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Green Zone League Articles

NFC West's Best: Tight Ends
By Nic St. Marie
Special to gzl-football.com

The NFC West's running games aren't what make the division special, although some of them made their team's balanced enough to be special. But the TE position, a luxury many teams skimp on, is fully loaded in this division. The 4th rated team in this division might be the first or second in half of the divisions in this league.

The Tight End is a special player that determines how versatile an offense can be, or how great the passing or running game is.

An elite 6'5" or taller receiving deep threat adds a red zone and big play element to a passing offense that can be a QB's secret weapon. Just look at the current Pittsburgh Steelers. A speed threat can expose linebackers and safeties for not being big or fast enough to stop the big play.

In the run game a big strong TE can be the #2 TE that defeats weaker pass rushers with superior run blocking, while a faster blocker might beat those same pass rushers to the edge, springing a feature back or a scat-back for a huge play. The TE that is as athletic and big as star linebackers can be a rare weapon in the run and passing game, bringing balance and offensive superiority no matter who the opposition puts on the field.

TE Clyde Alton 6'4" 255 lbs, 86 SPD, 74 STR, 63 AWR, 80 AGI, 87 ACC, 91 CTH, 82 JMP, 63 BTK, 53 PBK, 62 RBK, 83 INJ
TE Brad Cottam 6'7" 269 lbs, 79 SPD, 67 STR, 67 AWR, 75 AGI, 84 ACC, 85 CTH, 78 JMP, 52 PBK, 56 RBK, 85 INJ

Cottam did a good job of playing as the #1 TE, so when the Cardinals paid extra money to get Alton out of TB they made this unit very good. The passing game should be outstanding between the 6'4" soeedster Alton with great hands and 6'7" veteran with ok speed and good hands. Cottam isn't a special receiver, but he is a good one.

Neither is a great blocker, but Alton has only been in the league three years and is a decent run blocker. With his athleticism and frame, he can continue to develop into a star in that area as well. The Cardinals are above-average at this position.

TE Dustin Keller 6'2" 248 lbs, 86 SPD, 68 STR, 91 AWR, 87 AGI, 91 ACC, 90 JMP, 62 BTK, 44 PBK, 52 RBK, 59 INJ
TE Tom Crabtree 6'5" 244 lbs, 79 SPD, 68 STR, 58 AWR, 76 AGI, 82 ACC, 60 CTGm 73 JMP, 64 BTK, 48 PBK, 58 RBK, 94 INJ

The Rams aren't really better physically and lose in height. But Keller is near the end of his career and at the top of his game. He should be better in the passing and running game than Alton in the short term.

Crabtree is an average #2 TE, with good size and ok blocking ability. This unit is a year or two away from being in serious trouble, and the Rams could use an infusion of youth at the position.

TE Kellen Davis 6'7" 252 lbs, 86 SPD, 62 STR, 61 AWR, 83 AGI, 86 ACC, 86 CTH, 82 JMP, 44 PBK, 51 RBK, 80 INJ
TE Greg Little 6'3" 231 lbs, 90 SPD, 60 STR, 74 AWR, 87 AGI, 87 ACC, 84 CTH, 81 JMP, 33 PBK, 45 RBK, 78 INJ

Davis might be the toughest cover in the league, while Little is a converted WR that brings rare speed to the position along with great hands. Neither of these players is awesome at blocking, which may have had a poor effect on Trent Richardson's rushing ability as well.

What was very curious is that the 49ers started Little over Davis, relegating one of the few uncoverable TE's to the #2 TE and featuring the 25 year old (26 now) Little to starter despite his yielding 4 inches to Davis. The Niners once traded a 1st for Davis and a CB, while Davis was previously traded for a 2nd straight up. The 49ers should either utilize Davis correctly or trade him for the resources the league would verily relinquish for such a rare commodity.

TE Courtney Smith 6'4" 233 lbs, 88 SPD, 68 STR, 88 AWR, 87 AGI, 87 ACC, 88 CTH, 89 JMP, 26 PBK, 61 RBK, 90 INJ
TE Zach Ertz 6'5" 259 lbs, 86 SOD, 73 SPD, 74 AWR, 75 AGI, 84 ACC, 79 CTH, 64 JMP, 50 PBK, 59 RBK, 98 INJ

Smith is better for now, but Ertz appears to be close behind him already in just his second season. Smith is a converted WR, and still is deficient in pass blocking. That said he is a proficient run blocker with great hands and outclasses most linebackers and safeties when running routes, through size, speed, and skill.

Ertz isn't perfect either, as part of the price for being heavier is he doesn't have hops like Smith. But he'll probably be a better blocker and overall a more balanced TE throughout his career, even if his receiving will be a just a notch behind that of Smith. These two are the two more balanced TE's in the division, and each could be a #1 or #2 TE for many teams in this league.
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