At RealGM, a look at how the growing number of undersized power forwards playing at TE has changed the NFL:
Tony Gonzalez, who is re-writing the NFL record books as a TE, was a two-sport star at Cal in the mid-1990’s. He averaged 6.2 points and 4.8 rebounds in three years in Berkeley, despite needing half the season to get into basketball shape. In a 1997 NCAA Tournament game against Villanova, he dominated Tim Thomas, scoring 23 points and shutting down the future ten-year NBA veteran defensively.
Like any good basketball player, Gonzalez knew how to exploit mismatches. He was too fast for linebackers and too big for defensive backs, and by his third season in the NFL, he was already an All-Pro TE. He’s now second behind only Jerry Rice on the career receptions list; the next TE, Shannon Sharpe, is at #21 and over 300 catches behind Gonzalez.
“When I got into the league, if a tight end caught 20 passes, he had a good season,” Sharpe told the New York Times. “Now they are so athletic and they can run. This is the greatest group of tight ends in the history of the game.”
The distribution of talent at the grassroots level eventually affects the professional game, as the drop-off in elite CF play in baseball over the last 50 years shows. And as the growing knowledge about the dangers of head injury turns football into “basketball on grass”, more undersized basketball players will make the jump to a sport growing increasingly less violent.