INDIANAPOLIS — Tight end isn't always a sexy position, but there aren't many teams in the NFL who don't envy the Indianapolis Colts' tight end situation.
For starters, the Colts have two Pro Bowlers in Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron, followed by a couple of former basketball players with tons of potential in Mo Alie-Cox and Ross Travis. No tight end group is truly complete without one that can line up in front of a running back and stone would-be tacklers like Ryan Hewitt.
- Started 6-of-6 games, 26 receptions (33 targets) for 245 yards (9.4 avg) and two touchdowns
The Colts' offense is never more versatile and "multiple" than when Doyle is in the lineup. He initially suffered a hip injury in Week 2 that cost him five games before returning in Week 8. He then played in four more games before hitting the shelf for the year. At one point before suffering a season-ending kidney injury, Doyle was the top pass-blocking tight end in football and the fifth-best run blocker according to Pro Football Focus.
In six games, Doyle showed off his ability as one of the league's most dependable starting tight ends, catching nearly 79 percent of his targets and moving the chains for 14 first downs and two touchdowns, accounting for 61.5 percent of his receptions.
- Started 8-of-16 games (1-of-2 in the playoffs), 66 receptions (110 targets) for 750 yards (11.4 avg) and 13 touchdowns* Three carries for -8 yards (-2.7 avg) and one touchdown, one fumble lost
Ebron, the former top-10 draft pick, turned into a star in 2018 after being matched up with quarterback Andrew Luck. When the Colts signed Ebron in the offseason, they envisioned using him as a mismatch for defenses so that they could make plays anywhere on the field. That's exactly what they got as Ebron led all NFL tight ends in touchdowns with 14 and was tied for second in the league among all NFL players in receiving touchdowns. For good measure, he added another in the playoffs and then one more in his first-career Pro Bowl appearance.
Ebron set new career highs in receptions, targets, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns and touchdowns from scrimmage. He had one of the most prolific seasons for a tight end in Colts' franchise history, surpassing Dallas Clark's team record for touchdowns in a season by a tight end (11).
- Started 1-of-9 games (1-of-2 in the playoffs), seven receptions (13 targets) for 133 yards (19.0 avg) and two touchdowns
When you talk about Mo Alie-Cox, you have to begin with his Odell Beckham Jr.-esque touchdown reception against the Oakland Raiders in Week 8, shown below.
However, despite his obvious ability to come down with passes, his biggest value to the team in 2018 was as a blocker. It's what gave the Colts a security blanket when Doyle went down for the season, being able to put the 6-5, 267-pound Alie-Cox — in just his first full season in the NFL — on the line and let the running game soar.
The key to Alie-Cox's game is versatility, as he can block but also make plays downfield, evidenced by his 19.0 yards-per-catch average. It's a legitimate average, too, as five of his seven catches went for at least 17 yards.
- Started 2-of-12 games (regular season), one reception (two targets) for one yard and one touchdown
Hewitt put in the hard-nosed grunt work for the Colts' tight end group, often lining up in the run game as a lead blocker for running back Marlon Mack & Co.
Hewitt was seldom used as a passing threat — targeted just twice — but in the very last regular season game he caught his first pass of the year, which also resulted in the first touchdown of his career. That play made him the 13th different player to catch a touchdown from Luck — Hewitt's college teammate — on the season, tying Luck with Drew Brees (2018) and Matt Ryan (2016) for the most touchdowns thrown to different receivers in a single season.
Swoope found himself on and off the Colts' active roster and practice squad throughout 2018, limited at times due to a nagging knee injury. But he was effective when he was able to find his way onto the field, catching eight passes for 87 yards and three touchdowns. In all, Swoope played in seven games with two starts.
Travis came onto the scene late in the 2017 season for the Colts, leaving fans excited for what would come of him lining up and catching passes from Luck in 2018. Travis looked good in training camp, catching passes with ease and making plays after the catch. Unfortunately, he tore an ACL in the final preseason game of 2018, ending his season before it could begin.
The Colts signed Brown to the practice squad in Week 14 before signing him to a reserve/future contract at the conclusion of the season. Brown spent all of 2017 and much of 2018 on the Philadelphia Eagles' practice squad after a stellar collegiate career at Shepherd, where he caught 249 passes for 4,071 yards and 43 touchdowns.