In today's NFL, tight ends who can block are highly under appreciated. We've been trained by fantasy football and SportsCenter highlights to look at touchdowns as the primary measure for the quality of a tight end. Blocks in the running or passing game may not bring the same accolades as a highlight reel TD, but a tight end who can block is an invaluable asset to any NFL team.
If you're a regular reader here at BTB, you'll know that we collectively hold the Cowboys tight ends in very high esteem for their blocking abilities. Heck, even if you're only an occasional reader of the blog you will have noticed that every discussion comparing tight ends will invariably boil down to the question, "Yeah ... but can he block?"
Pro Football Focus (PFF) yesterday released their rankings of pass-blocking tight ends, and it should not come as a big surprise that the two Cowboys tight ends scored exceptionally well.
Blocking skills are always important for a tight end by the simple nature of where they line up – anybody that close to the line had better know how to block, either for the run or for the pass. But most people don’t see blocking, and neither do most stats.
PFF have applied the same formula that they've used for offensive tackles to evaluate the pass blocking efficiency of tight ends. Here's the formula in all its algebraic glory:
(Sacks + (0.75 * Hits) + (0.75 * Hurries)) / Pass Protection Snaps * 100
Which is a fancy way of showing how many sacks, QB hits and QB hurries a tight end gave up when he stayed in to block on passing plays.
Jason Witten, whom PFF appropriately call "The league’s most complete tight end", ranks fifth on PFF's list of the most efficient pass blocking tight ends. The PFF team 'credits' him with allowing two sacks on the 91 passing snaps for which he stayed in to pass block, which gives him a 2.2 Pass Blocking Efficiency (PBE) rating.
PFF's list only shows tight ends who've stayed in for at least 60 passing plays last year. Martellus Bennett stayed in for 57 pass blocks, so he narrowly misses making it onto the list. The PFF stats show Marty B gave up one QB hit and two hurries, which translates into a 3.9 PBE rating. That would be good enough for the 12th spot on PFF's top 15 list.
A look at our friends from the NFC East shows a mixed picture. The Giants' Kevin Boss also makes the top 15, coming in at number seven with a 2.64 PBE rating. To find an Eagles or Redskins player, we have to turn our attention to the bottom 15 list, where the Redskins' Chris Cooley ranks as the second worst TE with a PBE of 9.19, while the Eagles' Brent Celek is the eleventh worst TE with a PBE of 5.91.
PFF also offer up a PBE list for tight ends with the cumulative values over the last three seasons. And again, the Cowboys do well. Obviously, a three-year list puts players at a disadvantage who've entered the league in the last two years, but so be it.
Over the last three years, Martellus Bennett ranks as the third best pass-blocking tight end with a PBE of 2.44, while Jason Witten follows closely at number seven with a PBE of 3.76. At the top of the three-year class are the Vikings' Jim Kleinsasser and the Browns' Robert Royal.
Overall, the Cowboys should be very happy with the pass blocking performance of their tight ends. But think of this as the appetizer only. Where a tight end really earns his paycheck is in run-blocking. If and when PFF release their rankings of run-blocking tight ends, expect the Cowboys tight ends to both place in the top five - if they don't take the top two spots outright.