, Brate caught five passes for 46 yards and two touchdowns from quarterback Jameis Winston, and lately he has gone in for some more end zone retreats. In his last six games, Brate has caught four touchdown passes, more than any tight end in the NFC South, including the aforementioned Olsen.
But much of his scoring has come when the Bucs have been in great scoring position. Including his last four, all of his touchdowns have come in the red zone, an area of difficulty for the Bucs.
Due them punting 4.5 times per game, they are unable to make the trips there. What is also not helping is Winston’s struggles in Bucs territory, an area that goes from their own 1-yard line till midfield. He has thrown ten interceptions and completed just 60.2 percent of his passes there in 2016, and, as a result, is accumulating a disappointing Buccaneers territory passer rating of 65.7.
Until they clean up their mistakes in that area of the field, Brate cannot get better numbers inside or outside the red zone. Except, he might as well be the solution there as Winston has a Bucs territory passer rating that has dropped by 15.1 points from the season before (80.8 passer rating in Buccaneers territory in 2015) and is in need of a replacement for Vincent Jackson.
In eight games where he has been on the field for more than 60 percent of the team’s snaps, Brate has racked up thirty-five balls for 431 yards and five touchdowns on fifty-one passes. Best of all, he has dropped none of his passes and his red zone targets, receptions, and yards only make up 25.4, 22.0, and 11.2 percent of his overall targets, receptions, and yards respectively.
Making Brate a strict passing game solution might be easy said but done, except using him as another blocker at 235 pounds would likely injure him and waste any talent that would make him special for the Bucs. Right now, the Bucs are making the best of what they have, and until they get extra blockers to help Brate flourish as a pass catcher, they will not win more because feeding him coincidentally makes them better.