Inside the Numbers: Tight End Performance
by Will Stewart, Techsideline.com
TSL Extra, Issue #18

For years, Virginia Tech football fans have been calling for the Hokies to throw the ball to the tight end more often. Tech fans see outstanding tight ends like Jeremy Shockey (40 receptions for 519 yards and 7 TD's) of the 2001 Miami Hurricanes, or Pete Mitchell of Boston College, who played from 1991-1994 and holds the BC career record with a whopping 190 receptions and they think, "Hey, why doesn't Tech do that?"

During the tenure of former VT offensive coordinator Rickey Bustle (1993-2001, with a one-year break in 1994), nary a Hokie Hotline radio show went by that either Bustle or head coach Frank Beamer wasn't asked, "When is Tech going to throw more to the tight end?"

The cry started in earnest during the 1995 and 1996 seasons, when Bryan Jennings was the starting tight end, and Hokie fans felt that his considerable talents as a receiver were underused. Jennings was a 1992 Parade All-American coming out of Jefferson Forest High, but in his four-year Tech career, he caught just 35 passes for 462 yards and 4 TD's. For comparison purposes, Shockey outdid that last year alone, and Mitchell had nearly 2,400 yards receiving and scored 20 TD's in his great career.

After the departure of Jennings, from 1997-1998, the tight end position was used as a receiving option even less than before. But with the emergence of Bob Slowikowski and Browning Wynn during the 1999 season, the Hokies began to use the tight end more than they did in the mid-90's, or at least, more effectively. It seemed that every time Wynn or "Slow" caught a pass, it was a long gainer for a first down.

Wynn and Slowikowski are gone now, and with Bustle's departure and a new offensive coordinator in Bryan Stinespring, the tight end position will once again come under focus in the 2002 season.

Hokie fans feel the winds of change coming in the Hokie passing game, and they wonder how profoundly it will affect the Tech tight ends. Is this the year that the tight end position finally catches 20 passes or more in a season, for the first time since 1994? Keith Willis, the heir apparent to the position, is a gifted athlete who might have the talent necessary to pile up receiving numbers like never before seen from a tight end during the Beamer bowl era.

Only time will tell if the VT tight ends will continue to serve primarily as blockers for the running game. But as the 2002 season approaches, heralding a new offensive era at Virginia Tech, it's worth taking a look back at exactly what the Tech tight ends have done during the Beamer bowl era (and the Ricky Bustle era), from 1993-2001.

The numbers -- or lack thereof -- won't surprise you, but it will give you a frame of reference for evaluating whether the Hokies are really "throwing it to the tight end more" during the 2002 season and beyond.

Some Bullet Points

Before we delve into the statistics from the 1993-2001 time frame, here are some interesting notes about Virginia Tech tight ends:

  • Tech's record holder for receptions in a season is current radio analyst Mike Burnop, who was a tight end at Tech. Burnop caught 46 passes for 558 yards and 2 TD's in 1971.
  • Burnop is also the career receptions leader for Tech tight ends. He played from 1970 to 1972 (back when freshmen weren't eligible), and he had 90 receptions for 1,141 yards and 5 TD's. He ranks seventh all-time in passes caught, behind six wide receivers. Steve Johnson, who played tight end for four years from 1983-87, is Tech's second most productive tight end ever, with 84 catches for 1,058 yards and 8 TD's.
  • In 1987, Frank Beamer's first season as head coach at VT, Johnson caught 38 passes for 475 yards and 3 TD's. Since then, no Tech tight end has caught that many passes in his career under Beamer.
  • Since Johnson's 1987 season, only one Tech tight end has caught 20 or more passes in a season. Greg Daniels had 21 receptions for 205 yards and 1 TD in 1991.
  • 1994 was the last season that Tech's tight ends as a group caught 20 or more passes. Kevin Martin (16 catches) and Bryan Jennings (4 catches) combined for 20 receptions for 210 yards and 3 TD's.
  • Jennings had 12 catches for 159 yards in 1996, and since then, no Tech tight end has caught more than ten passes in a season.

So you can see that over the years, production from the tight end spot has diminished, to the point where it is very low under Beamer. The Hokies haven't been pass-happy under Beamer, to say the least, but the fact that the tight ends haven't registered more than 20 receptions in any of the last six seasons speaks to the tight end's role as a blocker first under Beamer.

Total Tight End Production, 1993-2001

Now, to the numbers. As mentioned, we're going to stick to the 1993-present time frame, for two reasons. Number one, Beamer shook up his staff and revamped his offensive and defensive schemes prior to the 1993 season, and number two, 1993 represents the beginning of the Beamer bowl era, the beginning of Big East play, and in a sense the "current era" of Virginia Tech football.

All statistics from 1994-2001 are taken from Virginia Tech football media guides. 1993 statistics are from Volume 11, No. 12 (Nov. 22, 1993) of the Hokie Huddler.

