Buccaneers season preview..the tight ends

The Bucs tight end group was already an above-average group with OJ Howard, Cameron Brate, and Antony Auclair.

With the signing of Rob Gronkowski, this group is now one of the best in the league.

Gronkowski retired after the 2018 season. His body had taken a pounding, and the injuries were starting to take their toll.

Gronkowski had 47 catches in 2018 his last year in the league for 682 yards and three touchdowns.

In his career, Gronkowski has 521 catches for 7,861 yards and 79 touchdowns.

Gronkowski has done enough in his career to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

The chemistry with Brady has been evident during the Bucs training camp. Brady and Gronk have played together for eight seasons and they don’t even need to speak to each other on the field. They seem to have a sense of what the other is going to do at any given time.

OJ Howard had his contract picked up for another season but he has a lot to prove. Howard has been a disappointment so far in his career. There was so much more expected of home.

He needs to have a good season, or he will not be back for 2021. Howard had 34 catches for 459 yards and one touchdown last season.

Howard struggled with his blocking and dropped passes last season. Howard turned the ball over on occasion, and Arians have a zero-tolerance for turnovers.

Howard was targeted 53 times, making 34 catches.

It will be interesting to see how the Bucs use Howard with the addition of Gronkowski.

Cameron Brate will be the third tight end on the depth chart. Brate caught 36 passes last season with four touchdowns.

When the Bucs needed someone to make a catch at a critical point in the game, Brate was the guy. He seemed to make the catches when the Bucs needed them the most.

Antony Auclair and Tanner Hudson may slit reps as the fourth tight end.

Auclair is one of the best blockers on the team. He is not a pass-catching threat as he has just 10 catches for 84 yards in his Buccaneer career.

My best guess is the Bucs keep Auclair as a fourth tight end strictly for his blocking ability. Tanner Hudson will end up on the practice squad.

Tight End Rob Gronkowski #87 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Matt May for Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Gronkowski has not played a full season since 2017. That season he had 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns.

He is still young by NFL years, but his body has taken a beating the nine seasons he has been in the league.

If Gronkowski stays healthy, the Bucs have the best tight end group in the NFL. If he gets injured and misses some games, the Bucs will still have an above-average group at tight end in Howard, Brate, and Auclair.