This post continues a series picking an All-Decade Team. Over the summer, we'll be honoring the best players Carolina has had at each position over the past ten years. We'll also give shout-outs to some of the other memorable players we've had. In our last three installments of this series, I picked Ryan Succop as our top placekicker, Spencer Lanning as our punter, and Marcus Lattimore (with an honorable mention to Cory Boyd) as our runningback.
Today, we're talking tight ends. Carolina has been blessed to have fielded some very solid tight ends over the past several years. The following are the ones who got the most playing time:
2001-Rod Trafford and Hart Turner
2005-Carson Askins and Robert Pavlovic
2006-Andy Boyd, Robert Pavlovic, and Jared Cook
2007-Andy Boyd, Jared Cook, and Weslye Saunders
2008-Jared Cook and Weslye Saunders
2009-Weslye Saunders and Justice Cunningham
2010-Patrick DiMarco and Justice Cunningham
A few of these guys either have or likely will spend some time in the NFL. Trafford spent a few years in the league, Cook is currently getting serious playing time for the Tennessee Titans, and I still believe Saunders has a solid chance to find a place in the league. DiMarco may make it, although he'll likely play FB. Pavlovic has played in the CFL.
It can be difficult to evaluate TEs. Do you prefer pass catching TEs, or do you want a guy who can block? Obviously, the pass catchers get more attention. Cook and Saunders are the best of that group. However, it's probably not a coincidence that they played for Carolina squads that had trouble running the football, as neither--particularly Cook--were known for their blocking ability. Some of the better blockers, like Boyd, Pavlovic, DiMarco, and Cunningham, never caught as many balls, but the teams they played for ran the football better. Those teams also won more games--the 2001, 2006, and 2010 teams are the best of the decade, and none of them had a great pass-catching TE.
I'm inclined to believe, though, that the 2007-2009 teams' lack of success, both running and winning, doesn't owe so much to TE play as it does to defense, offensive line, and runningback play. The number of times Cook or Saunders' blocking hurt us likely doesn't quite add up to too too much, and they made some important catches for us that changed the outcomes of games. I'm inclined to believe they helped us more than the great blockers did. For that reason, I would probably prefer to have a great pass-catching TE, and the best of that group is Cook. Saunders may be more talented and is probably a bit more balanced as a player, but Cook was catching as many balls as our WRs during his most productive years. He clearly had a more productive career at Carolina. Moreover, sometimes it's good to look to the NFL for talent evaluation, and the NFL gave Cook good reviews--he was a third-round draft pick, one of the more impressive draft-day turnouts for our boys.
So, who would you pick out of this group?