In fact, the general thought was that Georgia had three viable tight ends last year, Charles, Aron White and Arthur Lynch, and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo simply wasn't using enough two and three TE sets to get all involved.
Was this arguments justified? Since it's the slowest time of the year, I've got plenty of time to take a closer look.
Stats can sometimes get in the way of the truth – but that doesn't mean we shouldn't take them into account.
While many fans wanted Charles to receive more targets in the passing game, his 45 catches were more than the tight ends position (all players at the spot combined) had caught in eight of the previous nine seasons.
Let's take a look at the production through the years: I've totaled the receptions and yardage accumulated by tight ends, with the percentage of the offensive totals in parenthesis.
2011: 54 catches (21 percent), 675 yards (19 percent).
2010: 40 catches (18 percent), 593 yards (18 percent).
2009: 34 catches (17 percent), 555 yards (21 percent).
2008: 11 catches (4 percent), 172 yards (5 percent).
2007: 25 catches (8 percent), 318 yards (12 percent).
2006: 22 catches (15 percent), 311 yards (17 percent).
2005: 53 catches (26 percent), 832 yards (28 percent).
2004: 29 catches (14 percent), 559 yards (19 percent).
2003: 29 catches (11 percent), 403 yards (12 percent).
2002: 31 catches (12 percent), 341 yards (10 percent).
I also came up with a quick formula to rate each season for tight ends (receptions + yards + touchdowns = the total score… real complicated stuff, huh?).
A few quick notes:
- Charles was the focal point during the best three-year run for tight ends since 2002. The unit grabbed 18 touchdowns from 2009-11 and easily had three of the four most productive seasons at the position in terms of catches.
- 2005 was easily the best year. Leonard Pope and Martrez Milner were the best duo, at least statistical speaking, Georgia has had under Richt.
- Matthew Stafford did a lot of damage through the air, especially in 2008, without having a real go-to option at tight end.
- David Greene, apparently, didn't like to use his tight ends all that often. He had Ben Watson, Pope, Milner, etc., but his offense also featured some of the best wide receivers of the Richt Era too (Edwards, Gibson, Brown, Gary, Johnson, Bailey).
Anyway – so what does this prove? Well, Georgia's tight ends have been more successful the past three years, excluding 2005, than at any other time in the past decade.
There could be a few reasons for that. The offense used two quarterbacks in the last three years, with the tight ends position being a security blanket of sorts for a new quarterback getting used to the bright lights.
Defenses spent a lot of time, energy and manpower trying to stop A.J. Green in 2009 and '10. That could have led to more looks elsewhere, including at tight end.
QB Aaron Murray was high school teammates with Charles, which could have led to more targets and increased looks in scramble modes or when pressure was applied.
Even with the stats stating the tight ends were used more often than ever before, does that indicate the position was used effectively? In other words, while the production was up, could there have been even more?
Let's take a closer look at Charles' numbers in 2011.
The now Cincinnati Bengal finished the season with the third-most receptions (45) and yardage (574) on the team. His five touchdowns were second most.
He led the team in catches and yardage in six games – both team highs.
He had at least three catches in nine contests, suggesting he was a consistent force in the offense. Duh!
But what happened in the five games that Charles was held down? Let's dig deeper.
For the season, Murray completed 59 percent of his passes. In those five games Charles wasn't as involved, Murray actually completed passes at a better clip:
So… Hold up; let's keep grinding on these five particular games.
South Carolina: 7 receptions; King averaged 20 per.
Coastal Carolina: 12 receptions; King two TDs, Mitchell one TD.
Tennessee: eight receptions; Mitchell averaged 42 yards per.
Auburn: five catches; Mitchell averaged 28.5 per.
Michigan State: 13 receptions; King averaged 34.2 and set a school record with 205 yards.
A few notes:
- It's not surprising that King and Mitchell posted impressive stats when Charles didn't. But it's not hard to make the assumption that attention paid to Charles is the reason King/Mitchell were better in those five games.
- Charles worst game of the year was against South Carolina. He failed to make a single catch. There were two reasons for this: 1) He was kept in to block against Jadeveon Clowney and Melvin Ingram, both of whom were raging. 2) The South Carolina secondary focused on Charles to keep him undercover. Murray tried to get Charles the ball, but Antonio Allen showed why it wasn't going to be the tight ends day (intercepting a pass and scoring a touchdown in the third).
- It is surprising that Murray was better in games in which Charles wasn't the focal point. The increased pass completion percentage is one piece of evidence supporting that Charles was being double-teamed, with safeties helping out. That opened up…
- King and Mitchell became deep threats in those instances. For the season, King averaged 15 yards per reception; Mitchell 14.8. Those numbers are plenty impressive, but those figures increased in the five games we've been looking at. Mitchell was able to run deep against single coverage against Tennessee and Auburn. King did the same against State.
"During the game Orson Charles came up to me and said, ‘Ohhhhh,' " King said. "I was like what's up? He said, ‘You've got three catches for, like, one-something.' I wasn't even thinking about it. I was like, ‘Damn, I do.' "
Here's the best stat of all: Of King and Mitchell's 12 combined touchdowns for the year, seven came in our little five game stretch.
So… While many were upset when Charles didn't make a catch against the Gamecocks or when he made only one grab in the Outback Bowl, he was still making a huge impact on the game for others.
Charles left Georgia after totaling 1,370 yards and 10 touchdowns (tied for a school record for TEs) on 94 catches. Could he have had more? Should he have had more? The stats show he did better than anyone had previously, and he boosted the performance of those around him.
How will he and White (who also tied for the career touchdown record) be replaced? That's up for debate, with Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome trying to fill in for Charles and White this season. You guys spark the discussion.
I'll post the stats next June.
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