Tight Ends are supposed to play a large part in OC Rick Dennison’s offense, especially in zone-run blocking and in the quick-strike passing game. When in “12” personnel, the scheme requires at least one TE to secure the catch, turn upfield, and gain plenty of Yards After the Catch (YAC). Both TEs have to be good blockers, both inline and downfield. Charles Clay will be a free agent in 2020 at age 31. His understudies, Logan Thomas and Nick O’Leary, are both free agents at the end of the 2017 season. There’d be a need for GM Brandon Beane to weigh the options of re-signing players who he didn’t draft in the first place, securing a TE through Free Agency, or looking toward filling the TE spots in the draft.
Charles Clay (6-3, 245 lb, 4.69 forty ) has three of the Bills’ four longest pass receptions this year. Before his knee injury in Game 5 vs Cincy, Charles Clay had been targeted 25 times, catching 18 (a 72% catch rate) for a team-high 258 yards. Clay, the team’s leading receiver in yardage, had arthroscopy on his injured left knee sustained in the Cincinnati loss, and was to miss “multiple weeks”. The physically- and mentally-tough TE was back three weeks after the Week 6 Bye, and had been showing improvement over time, doubling his output weekly in Weeks 10-12 (13 yards vs New Orleans, 27 vs the Chargers, and 60 vs Kansas City), with a catch rate of 81%. He came back to Earth against the Patriots with 3 catches and 20 yards.
Behind Clay, Nick O’Leary (6-3, 247 lb, 4.93 forty) had to step up when Clay was out. “Nick played his butt off,” Tyrod Taylor said of his recent performance against the Chiefs. “He battled, he competed, and he did what we asked him to do. I’m proud of him.” During Clay’s 3-game absence, the athletic O’Leary caught 7 out of 10 targets for a 70% catch rate, nearly matching Clay’s first five games, and he has exceeded that catch rate in 3 games since. O’Leary went 5 for 6 against a stingy Bengals’ defense. He’s tough and has great hands, especially over the middle and in traffic. O’Leary’s ceiling isn’t likely a #1 tight end, and he’s likely going to be under the microscope this off-season, as he’s met or exceeded the 80% catch rate in just half of his games, and exceeded the 10+ yards per target in only 3 games of 11. He’s had to learn how to block, as he hadn’t done much of that at Florida State. There, Leary was a receiver, first and foremost, snaring a career 114 passes for 1,591 yards and 17 TD. As a senior, O’Leary was awarded the John Mackey Award as college football’s top tight end.
Logan Thomas (6-6, 248 lb, 4.61 forty) is third on the depth chart. A quarterback at Virginia Tech, Thomas was drafted as such (Cardinals, 2014 RD4#120), but didn’t catch on at that position. Thomas was subsequently waived by the Cardinals and Dolphins, and was put on the practice squads of the Lions and Giants. The Bills signed him to their active roster as a TE. He has red-zone-target size and difference-making athleticism. He is still a work in progress. Thomas’s liabilities are his blocking and his command of the playbook. A first-quarter TD chance vs Cincinnati went up in smoke when Thomas ran the play’s route incorrectly.
Other TEs Brandon Beane has brought on board include TE Keith Towbridge (6-5, 262, 4.72), TE Jason Croom (6-5, 223, 4.69), Wes Saxton (6-4, 235, 4.64), and Rory Anderson (6-4, 246, 4.73). Beane also signed TE Khari Lee (Texans, Bears, Lions, 6-4, 254, 5.05) at the end of preseason, but he’s been inactive the first five games. Beane also signed big Ryan O’Malley (Raiders, 6-6, 260, 4.77) to the practice squad.
Games played will certainly be a factor, and positional value will play a role for Beane in deciding when to add TE depth. I’d think with other starter roles to address at QB, DT, LB, G and RT, Beane wouldn’t begin to look at TE until their second pick in RD2 at the earliest, and more likely Day 3, in search of least 2 tight ends before preferred free agency is done. If any of the big three drops to their RD2B pick, th it would be hard to let them pass by.
