Twenty years ago, Shannon Sharpe was the only tight end in the NFL who finished the season ranked among the top 15 players in catches. Sharpe piled up 81 catches, an extremely high number for a tight end at the time. Of course Sharpe was, in some parts, maligned because his official position at the time was defined as "Not Quite a Tight End." He played at about 225 pounds and was often split out, and thus wasn't considered "complete" because he wasn't as skilled at blocking as he was at catching passes.
In 2012, three NFL tight ends caught 85 or more balls, and a whopping 16 tight ends were thrown at 80 or more times. That's a big spike based not only on what the league looked like 20 years ago, but also on the numbers from as recently as 2008, when fewer than half as many tight ends were thrown at 80 or more times.
The position has been redefined. You're no longer an "incomplete" tight end if blocking isn't your greatest strength; your value is also defined by your hands, your length and your ability to make tough catches not just down the seam, but all over the field. The position has changed, and the evaluations have changed with it.
And the skills we look for at the NFL level are now more often found in the college ranks because of it. After a deep class of tight ends in the 2013 draft, here's a look at some of the top prospects for the 2014 draft.