BBD Staff Writer: Eric Samulski
With the recent BuffaloBills.com report that tight end Scott Chandler was recovering quicker than expected from offseason ACL surgery, the team’s tight end situation got a little more confusing.
Already an average position in terms of talent before Chandler went down in week 15, the Bills entered the offseason with many questions to answer. They added one tight end in the draft and signed another off waivers, but nobody had yet risen to the top of the heap in the young offseason. With Chandler potentially back for Week 1, he may be able to walk right back into the starting job. However, there are some other names fighting for playing time and a roster spot to keep an eye on.
Let’s take a closer look at the current competitors, ranked from most likely to least likely to make the Bills’ final 53-man roster.
1. Scott Chandler
The Bills’ starting tight end for the past two seasons, Chandler was enjoying a career year before blowing out his knee in Week 16 against Miami. At 6’7” and 260 pounds, Chandler is a big target that has come up huge in the red zone, catching six touchdowns in each of the past two seasons.
Still, despite his relative success under the previous regime and his impressive size, Chandler is not without his flaws. He’s a bit of a lumbering athlete and doesn’t get consistent yards after the catch. He’s also an average in-line blocker who possesses inconsistent hands. In a fast-paced, vertical offense like the one Marrone is trying to put in, Chandler may not be the best fit outside of the red zone. However, his value there cannot be overstated and his overall success over the past two years make him a near sure thing to make the roster if healthy.
2. Chris Gragg
One of two new additions to the Bills’ tight end rotation, Gragg is a seventh-round pick out of Arkansas who blew up the combine this past March. He was the top performer in the tight end class in the 40-yard dash (4.5 seconds), vertical jump (37.5 inches) and broad jump (10 feet, 5 inches), and tied for third in the three-cone drill (7.08 seconds).
Gragg pairs his impressive athleticism with a 6’3”, 245-pound frame. His body type has him labeled as an H-back and frequently compared to Aaron Hernandez. It’s a comparison that Gragg, and most Bills fans, welcome.
On the field, however, Gragg has been inconsistent. His best season was as a junior when he caught 41 passes for 518 yards and two touchdowns. He was having a solid season as a senior, hauling in 22 passes for 289 yards and three touchdowns in five games before a knee injury ended his season.
The fact that he was still able to post those combine numbers proves that the knee injury is behind him, but many Bills fans are unsure what Gragg will actually bring in terms of football skills. His open-field ability and sure hands make him a good fit as a move tight end in Marrone’s offense, and Gragg can cause mismatches against linebackers, safeties and inside corners. All of that seems to imply that the tools are there for Gragg to have success, but whether he does is dependent on how he is used by the Bills’ new staff.
3. Lee Smith
At 6’6” and 265 pounds, Smith is the heaviest and second-tallest tight end on the Bills roster, and was considered a potential left tackle conversion prospect when he was coming out of Marshall. After being drafted by the Patriots, the Bills signed Smith off waivers in September of 2011.
He doesn’t offer much in the passing game, although he caught two touchdowns for the Bills last season, but he’s an elite blocking tight end who can often act as a sixth lineman. With both Chandler and Gragg being far more important in the passing game, the Bills are likely to keep one tight end who will not be asked to do much more than block. Smith seems to be the early favorite to fill that role.