Every week we see offenses around the NFL and in college football attack defenses in unique and seemingly impossible ways. Giant players who can now run 4.5 40-yard dashes over the middle of the field are a problem just like gadget players who win with elite quickness all over the field and in space.
It seems as though football fields have gotten wider and longer over the years, but the fact is they're still 120 yards long and 53.3 yards wide. What's making these dimensions seem like miles both ways is due to how offenses are now using every inch of the field. The field seems bigger when the defense can't clutter it, and when you stretch the field vertically and horizontally with speed, you thin the defense out, creating open space that didn't use to be there in leagues of old.
Certainly a catalyst for this is the innovation of tight ends. Tight ends are no longer just smaller offensive linemen that can move well. Instead, they're freak wide receivers who wins with size without sacrificing speed -- at east the best ones are.
During the 2017 NFL Draft, that reality came to fruition, as three tight ends were drafted in the first round, the first time that has happened since 2002. Though this upcoming 2019 tight end class might not top the 2017 or the 2002 class in terms of Top 32 selections, there is a chance it could be historic in its own right.
Lets' take a look at the 2017 draft class.
Even beyond the guys who went round one, this class had some depth with 14 tight ends selected. Howard, Engram and Njoku have already become studs for their teams, and guys like Adam Shaheen, Jonnu Smith and George Kittle are coming along.
I don't expect this 2019 class to have three guys going Top 32, but in terms of depth, Noah Fant, Dawson Know, Kaden Smith, Irv Smith, Albert Okwuegbunam, Caleb Wilson, Josh Oliver and Isaac Nauta could all threaten as Top 75 players, which woulds till be plenty to say it is strong at the top.
The 2019 class could pass the 2017 class, in that manner.
What about the 2010 tight end class? I'd say that's another on this 2019 class would be chasing.
This is the class with Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Aaron Hernandez and Jermaine Greshamn in it. The 2010 class had 20 tight ends taken total, which is second most since the year 2000, to this day. But, that class had just five tight ends taken in the Top 100.
If you ask me, just like it does with the 2017 class, that opens the door for this incoming tight end class to pass it in terms of middle-round depth. The important thing to note here is that middle round depth (hopefully) signals that most of these guys will be on teams and contributing in some way. The 2010 class had a lot of depth in the later rounds, which might not get passed, but in terms of real contributions, the 2019 class has a shot there.
Ah, the 2002 tight end class. The Mac Daddy of tight end classes, if you will.
Not only did this class have the most tight ends taken in the first round with three, but it also had the most tight ends taken overall at a whopping 23.
Even though I think this upcoming tight end class is deep, it won't be 23 picks deep. However, once again, just like the 2017 class, this class had just six tight ends in the Top 100. That's where I think this 2019 class could be historic.
That benchmark is held by the 2006 class, which had nine Top 100 selections.
I think Noah Fant and Kaden Smith will be Top 50 picks, and out of Dawson Knox, Irv Smith, Albert Okwuegbunam, Caleb Wilson, Josh Oliver and Isaac Nauta, plus some names we don't even have on our radar yet, there's a chance for this 2019 class to make history with the most Top 100 selections for the position since 2000.