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Every week until the season begins, I’ll be going through each position group in the NFC South, ranking them by team from fourth to first. Today we jump into the tight end position, where the Bucs have arguably the deepest room in the NFL and the Falcons could also be in the Top 5. As for the once tight end-dominant Saints, 2021 will mark a year of change at an inexperienced position on their roster.

Tight End Rankings: Bucs Are The Cream Of The Crop

4. New Orleans Saints

Adam Trautman
Nick Vannett
Garrett Griffin
Ethan Wolf
Dylan Soehner

Saints QB Taysom Hill and Bucs ILB Devin White

Saints QB Taysom Hill and Bucs ILB Devin White – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The Saints have traditionally had one of the better and deeper tight end rooms in the NFL, but that’s going to change in 2021. I was one of Trautman’s biggest fans coming out of the draft a year ago, so the upside is there for him to have a solid season in New Orleans. He’s a talented route runner and good hands-catcher, but Trautman is just an average athlete.

After the inexperienced second-year player, the Saints are a wasteland at tight end. Vannett has been a poor backup for years at the position, and Griffin has three career catches – none last season. Wolf and Soehner have never played an offensive snap. The Saints one saving grace is that Taysom Hill has occasionally stepped in at tight end, although it remains to be seen if that will happen this season as he’s trying to be the starting QB.

3. Carolina Panthers

Dan Arnold
Tommy Tremble
Ian Thomas
Stephen Sullivan
Colin Thompson
Giovanni Ricci

It’s an odd tight end room in Carolina, but one that has some real potential. Arnold caught 31 passes for 438 yards and four touchdowns in a mini-breakout season in Arizona last year. He’s a pure pass-catching tight end that does a lot of his work flexed, but he should be the starter in Carolina.

Tremble was a terrific blocker in college, and will try to fulfill that same role as a smaller tight end in the NFL. The Notre Dame product has untapped athleticism and upside as a receiver, but he’ll be a project in the passing game. Thomas is the most experienced of the trio, but has been a major disappointment in three seasons with the Panthers.

2. Atlanta Falcons

Kyle Pitts
Hayden Hurst
Lee Smith
Jaeden Graham
Ryan Becker
Parker Hesse

Draft Kyle Pitts NFC South

TE Kyle Pitts – Photo by: USA Today

Quietly, the Falcons have put together a tight end room with the potential to be one of the best in the NFL. Hurst actually led all NFC South tight ends in catches (56) last season, but still finished well behind Rob Gronkowski in yards despite 11 more grabs than the all-time great. Hurst is a tough, sure-handed pass catcher who will be a good No. 2 for Atlanta. But he’s not athletic or dynamic enough in his skill set to ever live up to his first round pedigree.

I’m guessing the same won’t be said for Pitts. The best tight end prospect I have ever scouted, Pitts should receive ample opportunity in Atlanta’s offense, even as a rookie. The departure of Julio Jones and absence of a quality No. 3 wide receiver almost ensures that the Falcons will be one of the heaviest 12 personnel teams in the NFL this season. Pitts’ ability to flex out as a wide receiver will give new head coach Arthur Smith the ability to be creative in his 12 personnel packages. Offensive Rookie of the Year shouldn’t be out of the question for Pitts.

The Falcons’ depth isn’t bad, either. Smith is one of the best blocking tight ends in the league and a perfect No. 3 tight end. He’s also a terrific leader and veteran presence in the locker room. Graham has flashed a little bit and provides value on special teams. It’s a strong group that should be among the most productive and versatile in the NFL.

1. Tampa Bay Bucs

Rob Gronkowski
O.J. Howard
Cameron Brate
Tanner Hudson
Codey McElroy
Jerell Adams

The Bucs have the deepest tight end room in the NFL, which almost seems like overkill when you look at their wide receiver room. What Gronkowski did last season coming out of retirement didn’t get enough love, as his steady production paled in comparison to his performance on tape. Gronkowski was able to handle edge defenders in pass protection and as a run blocker, while also leading the league in deep catches from the tight end position. He’s the perfect fit for Bruce Arians’ offense.

