With Rob Gronkowski retiring (again), it’s time to embrace replacement Cade Otton

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With Rob Gronkowski announcing his retirement once again, and before Gronk has a chance to change his mind once again, I think it’s time for the fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to get to know their tight end of the future, Cade Otton.

Otton was a fourth-round pick from the University of Washington. He earned first-team All-Pac 12 honors in 2020, as he led the Huskies with 18 receptions, 258 receiving yards (14.3 YPR) and three touchdowns. During the 2020 season, according to PFF, he was considered the third best tight end (89.0) in college football, behind Kyle Pitts and Josh Whyle.

“In college I was trusted to do pretty much everything you can do at the tight end position. said Otton. “I think this could be a really good think for the offense and the team as a whole.”

During Otton’s foot injury in 2021, the hype around him got quiet and this led to teams passing over him until the Buccaneers selected him in the fourth round — although he caught 28 passes for 250 yards and a touchdown in his final collegiate season.

“That’s probably where we would see him starting, being that Y tight end, but he’s athletic enough to do some of the move stuff we do with our tight ends,” Bucs Vice President of Player Personnel John Spytek said after Otton was selected . “He’s just a good football player…I keep saying that about our picks like I’m a broken record, but he’s just a good football player. He loves football, competes his ass off on every play.”

Let’s dive into the film to see how Otton can be productive as Gronkowski’s replacement and earn the number-one tight end spot!

What kind of TE is Otton?

There are several different types of tight ends in the NFL. Pure blockers who can line up in the backfield as a fullback or on the line of scrimmage acting as an additional offensive lineman, this is called an ‘H-back’.  The ‘Y’ tight end is the Gronkowski type, who’s first responsibility is to block but can also leak out and catch the ball when asked. Lastly, the ‘F’ tight end has receiving-first responsibility (ex: Jimmy Graham), and they can line up anywhere.

In Otton’s case, he is a blocking-first tight end who can also be effective in the open field. These athletic ‘Y’ tight ends are rare because it’s difficult to find a player who has the size and strength to block effectively, but who also has athleticism to separate down field.

Otton can do both; and he can line up anywhere on the field.

Otton is an extremely tough player before and after the catch. When asked to be a receiver in the short area of the field, he showed quick feet and instinctive decisions to get open. He also has very reliable hands and is athletic enough to gain a good chunk of yards after the catch. Otton has 54 catches for first downs since 2018, which ranked 2nd among PAC-12 tight ends.

In the clip below, Otton is asked to bump and run against the edge rusher. In this case, he was lined up against Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson, one of the top pass-rushers in the 2022 NFL draft class.

Once Otton had the ball in his hands, he broke two tackles while getting to the sideline and gained a significant number of yards after the catch putting his offense beyond the original line of scrimmage.

Otton’s toughness is something that shows up time and again on film. He doesn’t just settle for the first down, but he always looks to gain a few extra yards.

Separation and ball skills

Otton may not ‘wow’ us with his athleticism, but we have to remember that we are talking about a tight end, not a receiver. We have to stop the idea of grading tight ends by their receiving ability. The ‘old school’ tight end is still relevant in today’s game. Any player who can put one of the top pass rushers in his class on their back and then on that same play put his body on the line to make a catch across the middle of the field, is an ideal playmaking tight end in 2022. An offense is better off having a guy who can do can block and catch, in order to keep the defense guessing.

This is why Otton is the perfect replacement for Gronkowski. He may not be able to reproduce the production immediately, but he absolutely has the ball skills to get the job done.

In the clip below, Otton is lined up in the slot and is running a post-route into the middle of the field.

The play-call against man coverage congested the middle of the field, so instead of Otton slowing down once he was open, he continued his route across the field and maintained eye contact with his quarterback.

Otton showed this same spacing awareness when facing zone coverage as well. In the clip below the Huskies need three yards for a new set of downs. Otton blocks at the snap and then slowly leaks out mirroring his quarterback across the line of scrimmage.

Blocking

Most of the time when you see a tight end that can snatch the ball out of the air as smooth as Otton, they aren’t effective when blocking in-line. However, Otton can adequately pass protect and also open lanes in the run game.

Spytek had this to say about Otton, “He fits into what we’re looking for around here, especially at that position. I think it’s kind of an underappreciated position for how hard it is to play. You’re asked to do the run stuff and then do the pass stuff, run a pass route then come back and block a 280-pound defensive end. It takes a special kind of guy to want to do that, and he fits that for sure.”

When it comes to blocking, Otton shows adequate skills in pass protection but shows a higher upside in the run-game. In the clip below, Otton is lined up outside his left tackle and he’s up against the defensive end. His job here is to get across the defender and turn his back to the outside in order to set the edge for the ballcarrier.

Otton keeps his feet driving forward and always looks to finish the play even if that means putting the defender on his back. This is the finishing mentality that NFL coaches love to see.

Otton is a little on the lighter side, so, when it comes to effectively blocking pass rushers in the NFL, unless he puts on some more weight, he may struggle early on.

That being said, Otton is a complete tight end who was underrated and underutilized since he came from a run-first offense in college. As it was mentioned above, before his injury, PFF did have him as one of the top tight ends in college.

Otton couldn’t have landed in a better situation with Gronkowski retiring. Right now, it’s veteran’s Cameron Brate spot to lose. Although Brate has been a dependable tight end for the Buccaneers’, Otton should prove in a short amount of time, that his blocking and receiving will be hard to keep out of the starting lineup.

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