Stat Session: Urban's Tight Ends

By Chad Peltier on May 28, 2012 at 4:00p
Has nothing on Stoneburner

Welcome to the second part of my stat session series on Urban's previous position groups, in which I'll be examining tight ends.

Lately I've become increasingly interested in what Ross dubs "Pivot Players", or those that play hybrid positions. While reading Chris Brown's excellent new The Essential Smart Football I came across a chapter detailing how the New England Patriots managed to overcome the Jets' overload blitzes:

The presence of tight ends-where they will line up, what will they do?-dictates terms back to Rex Ryan, who would much rather cut loose and go on carrying his father's torch as the destroyer of pretty-boy quarterbacks...Unpredictability is the key. Is a play a run or a pass? Which direction is it going? How will it work? These hybrid weapons give offenses options in ways that even great players with more specific skills and roles cannot. They simplify defenses by making them uncertain. 

It's clear that pivot players are not only something that Urban is fond of, but also part of a more general change in football. While "tweener" was once considered a derogatory term, the ability to play multiple positions is now a valued on both offense and defense.

I thought it might be interesting to take a deeper look at how Urban has used tight ends at his previous coaching stops - have they all been pivot players? Are they always well integrated into the passing offense? What are their physical attributes? 

Finally, what does all of this mean for Stoneburner and company this year? Many people have written before about how excited Jake is for his senior year under Urban and how he'll likely flourish with the new offense. He's already emerged as one of the team's leaders and one of Urban's vaunted spring playmakers. 

Get excited, Buckeye fans.

Once again, I used data from Florida's official roster and from to assemble a dataset of Florida's tight ends from 2006-2010. 

Physical data

Before I go in to some more in depth analysis, let's take care of some simple descriptive statistics and observations: First, during these five years, Urban averaged just under 5 tight ends on his roster each season. Urban's tight ends weigh an average of 244 pounds with a standard deviation of 15 pounds. The population of tight ends has an average height of 6' 4'' and a standard deviation of an inch and a half. 

Physically then, we've just described the average tight ends just about anywhere. Bill Walsh, in his "How I Evaluate Each Position" chapter of Finding the Winning Edge, says his ideal size is 6'4.5'' and ~245 pounds. Clearly, Urban's tight ends are physically no different than any other teams.

However, if we look only at the players that started for Urban (also those that recorded >10 receptions on the year), we find that the average height is actually slightly lower - at just under 6'3'' - and the average weight is a bit more, at 250 pounds. 

Though we're looking at a relatively small dataset here, it's enough to see that while Urban's average tight end has prototypical size, his starters are actually a bit shorter than normal. Now, it's not exactly a statistically significant difference - Aaron Hernandez, Jordan Reed, and Trey Burton were ~6'2", which is just about 1.3 standard deviations away from the mean height - but it's noteworthy nonetheless. 

role in offense: receiving and pivot players

Look for Stoneburner to get quite a few more Buckeye leaves this fallSee, Stoney has this one-handed catch thing too

What is probably more interesting is that really only a single player each year managed to really make an impact on offense. Each season, only one player was able to record more than ten receptions, and there was only one year in which two tight ends snagged over 100 yards (Aaron Hernandez's freshman year). 

Furthermore, in every year except for Aaron Hernandez's junior year, the starting tight end had 380, 508, 381, and 210 receiving yards. In contrast, Jake Stoneburner has been criminally underused at Ohio State yet still managed 222 and 193 receiving yards the past three years (even with one of the worst air attacks ever last season). 

It is also worth noting that Aaron Hernandez's junor year saw him explode for 850 yards on 68 receptions. Those 68 receptions are twice as many as any other tight end had during Urban's five years at UF.

Also of importance, almost every starting tight end for Urban at Florida was a pivot player - generally playing multiple positions and with multiple duties, and always a part of the passing game. This was never more true than in 2010, when the true starting tight end was Jordan Reed, with Trey Burton playing tight end along with about four other positions. Jordan Reed is officially listed on the Florida roster as a TE/QB and Trey Burton as a QB, but both combined for 289 receiving yards. 

In contrast, not a single one of Urban's backup tight ends could really be considered a pivot player - not only were they all bigger, more traditional tight ends, but they were never really a part of the passing game. 

We're starting to get a pretty clear picture of how Urban uses his tight ends: the starting tight end will more than likely be the fastest and biggest receiving threat, but not necessarily the biggest player. Generally tight ends are a part of the passing game, but not THAT much more than we'd expect from a coach with a well developed (or even merely competent) passing game.

Really, the "Urban loves him some tight ends" storyline is built largely on Hernandez's junior campaign. I think this more generally reflects the fact that Urban doesn't really care what position you are - he'll even create a new hybrid position for you if he has to - if you're an exceptional talent, then he will get you the ball.

The prognosis for Jake is good for next year, but it's unclear how much love the backups Heuerman and Vannett will get next year. In 2013, however, look for the most dynamic receiving threat to get the start. 

No wonder that Jake Stoneburner said that Urban's prior experience with Hernandez made him happy: "It's something I've been waiting for since I graduated high school, being able to go out there knowing you're going to get the opportunity to get the ball more than once or twice a game." 


Comments Show All Comments

painterlad's picture

"I'll be examining tight ends."
(Does best Peter Griffin laugh.)

To err is human. Really sucking requires having yellow stripes on your helmet.

ShadyBuckeye's picture

haha it took me a little longer than it should of to understand that joke. anyways really enjoyed the article. I dont care how much Urban loves the Tight End position (ok thanks to PAINTERLAD I cant say that word with a straight face) as long as its more than the previous regime.

Carolina Buckeye's picture

Real nice article...actually surprised the heck out of me.

For as much as we hear about Urban's use of the TE, to me the numbers aren't all that eye popping. Yes, Aaron Hernandez went nuts but otherwise, the numbers are a solid increase over non-existent (Tress's use of the TE).  By no means am I complaining, I suppose I was expecting more like 35-45 catches per year for 650-750 yards.  
Also a bit surprised at the size of his TEs.  Basically in line with the TE average. I was expecting maybe a few lbs lighter (in the 220-230 range) and to be on the taller side (6'4"-6'6") which to me, would indicate the more athletic TE that we've heard so much about.
No judgement, I still think Stoney is going to have a huge year, not Aaron Hernandez huge but a nice year.
Great article.

OldColumbusTown's picture

One thing/player to add to this list and keep in mind: Cornelius Ingram, who was the top TE target in '06 and '07.  I think he most closely resembles Stoneburner in size/speed, and I think we will see Stoney used much the same way Ingram was used at Florida.
Ingram was on his way to big things after two good years as the starting TE in '06 and '07.  Tearing up his knee before his senior season, and then choosing the draft over a medical redshirt sort of leads people to forget about how good and effective he was in the Gator offense.
He was not used very similarly to how Hernandez, Reed, or Burton were used.  He was more of a traditional TE, who also split out wide to create size mismatches, and ran some nice vertical seam routes as well.  I definitely see Stoneburner fulfilling this role much more than a "Hernandez" role, which I think could very easily fall more in line to Zach Boren.
Boren and Stoney could be a great combo in this offense... it's just too bad as fans we'll only get to see one season of it with them.

cinserious's picture

Urban will have him a tight end in vanett/heuerman but maybe the new dude from cali marcus baugh will be the one to blow up into the aaron hernandez type of numbers in the future. Anyway, w win a national championship in '13 but the real domination starts after that.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.