The great thing about the NFL is that there are so many positions that every year, there is almost always at least one player who has a breakout year on every team, no matter how good or bad the team is. This is one part in a 32 part segment detailing one potential breakout player for the 2012 NFL season on each NFL team. For the Arizona Cardinals, that player is tight end Rob Housler.
For years and years, the Cardinals have been known as a team that doesn’t use the tight end position very much. In fact, not since Freddie Jones’ final season in 2004, excluding last season, have the Cardinals had a tight end have more than 270 receiving yards in a season. When the Cardinals used a 3rd round pick on Rob Housler in the 2011 NFL Draft, it signaled the start in a shift in offensive mentality, not coincidentally at the same time that the league as a whole is passing to the tight end more often.
Housler was the 69th overall pick, the earliest they had drafted a tight end since they used the 64th overall pick on Johnny McWilliams in 1996. Since then, the only other tight end that had drafted in the first 4 rounds was Leonard Pope, in the 3rd round, 72nd overall, in 2006, and he was largely drafted for his blocking prowess. For years, tight ends in Arizona’s offense were only big blockers. Housler was the exact opposite of that type of player. At 6-5 248, he’s not much of a blocker at all, but he possesses 4.4 speed and the kind of hands that allowed him to catch 71 passes for 1148 yards and 8 touchdowns in his final 2 collegiate seasons at Florida International.
While Housler didn’t have much of an impact as a rookie, the offensive mentality shift could still be felt. Tight ends were thrown to 93 times, or on 17.1% of the Cardinals’ passing attempts. For reference, the Cardinals threw to tight ends a total of 110 times from 2008-2010 COMBINED, or on 6.2% of their passing attempts. Todd Heap was their first tight end since Freddie Jones in 2004 to have more than 270 receiving yards in a season, catching 24 passes for 283 yards and a touchdown, while #2 tight end Jeff King was not far behind, catching 27 passes for 271 yards and 3 touchdowns.
All in all, Cardinals’ tight ends caught 65 passes for 712 yards and 4 touchdowns last season. That’s not a lot, but compared to what their tight ends normally did, that was a ton of production. The switch in offensive mentality was there. The talent just wasn’t, as Todd Heap is washed up now heading into his age 32 season, while Jeff King is a mediocre player whose 27 catches last year were actually the 2nd highest total in his 6 year career. Housler, meanwhile, was a mere 3rd round rookie and barely saw the field, catching just 12 passes for 133 yards. However, heading into his 2nd year in the league, Housler is talented enough to be the player who makes the most of the Cardinals’ switch in offensive mentality.
Reports from the Arizona Republic have said that Housler has received a “ton of work” in offseason practices and that he “will be given every chance to chance to become a breakout player.” They also reported that it’s “clear” that the Cardinals will be using the tight end more in the offensive game plan this season and that the Cardinals are “excited” about Housler’s ability.
Larry Fitzgerald was quoted as saying “to be honest with you, I think the tight ends are probably our strongest position on the field right now.” Even if that’s not quite true, it’s still very good to hear. Meanwhile, SI’s Peter King notes that Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt “loves” Housler and believes he could finish the season as the Cardinals’ leading receiver. Housler’s potential is hurt by the Cardinals’ quarterback situation, but no Cardinals’ receiver had more than 689 yards last season so it’s not ridiculous that Housler could finish 2012 as their 2nd leading receiver. He’ll probably finish the season with somewhere between 500-700 receiving yards and be a TE2 with upside in fantasy leagues.
If you’re interested in doing a fantasy football league with me, here’s the link (no draft date set yet, currently standard, with the option to become PPR with group vote). http://msn.foxsports.com/fantasy/football/commissioner/Registration/Private.aspx?league=55086&password=FanSpot2