BBD Assistant Editor: Ryan Talbot
The Buffalo Bills’ seventh-round pick (No. 222 overall) in the 2013 NFL Draft, Chris Gragg had trouble staying on the field at Arkansas and didn’t get on the field much for the Bills as a rookie. Seventh round draft picks aren’t guaranteed of a roster spot, but Gragg has athleticism one can’t teach and a skill set that complements fellow Bills tight ends Scott Chandler and Lee Smith well.
Making the Team
Injuries are likely what caused Gragg to fall to the seventh round in last year’s draft. Gragg arrived to Arkansas in 2008 and started out as a wide receiver. In 2009, a dislocated left ankle led to a redshirt season. Gragg was able to stay healthy from 2010 to 2011 and played in 26 games, but after coming off of his best season in 2011, Gragg battled a knee injury that cut his season short to only five games in 2012.
Gragg finished his Arkansas career with 72 receptions for 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns. He realistically could have gone undrafted, but his NFL Scouting Combine performance certainly helped the Bills see Gragg’s potential. The tight end was the top performer at his position in the 40-yard dash (4.5 seconds), vertical jump (37.5 inches), broad jump (125 inches) and three cone drill (7.08 seconds) at last year’s combine.
Gragg received first-team reps in offseason workouts last spring when Chandler was coming off an ACL injury and Smith was also banged up, according to Mark Armstrong of BuffaloBills.com. He made an impression in OTAs and training camp and in the Bills’ first preseason game last year, no tight end received more snaps than Gragg, according to Tim Graham of The Buffalo News. His play earned him a spot on Buffalo’s 53-man roster.
Gragg didn’t make much of an impact during the regular season. He appeared in nine games, starting one, and finished the year with only five receptions, 53 yards and one touchdown. He played a total of 52 snaps in 2013 according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Gragg’s best performance in 2013 came against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was targeted six times, played 16 snaps and caught four passes for 25 yards and a touchdown.
The tight end played in seven games in which he went catchless, but it may not be fair to categorize any game as his worst. In eight of the games that he played, Gragg was on the field for less than 10 plays. That lack of snaps made it difficult for Gragg to get anything going offensively.
Gragg’s roster spot is not guaranteed in 2014, but he suggested in an interview with BillsMafia.com earlier this offseason that he expects to have a bigger role in 2014.
“I know what I’m doing now. I know the playbook, that’s the main thing. I know the playbook so I can go out there and play fast. I’m really comfortable with the coaches. I think we have a great group of guys. Scott Chandler, Lee Smith and Tony… We have some great chemistry and last year we pushed each other and I think we got each other a lot better.”
Buffalo didn’t draft any tight ends, but he’ll have to compete for a roster spot with Chandler, Smith, Tony Moeaki and Mike Caussin. Chandler and Moeaki have the inside track at being the Bills’ top two tight ends, but Gragg has a chance to be the team’s third tight end. The only area in which Smith is better than Gragg is blocking, but Gragg says the team is happy with his blocking.
“This off-season I’ve just been working on getting my body more stable. At the end of the year, the coaches told me they really didn’t want me to gain any weight. They thought I was fine. They were really glad and proud of what I was doing at the blocking aspect and as you know they already know I can run down the field and stretch the field and make plays. So without hearing from them in the off-season, they want to see me make plays and I’m getting ready to go up there and do that.”
Gragg will have to fight for playing time in 2014, but he is the most athletic tight end on the roster. Chandler and Moeaki are both strong pass-catchers, but neither have the ability to stretch the field like Gragg. His ability to create mismatches on the field will make him an appealing weapon if he shows improvement in training camp and the preseason.
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