Bucs Training Camp Battle: Tight End

Who will get the lion's share of the snaps in a loaded tight end group in Tampa Bay?
Author:
Updated:
Original:

Has there every been a tight end group as stacked as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' this season? The talented assembly opens a plethora of options to the Tampa offense, but the depth of their individual contributions will be shaped in training camp.

The new headliner of the Bucs' tight end group is former New England Patriot Rob Gronkowski. After a year away from the NFL, Gronk followed Tom Brady down to Florida, providing the veteran quarterback a familiar and potent weapon.

Gronkowski is one of the greatest tight ends to ever play the game. He's an unstoppable offensive weapon and a tremendous blocker. It would be hard to imagine anyone else as the Bucs' starting tight end this season, at least until his first inevitable injury.

The presence of Gronk complicates the fate of former first-round pick O.J. Howard. An exceptional athlete, Howard struggled last season with drops and overall consistency. Nevertheless, his upside, as seen in 2018 when he recorded 565 receiving yards and five touchdowns in 10 games, will ensure he remains a major part of the Bucs' offensive plans this year.

It's unlikely Howard will unseat Gronkowski as TE1, but the Bucs would be insane not to install an offense heavy on 12 personnel, which features two tight ends. Both are capable blockers, and if Howard can recapture his 2018 form, the Bucs could run plays otherwise run for 11 personnel or even four wide, providing near unlimited flexibility from play to play.

Somehow, Gronkowski and Howard are not the fullest extent of Tampa's riches at tight end. Cameron Brate may be a less heralded player, but he is just as effective. Since 2015, Brate has scored 27 touchdowns, fourth-most among all tight ends.

Brate will remain primarily a pass-catcher, though it will be tough for him to reach 50 targets this season. Rather, his greatest value will be as insurance against a likely injury to Gronkowski, who hasn't played a full season since 2011.

With three tight ends all but locked in, Tampa is likely to tack a utility player to the depth chart. The most likely player to fill that role is Antony Auclair, who has been primarily a blocker in his three-year career with the Bucs. His value on special teams, where he played 27.6 percent of snaps last year, will make him difficult to unseat.

Rounding out the group are Tanner Hudson and Jordan Leggett. Both talented receivers, neither is likely to make the initial regular season roster though the practice squad is a likely destination for at least one of them.