There might not be a more boring positional group in the NFL than the Buffalo Bills tight ends. As the team continues to bolster EJ Manuel’s development, adding some dynamism to the quarterback’s best friend is a must.
Although Scott Chandler was the most productive of the bunch (a term that is very much relative here), and actually led the team in receptions and receiving yards in 2013, he offers little as a blocker, has inconsistent hands and will never be confused for a dynamic athlete. More importantly, Chandler is one of Buffalo’s pending unrestricted free agents, and it is uncertain, even with a modest contract, if he’ll be back in Orchard Park for 2014.
Second-string tight end Lee Smith provides solid push as a run blocker, but although he has flashed decent body control for a big man, he offers very little as a receiver.
The Bills do have several intriguing athletes who could make an impact next season at the position. 2013 seventh-round draft pick Chris Gragg is an intriguing athlete who seems to have the speed and size to be a weapon in the Buffalo passing offense. But while Gragg’s speed might be useful in stretching the seam, his lack of blocking abilities will likely keep him from being an every-down tight end.
Late-season pickup Tony Moeaki will be an interesting player to keep tabs on this offseason. To this point in his career, Moeaki has tantalized the NFL with unfilled potential. Moeaki was an impactful contributor in the Kansas City Chiefs’ passing offense when healthy, but he missed the entire 2011 season due to injury and was released prior to the 2013 season due to another injury.
While Moeaki is by no means a dominant blocker, he can hold his own as a run blocker well enough to potentially be a starter. His health might play a significant role in how Whaley addresses the tight end position this offseason.
Knowing they need to get EJ Manuel a safety blanket, expect the Bills to take a close look at the deep and talented pool of rookie tight ends in this year’s draft class, and possibly even make a splashy offer to New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, who is an unrestricted free agent. Top prospects Eric Ebron (North Carolina) and Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Washington) will likely be at or near the top of the team’s draft board, and either could make a significant impact on Buffalo’s passing offense. When the dust settles, however, I expect the Bills to take advantage of the positional depth at tight end and use a mid-round pick on a less spectacular but well-rounded prospect such as Iowa’s C.J. Fiedorowicz or USC’s Xavier Grimble. They could even double-down on their successful gamble on Kiko Alonso and again swing for the fences with a Oregon product by spending a late-round pick on talented but troubled Colt Lyerla.
Much like the rest of the offense, and the theme of this article entirely, the Buffalo Bills’ offensive line has both solid positives and troubling negatives.
Once Buffalo’s biggest vulnerability, the left tackle position in one of the team’s greatest strengths thanks to Cordy Glenn, who has provided blindside security as a pass protector and a solid push as a run blocker throughout his first two seasons.
Another well-established pillar of the offensive line, center Eric Wood, has continued to be a leader in the middle of the offensive line.
The Bills’ right side of the line performed in 2013 at what could probably be described as a passing level. While that’s no ringing endorsement, right tackle Erik Pears and right guard Kraig Urbik were both effective enough to not force any drastic decisions this offseason. Both have reasonably high cap numbers relative to their on-field performance, however, which could make both potential cap casualties if the Bills can find replacements in a deep draft of offensive linemen. (Pears carries a $3.45 million cap hit for 2014, while Urbik’s cap hit is $3.375 million)
The most glaring problem on the Bills’ offensive line, however, comes from the left guard position. Colin Brown was so ineffective as the starter early in the season that he was cut, and Doug Legursky didn’t perform much better in his place. Though the Bills brought in Midwestern State rookie JJ Unga and journeyman Mark Asper for a look late in the year, expect the gaping chasm at left guard to be among the team’s top priorities to address this offseason.
There are certainly some things to like about the Bills offense moving forward. Solid prospects at skill positions, two pillars on the offensive line, a potential franchise quarterback and low attrition all provide reasons to be optimistic about this group going forward.
Still it looks as though the Bills might be forced to prioritize this side of the ball for a second straight offseason. That in itself though might not be a bad thing. Marrone can help fill those holes by finding players who best fit his offensive system, and in the process, the Bills should continue to become a more athletic offense.
Check back Wednesday for Part II of Ryan’s State of the Roster, which will look at the defense and special teams.
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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, 2014 Offseason, Buffalo Bills, C.J. Spiller, Cordy Glenn, Doug Legursky, EJ Manuel, Eric Wood, Erik Pears, Fred Jackson, Free Agency, Kraig Urbik, Marquise Goodwin, Offense, Robert Woods, Scott Chandler, State of the Roster, Stevie Johnson, Team Needs, Tony Moeaki