The tight end position was supposed to be a strength in the 2011 season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but somehow it turned into a weakness.
What happened in 2011
The Bucs went into the season with essentially two tight ends: Luke Stocker and Kellen Winslow. They carried a number of completely interchangeable tight ends on the roster like Zach Pianalto and Collin Franklin. In effect, though, the Bucs' fourth-round pick Luke Stocker wasn't exactly any better than Pianalto or Collin Franklin, either. He produced next to nothing in the passing game, while being a lackluster blocker. In part that can be blamed on injuries - but just in part.
Kellen Winslow, on the other hand, did produce. He caught 75 passes for 763 yards and two touchdowns. That production was pretty decent, but not outstanding. Those statistics do miss something, however: Kellen Winslow was the most-targeted Buccaneer on interceptions. That's because Josh Freeman kept honing in on Winslow, while Winslow failed to haul in the tough catches and failed to separate from any player not a linebacker.
Kellen Winslow is still a useful tight end and certainly the best tight end on the roster, but his liability as a blocker combined with his losing any speed he once had is causing his effectiveness to drop off a cliff.
The Bucs have a problem at tight end next season. Kellen Winslow has lost a step and isn't a dynamic tight end anymore. That doesn't mean he's not valuable, but the offense can't be built around him as it has been in recent years. Luke Stocker was supposed to be the versatile tight end - but he has done next to nothing in his rookie year, and if he can't improve next season the Bucs will be extremely limited in what they can do offensively - especially with the rise of the tight end as a major offensive weapon in the NFL.
The 2012 draft isn't filled with productive tight ends, sadly, and the Bucs may have too many holes to draft one anyway. While Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen and Orson Charles could be available for Tampa Bay in the second round, none of them look like dynamic weapons.
That's different in free agency, however, where two specific players could greatly help the Bucs' production at the tight end position: Jermichael Finley and Fred Davis, both scheduled to hit the market this season. Both of them are still young, and both of them fit the profile of the kind of free agent the Bucs go after.
Projected depth chart
Kellen Winslow, Luke Stocker, new addition, Zach Pianalto