Cameron Brate had a bit of a breakout year last season, acting as Jameis Winston’s main safety blanket and catching 57 passes for 660 yards and eight touchdowns. Brate really improved rapidly, and was especially productive for a player whose blocking is so-so.
Intriguingly, the Bucs seem to not have asked him to block a lot. According to Football Outsiders, he spent 72% of his time either split out wide, or in the slot, and not in line. That percentage ranks sixth among NFL tight ends.
Of course, being split away from the offensive line doesn’t necessarily mean no run-blocking, but it does mean very little head-on blocking of defensive ends or big linebackers. The Bucs used Luke Stocker for those kinds of block, and effectively too—but then Stocker is no threat as a receiver, limiting them in other ways.
Using Brate in this way is smart, of course: it plays to his strengths as a receiver, getting him in space while not asking him to really threaten deep, while keeping him away from his weaknesses as a blocker.
This also suggests that Brate’s main competition for playing time may not be rookie tight end O.J. Howard, who’s more of an in-line type as a blocker, as well as a dynamic receiver. Instead, Brate may be competing with Adam Humphries for playing time as a slot receiver—and my money’s on Brate there.