In the passing game, Howard is, too. Staying healthy has been an adventure for the former first-round pick, but when Howard has been on the field, he’s been highly productive under Arians. The fifth-year tight end is at his best in the vertical passing game, where he can stretch the field and use his size to make plays on the ball in the air.

Bucs TE O.J. Howard

Bucs TE O.J. Howard – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Howard is differently stylistically from Brate, who has also found his footing in this offense and developed an impressive chemistry with Tom Brady. The forgotten man during the regular season, Brate had 14 catches on 19 targets for 175 yards and a touchdown in the playoffs. nearly eclipsing his regular season totals in just four games. The Bucs have adapted his contract several times to keep him around. That speaks to Brate’s value, on and off the field.

Add in Hudson’s mismatch ability as a receiver, and the Bucs tight end group will rival anyone’s. The only question is how much production they can achieve with three of the best wide receivers in the league on the same team. With a list like that it’s no wonder the team has the best odds to win the division.

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About the Author: Jon Ledyard

Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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bucballer
3 months ago

That’s quite a stable of pass receivers. If we could just keep OJ healthy for one entire season, it would be very interesting to see the numbers this group could put up. Who do u cover or double team without getting burnt? This has the potential to be an another amazing season!

drdneast
3 months ago

Brate knows he has found a home in Tampa’ Bay’s offense with Tom Brady so he no doubt figures a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. It’s better to take a few million here with a sure thing than to pack your bags for a million or two more on an unknown commodity.

Captain Sly
Reply to  drdneast
3 months ago

Easy for you to say since it’s not your money. I think Brate looks at the fact that he is being paid starter $ to be a backup and says “thank you much”. Brate’s a good player but nobody has benefited more from doing less than Brate.

drdneast
Reply to  Captain Sly
3 months ago

It is, you are right. But Brate isn’t being paid starter money. He has renegotiated his contract for the last two years. I like Brate and feel he should be paid more than Howard but unfortunately that is not the case since he has renegotiated his deal.

toofamiliar17
Reply to  drdneast
3 months ago

I think your understanding of the options that may have been available to Brate are likely incorrect. He has twice now accepted the team’s offer of less money to stay. Presumably, the alternative was for him to get cut and go look elsewhere in the league for a job. While I do think he could have done better elsewhere, it would likely have been marginally so, and he was never going to get close to what he was scheduled to earn prior to restructuring his deal. So it wasn’t the choice to either take less or get paid more than… Read more »

Dman
Reply to  toofamiliar17
3 months ago

Howard is the most over hyped, over paid player on our Team. His contract reflects potential, not production. Start Brate along side Gronk for a full season and see where his numbers end up. The offers he would get would follow.

eaustinyoung
Reply to  Captain Sly
2 months ago

Please tell me what OJ Howard has done that Brate hasn’t. I’ll wait.

nybuccguy
3 months ago

Wow, Carolina and NO are trash at the TE position

toofamiliar17
Reply to  nybuccguy
3 months ago

Losing Cook as one of many salary cap casualties definitely hurt NO in a big way there.

eaustinyoung
Reply to  toofamiliar17
2 months ago

Cook was a liability. Bucs D was straight up abusing him.

seat26
3 months ago

Hoping OJ stays healthy and has a break-out season. Go Bucs.

scubog
3 months ago

I thought Jon Gruden’s (the poster, not the coach) nemesis Luuuuuuuuuuke Stocker (the blocker) was with the Falcons. For a guy who was so bad, he’s made a nice career for himself for a 4th round pick.

Dman
3 months ago

Gronk is so unselfish and works his butt off blocking. When our O Line gets props look who’s right in there with them. I didn’t follow his career at NE, but his ability to block really impressed me last season. Throw in he creates such a mismatch in the passing game and makes clutch receptions and just glad he came out of retirement to be a Buc.

Wadeless
2 months ago

Better question is: Is the Bucs group of TE the best in NFL history? Best in the division is a slam dunk.

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