Players that Fit the Bills’ Archetype:
Mark Andrews Oklahoma (RD2#40, 34 games played)
6-4, 250, 4.77
Mackey Award Finalist. If I’m given a choice between Baker Mayfield in the late first or Mark Andrews in the second, I take this guy. Mayfield looks his way on every play, and he was uncoverable by the TCU safeties and CBs in the Big 12 Championship. He’s a faster, more-downfield receiver than the others at the top, and he’s a technically-sound blocker. Andrews has great hands, even in traffic. He’s athletic for a guy his size, with an ability to get open against both zone and man. Be sure to read his “Near-Death Experience“. Andrews has one more year of eligibility. He has Baker Mayfield throwing to him, which helps. Memo: Get both. Scouts have been to 2 Oklahoma games. [stats] [highlights]
Position Fit For The Bills: A+
Troy Fumagalli Wisconsin (RD2#51, 46 games played)
6-5, 248, 4.84
A Mackey Award Finalist and a redshirt senior, Troy Fumagalli has an impressive 46 games in a pro-style offense. Both make Fumagalli a high floor prospect, so would Beane even have a chance to get one of these top 3 TEs in RD2? Indeed, three TEs were taken last year in RD1 (Howard, Njoku, Engram). However, that was an aberration; the average number since 2010 has been one TE on Day one. In 2016 and 2015, no TEs were selected in RD1; in 2014, only Eric Ebron heard his name called; and only Tyler Eifert was picked in RD1 in 2013. Fumagalli’s leg injury caused him to miss time this year, and could drop his stock a tad. Fumagalli’s amputated finger won’t affect his draft stock, but his toughness and ability to catch the pigskin in traffic will. Scouts haven’t been to any Wisconsin games. [stats] [highlights]
Position Fit For The Bills: A+
Mike Gesicki Penn St (RD2#57, 44 games played)
6-5, 252, 4.85
The third Mackey Award Finalist hails from Terry Pegula’s alma mater. Mike Gesicki holds the Penn State record for most receptions ever by a TE, beating himself. He had 48 last year, and already has 51 as of this writing. There are three reasons why Gesicki should be a Bill. First, his targeted draft spot is Buffalo’s second RD2 pick, about RD2#60. Second, Gesicki goes to a great after-practice spot every day: the blocking sleds. Third, he’s a movable chess piece; the Nittany Lions moved him around, creating mismatches for him. Scouts have been to 2 Penn State games. [stats] [highlights]
Position Fit For The Bills: A+
Dallas Goedert South Dakota St (RD3#80, 51 games played)
6-4, 250, 4.76
Dallas “GOD-urt” could be the next FCS star. Todd McShay says he will be the TE taken first; I have Goedert as my fourth-ranked tight end, going in RD3. A walk-on, Goedert’s parents named him after the Dallas Cowboys, but he switched allegiances to the Green Bay Packers. Goedert’s extremely athletic, as evidenced by the Beckham-esque, one-handed TD catch that made SportsCenter’s top plays, and the fact that he played QB, RB, WR, LB, S, K, P, and KR in high school. He also can ride a six-foot unicycle, so there’s that. Goedert’s huge hands could be the biggest in this draft class, and he has the speed, quickness and balance to be a versatile, match-up nightmare. Think of Goedert as a wide receiver in a tight end’s body. My comp for him would be Carolina’s Greg Olsen, who caught 80 passes for the Panthers. In 2016, Goedert caught 92 passes. Goedert’s planning on coming to the Senior Bowl, where many NFL folks will see him for the first time. Bills scouts haven’t been to any South Dakota State games. [stats] [highlights]
Position Fit For The Bills: A+
Jeb Blazevich Georgia (RD3#81, 29 games played)
6-5, 248, 4.73
A reliable receiver for Georgia, Jeb Blazevich (“BLAZE-uh-vitch”) will appeal to the McBeane trust for who he is as a person as much as for his blocking in the run game for Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Blazevich is a consummate team player with high character and maximum effort. One analyst calls him a “culture-changer”, and if that’s what Georgia had this year, then I want a heaping helping of that on my team. Blazevich is likely the fastest on my list. Scouts have seen Georgia games. [stats] [highlights] Position Fit For The Bills: A
