'Big Skill Position': Campbell Explains How Tight Ends Have Evolved

Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell explains how the tight end position has evolved over the years.
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Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell is a former NFL tight end whose career spanned from 1999-2009. 

Since his playing days came to an end, Detroit's new head coach has witnessed first hand the evolution of the position in modern-day offenses.

“Look, the position has definitely changed throughout the years," Campbell said. "When I played, I remember when I first came in the workout -- I mean, about an hour in, you might get to some ball drills. It was you line up, your stance and your hitting bags, and you’re hitting sleds. And they’re running you through. You’re going to find out if you’re going to quit or not." 

He added, "It’s just totally different now. You’re looking at the athlete. You want to see can this guy run. How does he move? How’s his reaction time? Just working ball drills, hand mechanics, all those things. It’s definitely changed. And, to me, I don’t even want to use the word -- it is a tight end. But, yet, man, I call it big skill." 

T.J. Hockenson was selected in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, and is expected to continue to be heavily utilized in Detroit's offensive scheme. 

On Tuesday, Campbell hinted at how the ex-Hawkeyes tight end and Hunter Bryant could be used in upcoming seasons. 

"It’s a big skill position. And so most of the time, tight ends fall into that. But, just because you’re a big skill that’s played tight end somewhere, (it) doesn’t mean that you’re going to be a traditional tight end," Campbell said. "If you look at what we did with Jared Cook last year (in New Orleans), he really didn’t have his hand in the ground very much at all. He was used more as a slot, and then we’d split him out, getting him isolated, see if they’d play man-to-man.

"So, when you have a guy like that, or you have weapons like that, these guys can be used a little bit more like receivers if you will, but yet knowing that there’s going to be those times where they’re still going to need to be able to block and help you in the run game," he said. "So, it’s definitely changed, but I think big skill is hard to find if I’m being honest with you and I think it’s a hard matchup for defenses." 

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In this year's draft, Florida tight end Kyle Pitts has been rocketing up many draft analysts boards due to his elite pass catching abilities. 

Pitts certainly has the potential to be a nightmare for NFL defenses. 

This 2020 John Mackey Award winner finished 10th in the Heisman Trophy Award voting, as well, which is the highest any tight end has finished in 43 years.

Pitts dropped only four passes in 2019, and according to Pro Football Focus, he was the only player in 2020 targeted over 65 times without a drop. 

A player with that level of talent and potential could be quite intriguing for a first time NFL head coach. 

"When you have a guy that you feel like can win his one-on-ones, I don’t care what he plays, those guys are intriguing, man. When you have guys on your roster that you know the defense is like spending extra time on all week, that’s who they’re worried about, those guys, that’s kind of the type of guys you’re looking for.”

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