Over the next month until the Tampa Bay Buccaneers take the field for training camp, AllBucs plans to break down the team's roster, position by position, in order to prepare onlookers for what to watch for during the 2021 season.
This series isn't meant to turn into a projection of the depth chart, although starters at some positions will appear rather obvious. Instead, this exercise should provide insight as to which players should make meaningful contributions to a run at another Super Bowl and what the Bucs' depth looks like.
Buccaneers current tight ends
- Rob Gronkowski
- Cameron Brate
- O.J. Howard
- Tanner Hudson
- Jerell Adams
- Codey McElroy
Starter: Rob Gronkowski
The Buccaneers utilized 11 personnel - one running back, one tight end, and three wide receivers - on 63 percent of their plays in 2020, so it's most logical to project one starter at the position.
In which case, the obvious answer is Rob Gronkowski.
After coming out of retirement to reunite with former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Gronk went on to start all 16 regular-season contests after a year removed from the game. His run blocking skills were as fresh as ever, but it took Gronkowski some time to shake off the rust before exploding as a receiver.
Six games into the year, Gronkowski crossed the goal-line for the first time in a Bucs uniform. He went on to do so another in the final ten matchups and twice in Super Bowl LV.
Although Gronkowski is expected to start, the Bucs will certainly feature other tight ends in their offense in 2021 as they began to last season. Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard will be utilized frequently.
Brate filled in as the Bucs' No. 2 tight end perfectly in 2020, hauling in 28 receptions for 282 yards and two touchdowns. He's far removed from the eight touchdowns-per-season glory days of 2016, but is an excellent tight end to pair with Gronkowski in 12 personnel.
Howard got off to a great start in 2020 with two touchdown catches and 146 yards receiving in four games, but unfortunately tore his Achilles in the fifth week of action. With great athleticism and receiving prowess for the position, Howard can move around the offense creatively, whether it be in-line or flexed into the slot and outside.
Hudson, who has been a consistent standout in minicamp and organized training activities so far, has experience with the Bucs and as a special teams contributor on his résumé that could give him a leg up on the competition for Tampa Bay's fourth tight end role.
There's an argument to be had that each of Tampa Bay's skill positions might be the most talent-loaded units on the roster. The tight end spot belongs in that argument.
Gronkowski, Brate, and a healthy Howard would each be candidates to start on NFL teams without a proven asset (see: Travis Kelce in Kansas City, George Kittle in San Francisco, and so on) at the position. Much like with the Bucs' wide receiver corps, Brady has numerous serviceable options to target at tight end - which is a fantastic problem to have.
As Gronkowski continues to age, it may be wise for Tampa Bay to truly split the reps up at tight end with Brate and Howard at their disposal, keeping Gronk fresh for important usage approaching and throughout the playoffs.