Tight Ends Are The Key To Success

The 49ers and the Patriots hold the edge in this regard heading into Championship weekend.

James LeBeauby James LeBeau

With the final four teams in this years NFL playoffs decided in dramatic fashion less than 24 hours ago, it's time to shift our gaze a little to next weeks Conference Championships and while it may be too early in the week to really break down these matchups, there is one thing that stands out even at this early stage. That is, if the Ravens and the Saints can't contain their respective opponents tight ends, then it's going to be a very long game for them and an early exit.

The tight end position, once thought of as more of an extra lineman for the run game, has really evolved into an essential offensive position. With the increasing ease of passing, tight ends are getting more and more balls thrown their way, with some crazy results.

Take New Englands tight End Rob Gronkowski for example. He exploded onto the NFL scene this year as an unstoppable target for Tom Brady. He recorded 90 receptions for 1327 yards and a TE record 17 touchdown catches. This trend continued into the Pats playoff game against the Broncos as well, where he had an amazing day, tallying up 10 catches for 143 yards and 3 touchdowns.

And he, arguably of course, didn't even have the best game for a tight end this weekend!

No, the nod of best tight end this weekend, in my opinion, goes to the San Francisco 49ers Vernon Davis. Davis stepped it up big time in the 49ers come from behind win over the Saints, catching 7 balls for 180 yards and 2 td's. With no Tom Brady to toss him the ball, Davis was instrumental to the success that San Fran QB Alex Smith had in his first postseason appearance. He's also the reason why the 49ers are my early favorites to beat the Giants this coming Sunday.

Tight ends are fast evolving into premier offensive threats and the reasoning behind it is simple; while the position is evolving, the way to guard against it isn't as defenses across the league struggle to contain these new offensive forces. Traditionally, a linebacker gets paired up with a tight end, thus free cornerbacks to cover the faster receivers but with the way athletes are these days, TE's are just bigger versions of wideouts who can produce almost the same amount of speed as their more position-sexy counterparts.

With faster tight ends comes the inability of linebackers to keep up with them effectively. And when that happens, well, you have days like this weekend for Vernon Davis and Rob Gronkowski.

Yes, the tight end position has become vital for success and those teams that realize this, teams like the 49ers and the Patriots, are in abetter position to win games that those who don't. This was evident this past weekend and I believe it will be evident again when the Championship games are played out.