Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez might be the oldest tight end in the NFC South, but he also got way more playing time than anyone else at the position in 2011.
Gonzalez, who will turn 36 in February, played more snaps than all of the younger tight ends in a division that suddenly has become known for its tight ends.
Gonzalez was on the field for 952 of Atlanta’s 1,157 offensive snaps. That’s 84.5 percent and it was good enough to rank Gonzalez No. 10 among all NFL tight ends. Dallas’ Jason Witten took part in a league-high 99.2 percent of his team’s offensive snaps, but New England’s Rob Gronkowski led in total plays on the field (1,092) because the Patriots had more offensive plays than the Cowboys.
Gonzalez finished the season with 80 catches for 875 yards and seven touchdowns. Shortly before the season ended, Gonzalez assured he will play at least one more season by agreeing to a one-year contract extension worth about $7 million.
In Sunday’s Pro Bowl, Gonzalez made a game-high seven catches for 114 yards. His receiving yards were the most for any tight end in the game.
Carolina’s Greg Olsen was the division’s second-most-used tight end during the regular season. Olsen was on the field for 866 of the Panthers’ 1,046 offensive snaps (82.8 percent and No. 12 in the NFL).
Tampa Bay’s Kellen Winslow participated in 822 of the Buccaneers’ 1,021 offensive snaps. That’s 80.5 percent and ranked No. 14 in the NFL.
Of the NFC South’s four regular starting tight ends, New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham took part in the fewest number of plays. Graham led all division tight ends with 99 catches for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns and was selected as the NFC’s starter in the Pro Bowl.
But the Saints use such a variety of offensive personnel that Graham’s time on the field was relatively limited. He took part in 798 of 1,152 offensive plays (69.3 percent and No. 24 in the NFL).
The Panthers used a combination of Olsen and Jeremy Shockey, who ended up taking part in 51.1 percent of Carolina’s plays.
Here’s a list of other NFC South backup tight ends and the percentage of playing time they got in 2011: