- 1/4 of all teams (8/32) had a TE as their leading receiver.
- 18 of 32 teams had a TE as a major contributer (> 40 receptions)
- 2 of the top 10 league-leaders in receptions were tight ends
- 3 of the top 10, and 2 of the top 4 league-leaders in receptions for TDs were TEs
- 16 of the top 53 in TD receptions (those who had 5+ TDs) were TEs (30%)
Compare this to 2002 (randomly chosen year a couple years ago):
- 3 of 32 teams had a TE as their leading reciever.
- 11 of 32 had a TE as a major contributer
- 0 of the top 10 league-leaders in receptions were TEs
- 0 of the top 10 league-leaders in receptions for TDs were TEs
- 7 of the top 48 in TD receptions (those who had 5+ TDs) were TEs (14.5%)
It seems clear, by these stats, that the big guys with soft hands are getting better and better, and therefore no longer just an extra run-blocker. TEs are surging, and the trend of more teams having the TE be an integral part of the team offense is growing. Slightly less obvious at first glance, but a definite trend (that I won't back up with data, you'll just have to trust me from looking at the lists) that this is coming at the expense of players from the backfield. In 2002, several fullbacks played important roles in the passing game for their team, and quite a few RBs played more important roles in the passing game. Fullbacks are all but gone now, and fewer of the RBs are getting as involved. I'd guess this is because the big guys are getting more athletic, and are able to slip blocks and still get their hands ready to make plays more frequently.
It's hard to compare these to how and where TEs are drafting, simply because position scarcity, total yards, and other things matter. And receiving rankings aren't the full picture -- there are several RBs in those counts of the top 50ish by TD receptions who skew these numbers as well. But I suspect that TEs are still slightly undervalued, by both league formats (requiring 3 WRs and 1 TE) and by drafters.
Just some food for thought...