Marcus Baugh Ohio State (RD3#85, 26 games played)
6-5, 255, 4.87
A fifth-year Senior, Baugh could attract the Bills’ interest for his adept blocking and athleticism. He’s the one that caught that winning TD against Penn State, but more often during the season, he’s been a solid blocker for the pass and run game. Not that he can’t catch the ball, though; he’s in 10th place in Big Ten history in career total offensive yards. Baugh gets it; he has helped immeasurably in bringing along the younger players on the offense. That’s a team player attitude that will resonate with McBeane. Urban Meyer thinks he hasn’t reached his full potential yet. Scouts have been to 1 Ohio State game. [stats] [highlights] Position Fit For The Bills: B+
Day 3 Prospects:
Ryan Yurachek Marshall (RD7-UDFA, 46 games played)
6-2, 235, 4.85
I researched to see if Beane had ever drafted any TEs as small as Ryan Yurachek at Carolina. Turns out the only TE Beane ever drafted was Gary Barnidge (6-6 250), and we’ve been down that road. Beane signed two pass-catching, lightweight TEs in Buffalo, but both were taller and faster: Jason Croom (6-5, 223, 4.69) and Wes Saxton (6-4, 235, 4.64). There’s just something about Yurachek that says, “Football player”. He’s Marshall’s top performer in career receptions (136), receiving yards (1294), TDs (25), and points scored (150). He’s active in community service and was on the Wuerffel Trophy (community service, academics) Watch List and AFCA Good Works Team (dedication to others), and those go a long way with this front office. He was added to the Mackey Award Watchlist in July. Just like Nathan Peterman, Yurachek has his hallmark video, catching a pass while driving a jet ski. Despite that cinematic triumph, scouts haven’t been to any Marshall games. [stats] [highlights]
Position Fit For The Bills: B+
Drew Sample Washington (RD7-UDFA, 20 games played)
6-4, 260, 4.86
Due to a leg injury, Sample doesn’t possess the body of work that McBeane will look for, but a few key words crept up in my reviews of Sample: tough, likes to block, physical. Sample’s Head Coach, Chris Petersen, says, “Physical guy, 250 pounds, he moves pretty well. He’s one of those guys who I think would rather block guys than catch TDs … he’s pretty tough in there and likes to block guys”. Sample’s blocking effectively seals off the EDGE rusher, and that in turn boosts those Myles Gaskin runs and Dante Pettis pass performances. Scouts have been to 1 Washington game. Sample has one more year of eligibility remaining, always one tick down on the McBeane-O-Meter. [stats] [no highlights]
Position Fit For The Bills: B
Tyrone Wheatley Michigan (RD7-UDFA, 5 games played)
6-5, 276, 4.89
Hailing from nearby Manlius, NY, outside of Syracuse, and going to Canisius High School on Delaware Avenue, Tyrone Wheatley followed his father’s football footsteps to Michigan, hoping perhaps to fill the void left by Jake Butt. He redshirted in 2015, so no stats there, and the 6-6, 290-pounder only caught 2 passes for 27 yards in 2016, limiting his collegiate resume. Wheatley slimmed down in the off-season and returned a svelte 276, noticeably speeding up his receiving game. Problem is, Wheatley shares TE time with two other guys who are getting open (McKeon and Gentry), so he was often a healthy scratch, to date playing in only 5 games this season. Warning: You’re not getting Tyrone Wheatley Sr (Giants’, Raiders’ RB, and RB Coach under Marrone, with Syracuse, then Bills). We’ll give him a plus for being a down-home product from Upstate NY. Scouts have been to 1 Michigan game. Wheatley has one more year of eligibility remaining. [stats] [highlights]
Position Fit For The Bills: C+