NFC West teams value their tight ends.
The division has drafted seven in the first three rounds since 2006, when the San Francisco 49ers made Vernon Davis the sixth overall choice. The other seven divisions have drafted 24 in the first three rounds over the same period.
Davis has subsequently become a Pro Bowl selection, but he needed time, seasoning and some tough love from former coach Mike Singletary to get his career on the right track.
The subject came to mind Tuesday upon listening to the latest podcast from Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. Williamson, a former coach at Pitt and scout for the Cleveland Browns, explained why tight ends are increasingly difficult to evaluate coming out of college.
While NFL teams expect tight ends to know blocking schemes and pass routes, limitations on college staffing prevent even top programs from dedicating significant resources to coaching the position.
"When I was at Pitt, our tight ends coach was also our special-teams coach," Williamson said. "Rarely are you sitting there with a true tight ends coach and getting coached like other positions do."
As a result, rookie tight ends face steep learning curves while also adjusting to far more physical defensive linemen than the ones they've blocked in college.
Back to the NFC West. The St. Louis Rams recently used a second-round choice for tight end Lance Kendricks. The Arizona Cardinals used a third-rounder for Rob Housler, another tight end. Both enter the NFL amid high expectations, but recent history provides needed perspective.
Jeremy Shockey, John Carlson and Jermaine Gresham are the only tight ends since 2000 to reach 50 receptions in their first NFL seasons. Wide receivers also face difficult NFL adjustments; 18 of them have reached 50 receptions as first-year players since 2000. By my count, teams have drafted 391 receivers and 188 tight ends during that time.
The chart breaks out first-year stats for tight ends since 2000, based on info from Pro Football Reference.