All statistics are regular-season only. We'll talk about bowl stats later.

There are, of course, different ways to look at the tight end production. Let's start with season totals.

Year-by-Year Tight End Reception Stats

Year

Games

Catches

Yards

TD's

Long

YPC

YPG

1993

11

13

178

3

28

13.7

16.2

1994

11

20

210

3

40

10.5

19.1

1995

11

17

244

1

37

14.4

22.2

1996

11

12

159

2

27

13.3

14.5

1997

11

7

72

1

22

10.3

6.5

1998

11

8

169

0

35

21.1

15.4

1999

11

17

336

0

35

19.8

30.5

2000

11

12

289

2

72

24.1

26.3

2001

11

14

283

1

39

20.2

25.7

Totals

99

120

1940

13

72

16.2

19.6

Some Notes on These Statistics:

  • Virginia Tech averaged 1.4 catches per game from the tight ends from 1993-96, 1.05 from 1997-2001.
  • The tight ends have averaged exactly 1 touchdown per season from 1995-2001.
  • To place the number of tight end receptions in perspective, over the last four seasons (1998-2001), the Hokies have completed 505 passes. Tight ends have caught 51 of them, or roughly 10%.
  • From 1993-97, Tech averaged 12.5 yards per catch; that figure shot up to 21.1 yards per catch from 1998-2001.
  • From 1993-98, the Hokies averaged 15.6 yards per game from the tight ends; that number went up to 27.5 yards per game from 1999-2001.
  • From 1999-2001, the Hokies gained 283 yards or higher each season on tight end receptions, while from 1993-1998, their best season total from the tight ends was 244 yards, in 1995.

Those last two points bear closer examination. From 1999-2001, Browning Wynn and Bob Slowikowski dominated the tight end reception stats for Virginia Tech, and although the number of catches they accumulated over those three years was nothing spectacular (an average of 14.3 receptions per season), it seemed that they made each and every catch count.

In his career, Wynn had 24 catches, and 23 of them were for first downs. He averaged an impressive 20.2 yards per catch. Slowikowski topped him with an Andre Davis-like average of 23.8 yards per catch on 12 receptions. Neither one caught a lot of passes, but because each reception seemed to be such a big gainer, Hokie fans started to feel as if Tech was truly utilizing the tight ends effectively.

And in a sense, the Hokies were using the tight end effectively. Very effectively. Just not very often.

Individual Tight End Production, 1993-2001

Now let's break it down by player, by season, from 1993-2001.

Individual Tight End Stats, 1993-2001

Player

Year

Games

Catches

Yards

TD's

Long

YPC

YPG

Burke, John

1993

11

10

142

2

28

14.2

12.9

Jennings, Bryan

1993

10

2

22

0

13

11.0

2.2

Martin, Kevin

1993

11

1

14

1

14

14.0

1.3

Martin, Kevin

1994

11

16

173

2

40

10.8

15.7

Jennings, Bryan

1994

11

4

37

1

15

9.3

3.4

Jennings, Bryan

1995

11

17

244

1

37

14.4

22.2

Jennings, Bryan

1996

11

12

159

2

27

13.3

14.5

Sullivan, Sean

1997

11

7

72

1

22

10.3

6.5

Carter, Derek

1998

11

5

115

0

35

23.0

10.5

Slowikowski, Bob

1998

11

2

40

0

24

20.0

3.6

Wynn, Browning

1998

11

1

14

0

14

14.0

1.3

Wynn, Browning

1999

11

7

157

0

35

22.4

14.3

Carter, Derek

1999

11

7

132

0

30

18.9

12.0

Slowikowski, Bob

1999

10

3

47

0

24

15.7

4.7

Wynn, Browning

2000

11

8

167

1

33

20.9

15.2

Slowikowski, Bob

2000

11

3

101

1

72

33.7

9.2

Willis, Keith

2000

10

1

21

0

21

21.0

2.1

Wynn, Browning

2001

11

8

147

0

39

18.4

13.4

Slowikowski, Bob

2001

11

4

98

0

29

24.5

8.9

Willis, Keith

2001

11

2

38

1

31

19.0

3.5

Some notes about these stats:

  • From 1995-1997, only one tight end caught passes in each season (Jennings in 1995 and 1996, Sullivan in 1997).
  • It's no wonder that Jennings was perceived as a talented receiving tight end -- he was. His totals of 17 receptions in 1995 and 12 in 1996 have not been approached since then.
  • Jennings' average of 22.2 receiving yards per game in 1995 is the only time in the Beamer bowl era that a single tight end has averaged over 20 yards receiving per game. His 244 yards that season were the only time a tight end has gone over 200 for the season.
  • No tight end has scored more than 2 TD's in a season.
  • Bob Slowikowski averaged a whopping 33.7 yards per catch in 2000, but that stat is skewed by his 72 yard catch-and-run for a TD (the longest ever for a tight end) against WVU. He only had two other catches for 29 yards the rest of the season.

