Today's NFL features athletic marvels at tight end, and that rapid rise of freaks at the position has led to more dynamic and explosive passing attacks across the league.
Look at the best tight ends in the game, and you'll see many of the same qualities. Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis, Rob Gronkowski, Jordan Cameron and Julius Thomas are all upper-level athletes with the length, speed, agility and vision to excel not only on the gridiron but in other sports as well.
That type of athlete is what the NFL is now looking for at tight end. The old 270-pound blocker has been reduced to situational roles in favor of a 250-pound Hercules with first-class speed.
So what does today's perfect NFL tight end look like?
Head: Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
The ideal NFL tight end has the vision to see what a defense is doing in terms of coverage and run support and then work through it. No one does that better than Jason Witten.
Even at 32 years old—ancient in NFL terms—Witten succeeds in the pros because he's able to identify openings in the defense and post up for a catch over the middle or up the seam. Witten's eyes are not slowing down even as he becomes a little less fluid and explosive after the catch.
Hands: Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos
When deciding whose hands to put on the perfect tight end, there are a lot of great players from which to choose. But for an immediate impact and longevity, you have to look at Julius Thomas.
The Denver Broncos' tight end dropped just four passes last season. Thomas also shows the range to extend away from his body and make the difficult grab look easy. He has quick hands and does a great job fully extending to make plays. That's ideal for today's tight end.
Body: Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
The body of a modern NFL tight end must be athletic enough to make explosive plays but strong enough to withstand punishing hits from safeties and linebackers. For that reason, you need a dynamic but durable player.
Rob Gronkowski may symbolize the ideal physique for an NFL tight end, but injuries have kept him off the field too often. The next-best option, and a healthier one, is Jimmy Graham.
The New Orleans Saints' tight end/wide receiver is built like an NBA forward and moves like a point guard. He's fast, long, strong and agile. And that's all you could ever ask for in the offense's safety valve.
Legs: Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers
When looking for the perfect foundation on which to build an ideal tight end, you want durability and a whole lot of speed and agility. That's Vernon Davis.
The San Francisco 49ers' tight end ran a ridiculous 4.38 in the 40-yard-dash when he was entering the NFL in 2006, the type of speed that allows him to be a game-breaking pass-catcher. He's fast but also agile enough to elude defenders in coverage and after the catch.
When Davis is in the open field, bad things will happen to the defense.
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