History Shows Tight End has Limited Importance in Marrone’s Offense

The Buffalo Bills are in an interesting position when it comes to this year’s draft. They may be able to take an offensive weapon like Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, the intriguing tight end Eric Ebron from North Carolina, or go another route depending on the best player available.

 (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Eric Ebron is extremely talented, but is he a good fit for Buffalo’s offense? (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

When looking at offensive weapons for the Bills and quarterback EJ Manuel, it’s clear that Ebron could be a potential game changer. Many fans have made their desire known that if Watkins is gone, Ebron should be the pick. Bills fans have seen division rival New England get ahead of the curve in designing their offense around the tight end position.

The dilemma with selecting Ebron is based on how the Bills’ coaching staff values the tight end within their offensive scheme. Teams such as the Patriots and New Orleans Saints utilize multiple tight ends and have at least one dominant player at the position. This allows them to overwhelm defenses with mismatches. With that being said, how useful could an athletic pass catching tight end be in head coach Doug Marrone’s offense?

With the likely availability of Ebron when the Bills come on the clock, or the likely scenario that the team will target the position in the later rounds, I reviewed Marrone’s Syracuse teams and how much the tight end produced in his offense. The reason I reviewed Syracuse and not Buffalo’s offense is because of the longer time span, four years of data versus one.

Here are the findings:

Syracuse TE NumbersLet me say this right away, Bills fans. Syracuse never had a tight end as talented as Ebron. That said, when reviewing the percentages, its remarkable how vastly different the tight end position was utilized in Marrone’s middle seasons versus his first and last at his alma mater. A lot of that speaks to Nick Provo and his development from his sophomore campaign through his junior and senior years, but the other trend of note is that a tight end isn’t what’s absolutely needed to make the offense work.

When Marrone had a decent tight end he utilized him where he could, including in the red zone (2011). But despite the noted percentages, Provo was never higher than the second leading receiver on the team (2011). Instead it was outside receiver Van Chew (2010) or Alec Lemon (2011) that received most of the targets. Yes, as a percentage base Provo was integral to the success of the offense, but at the same time he was a complementary piece to the running backs and outside receivers first.

As I’ve noted before, Buffalo’s offense is dictated by the run. The idea of drafting a tight end is less intriguing, especially drafting a tight end that is an average run blocker.

If the offense is running smoothly, then a weapon like Ebron will see targets his way and could push this offense to another level. If the offense doesn’t click on all cylinders, or the Bills choose not to prioritize the position, then selecting Ebron would be detrimental to both the player and the team. I say this because Ebron would only see the field on known passing downs and the team may be better served to use the selection on a player that would be able to play right away.

Even if the Bills go another direction in the first round, pass catching tight ends Jace Amaro, Austin Seferian-Jenkins or Troy Niklas could be had in the second round or later. So again, value is in the eye of the beholder.

We’ll see what direction GM Doug Whaley and Marrone go in May, but in the meantime the proposition of the Bills taking a tight end high in the draft is at best a coin flip based on history.

About Jason DeHart

Jason is a UB alum with over six years of media experience including his time as the student voice for the UB Bulls football & basketball teams. He currently resides in Delray Beach with his wife and currently works for CBSSports.com as an online video producer. #billsmafia4life