Career Tight End Production, 1993-2001

Here's a look at career statistics for tight ends who have caught passes in the Beamer bowl era. Note that John Burke and Kevin Martin caught passes prior to 1993, and those stats are included here.

Career Stats for Tight Ends, 1993-2001

Player

Years

Games

Catches

Yards

TD's

Long

YPC

YPG

Jennings, Bryan

1993-96

43

35

462

4

37

13.2

10.7

Wynn, Browning

1998-01

44

24

485

1

37

20.2

11.0

Burke, John

1990-93

37

18

277

2

48

15.4

7.5

Martin, Kevin

1992-94

30

18

204

3

40

11.3

6.8

Carter, Derek

1998-99

22

12

247

0

35

20.6

11.2

Slowikowski, Bob

1998-01

43

12

286

1

72

23.8

6.7

Sullivan, Sean

1997

11

7

72

1

22

10.3

6.5

Willis, Keith*

2000-01

21

3

59

1

40

19.7

2.8

*Still has eligibility remaining

Notes on these stats:

  • None of the tight ends averaged 12 yards a game. Derek Carter was the highest, with 11.2 yards per game.
  • Kevin Martin, a forgotten name among Tech tight ends, is tied for third-most productive tight end, if you go by number of catches. He is also second in catches per game (0.6, behind Bryan Jenning's 0.81).

Bowl Game Stats

What do you see when you take a look at tight end receiving statistics in the bowl games from 1993-2001? The short answer is "more Bryan Jennings."

Bowl Game Tight End Statistics, 1993-2001

Player

Year

Games

Catches

Yards

TD's

YPC

Burke, John

1993

1

3

26

0

8.7

Martin, Kevin

1994

1

2

6

0

3.0

Jennings, Bryan

1994

1

1

41

0

41.0

Jennings, Bryan

1995

1

6

77

0

12.8

Jennings, Bryan

1996

1

4

58

0

14.5

None

1997

1

0

0

0

0.0

None

1998

1

0

0

0

0.0

Wynn, Browning

1999

1

1

7

0

7.0

Carter, Derek

1999

1

1

5

0

5.0

Wynn, Browning

2000

1

2

27

0

13.5

Slowikowski, Bob

2001

1

2

36

0

18.0

Totals

9

22

283

0

12.9

Notes on these statistics:

Of the 283 bowl game receiving yards by VT tight ends from 1993-2001, Bryan Jennings has 176 of them (62%).

Jennings had 35 regular-season catches in 43 games, and in just three bowl games, he had 11 catches, nearly one-third as many. And in the 1996 Orange Bowl, Jim Druckenmiller threw the ball behind him a few times when he was wide open, or he would have had even more.

Since Jennings played his last bowl game in 1996, VT tight ends have caught just six passes in the ensuing five bowl games.

Tech has scored 10 receiving touchdowns in the last nine bowl games, not one of them by a tight end.

Conclusions

As you suspected, Virginia Tech doesn't throw to the tight end very often. Frank Beamer is committed to the running game, and it shows in the tight end production, as they are used more for blocking than receiving.

The Hokies have averaged 1.2 receptions per game from the tight ends since 1993. The good news is that the yards per catch has increased significantly in recent years, topping 20 yards per catch over the last four seasons.

What does the future hold? As we discussed earlier, Virginia Tech has a new offensive coordinator, and Bryan Stinespring has promised a few new wrinkles in the offense. Only time will tell whether or not the Hokies will use the tight end more often as a receiver, perhaps bumping the number of receptions up to two or more per game.

The immediate future promises to be much like the immediate past. Redshirt junior Keith Willis is a worthy successor to Wynn and Slowikowski, and he is joined by redshirt sophomore Jared Mazzetta and redshirt freshman Jeff King. The Hokie coaches appear to like all three players (recently listing the three of them as co-number ones on the depth chart), so the platooning of tight ends that has been in effect from 1998 onward will likely continue.

The key numbers to remember are:

  • 1.2 (number of receptions per game from 1993-2001)
  • 21.1 (number of yards per catch from 1998-2001)
  • 27.5 (number of yards per game from 1999-2001)

Compare what the tight ends do in 2002 to those numbers, and you'll have a good feel for whether or not production is up over previous years.

The Data

The data that went into this article are available as a web page or a Microsoft Excel 97 spreadsheet.

To see the tight end data that went into this article, check out this web page:

http://www.techsideline.com/tslextra/issue018/tightendstats.htm

To download the data in Microsoft Excel 97 spreadsheet format, head to this link:

http://www.techsideline.com/tslextra/issue018/tightendstats.xls

(Right-click the link and do a "Save Link As" or "Save Target As" to save the Excel file to disk.)

 

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