Ah, yes. One of my favorite positions in all of football comes up today in the “Ranking the Rooms: AFC North” series here at Steelers Depot: tight end.
Gone are the days of the slow-footed brutes that blocked a majority of the time; in are the days of the quick-twitch athletes at tight end that could play receiver in today’s game, but can still block from time to time.
Let’s see how the AFC North shakes out this year at tight end.
1. Baltimore Ravens
Despite having a depleted offense across the board at the skilled positions, Baltimore boasts a deep, talented tight end room that Joe Flacco relies heavily on in the middle of the field.
Dennis Pitta should be able to hold down the No. 1 job again, coming off an 86/729/2 season for the Ravens. He works almost exclusively in the middle of the field, using savvy route running to get open more often than not, showing Flacco his numbers.
Back for a second year is veteran tight end Benjamin Watson, who went down with a torn Achilles on the very first drive of the regular season, dealing a big blow to the Ravens’ offensive hopes quickly. Who knows how effective Watson will be coming off of the injury, but he’s had a long, consistent career as a pass-catching tight end.
Behind Pitta and Watson is veteran tight end Crocket Gillmore, who has been frustrated with his playing time of as of late with the Ravens. A large part with him not being a big part of the offense is him not being able to stay healthy, but when he’s on the field he can be a tough tight end to deal with.
Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle and Darren Wallner round of the deep Ravens room. Some talented guys aren’t going to make the 53-man roster for Baltimore out of camp. I wonder if a certain team up north will have any interest.
2. Cincinnati Bengals
When healthy, Tyler Eifert is one of the best tight ends in all of football, sans Rob Gronkowski. The problem is, Eifert is always nicked up and less than 100 percent for the Bengals, limiting just how effective Eifert can be Andy Dalton.
Last season, Eifert played just eight games and finished with a line of 29/394/5 for the Bengals. In his four-year career, the Notre Dame product has never played a 16-game season, missing 27 out of a possible 64 games.
Behind Eifert, C.J. Uzomah emerged as one of Dalton’s favorite targets last season, serving as a solid in-line blocker in the running game while being able to stretch the field vertically down the seam. He appears to have taken over the No. 2 role in the Cincinnati offense.
Veteran tight end Tyler Kroft returns as a blocking tight end, while rookie Mason Schreck and H-back Cethan Carter provide the Bengals with bodies behind the trio.
The important thing with this group though is that if Eifert can’t stay healthy, this is one of the worst groups in the league. If he’s healthy though the duo of Eifert and Uzomah could be really productive.
3. Cleveland Browns
I am probably basing this largely on the upside of David Njoku this season, whom I think is a future star in this league. The Miami (Fl.) product fits the mold of the ideal move tight end in the NFL and should be able to have quite the rookie season in Cleveland.
The release of veteran Gary Barnidge drops the Browns below the Bengals, pushing second-year tight end Seth DeValve, who had an OK rookie season (10/127/2), into the possible starting role until Njoku is ready.
Although not big in name, the duo of Njoku and DeValve is a very nice foundation for the Browns at tight end in the continuous rebuild.
Second-year tight end J.P. Holtz, second-year tight end Randall Telfer and rookie Taylor McNamara round out the Cleveland tight end room that is loaded at the top with a future star in Njoku, but lacking depth behind DeValve at No. 2.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
The release of Ladarius Green last week for a failed physical severely hampers the Steelers’ ranking in this group due to the elevation of third-year tight end Jesse James into the No. 1 role.
James will be just fine in the Pittsburgh offense, but he’s a JAG (just a guy) at this point in his career. Personally, I’m hoping he can develop into a true No. 1 tight end, but as of now I’m not sure he’s ready for the full workload as a No. 1 when it comes to catching and blocking in this offense.
I hope he proves me wrong this year.
Behind James, there’s not much to get excited about as veteran David Johnson is on the roster simply as a blocker, while possible move tight end Xavier Grimble is far too inconsistent to be an option for this team right now.
Undrafted free agents Phazahn Odom and Scott Orndoff could possibly make the roster in far different roles (Odom a pass catcher, Orndoff a blocker), but counting on anything from them at this point is useless.
Last Year’s Rankings