The 3-4 month prognosis for Tyler Kroft’s return from a foot injury takes him past summer camp and places him on the cusp of the regular season. I want to put this in perspective. I’d make Kroft the 3rd-or-4th-best receiving TE in camp, and the 3rd-best blocker overall, but he is the 2nd-best run blocker (PFF 61.4run, 39.7pass), after Lee Smith.
Don’t count out Sweeney.
Sweeney might be the draft’s best pure blocking TE, and he’s only 22. Mel Kiper also said of the Bills’ RD7#228 pick at the time, “he might have some of the best hands in this entire draft.”
Sweeney’s liability is that he can’t create separation the way he lumbers down the field. However, Sweeney managed to be schemed the ball, though, having caught 99 passes for 1,281 yards and 10 TDs in his 4 years at BC.
Sweeney is the true-grit-and-perseverence type that Beane and McD are drawn to. Imagine being a freshman walk-on and grinding your way up to Male Athlete of the Year! Sweeney was on the field all the time in pass and run situations, so the defense couldn’t key into a tendency.
Sweeney’s used to doing his job in a run-heavy Boston College offense, which sure is a fit in Buffalo. If you want to watch Sweeney’s best game, check out the 2017 Pinstripe Bowl (7 receptions for 137 yards, especially his 48-yard td off a deflection showing impressive hand-eye coordination).
Add Croom to the mix at TE; he evidently has been showing it at closed practices. Combined with Sweeney and even Smith, you still have 3 TEs who can catch flamethrowers from Allen and Tyree Jackson. Croom adds the dimension of speed/athleticism while Sweeney …not so much.
Lee Smith (70r 72.9p, 3yr contract) is the best blocker over age 31, and the overall best combination of blocking and pass-catching. He’s your starter, especially if Dabes wants to disguise what the TE is doing. Both Daboll and Bobby Johnson are former TE Coaches, and you’ll see “12 personnel” (1 RB, 2 TE) a lot.
Dawson Knox can now wrest the #2 TE role from Kroft (if he signs his contract). Over 11 games in his final year at Ole Miss in a loaded offense, Knox still managed four 20+ yard average games. That takes making the most of your opportunities, and plenty of YAC. Recruited as a walk-on QB, Knox wisely switched positions because of the crowded QB room (Chad Kelly, Shea Patterson). He has the size, speed, and suddennesss to stretch the field that Sweeney and Smith can’t match, and he’s much improved as a blocker. Buffalo traded RD4#112 and RD4#131 for Washington’s RD3#96 pick to get Knox. I think they see something in him, and want to get that downfield mismatch in there.
Beane will likely wait and see how Kroft mends, and include him in on meetings, and give him mental reps. At the same time, they’ll monitor the waiver wire, as most NFL teams have 4-5 TEs on their roster that they’ll reduce to 3 over Labor Day. For example, the Panthers still have eight, the Jaguars seven, the Vikings six. Beane can always put Kroft on the IR-DTR (Designated To Return) to save his spot.
Last year’s TE room looked like this:
Charles Clay=6’3, 245, 4.69
Nick O’Leary =6′-3 1/4, 252, 4.69
Jason Croom=6′-5, 223, 4.69
Logan Thomas 6′-6, 248, 4.61
GM Beane and Co. have gone a bit bigger and a bit slower at the position, keeping only Croom, the Bills’ TE yardage leader from 2018:
Smith (6-6, 265, 5.01)
Knox (6-4, 254, 4.57)
Sweeney (6-4, 251, 4.83)
Kroft (6-4, 257, 4.67)
Mik’Quan Deane (6-2, 233, 4.74)
Moral Stephens (6-4, 247, 4.78)
Jason Croom (6-5, 223, 4
If Beane were to go TE early in the 2020 NFL Draft, is there a Hockenson/Fant in this class, or even a Sternberger (30-visit) or Sample (Beane at his Pro Day)?
Tight End is, in my opinion, a just-below-average positional group in the 2020 NFL Draft, but there are some draft fits for the Bills’ system and process, especially for depth. Let’s take a look.
Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri
#21 on DraftTek’s Big Board
6-5, 255, 10.2 ypc vs AP-ranked teams
ALbert “Oh-Koo-Ay-BOO-Nom” is a seam-stretcher with great hands. He’s a threat in the red zone, with 11 touchdown catches as a redshirt freshman and 6 more last year. He was DraftTek’s #4 to #6 TE during the 2018 season, and “OK” wisely didn’t declare. The first-team All-SEC pick is improving as a blocker; we’ll see how far he’s come in 2019. I think we’ll see better separation from Dawson Knox and Jason Croom. Both, in my opinion, have better footwork and crisper route-running than OK. Here’s a nice scouting report on Okwuegbunam. Keep asking yourself, “Do we already have this guy?”
Fit For Bills: B
Colby Parkinson, Stanford
#99 on DraftTek’s Big Board
6-7, 240, 14.1ypc vs AP-ranked teams
Watch the Oregon State game, where Parkinson scored four times, using his 6-7 body and great hands to abuse smaller defenders. Then please note that every AFC East opponent has a guy under 6 feet that would have to cover him. Here, it’s DPI and he still makes the catch. Parkinson is the best mismatch in the TE draft class, in my opinion.
Fit For Bills: A+
Jared Pinkney, Vanderbilt
#126 on DraftTek’s Big Board
6-4, 255, 16ypc vs AP-ranked teams
Pinkney thought about opting for the NFL last year, but this All-SEC TE has additional goals to fulfill, and he returned wisely for his senior season rather than entering NFL Draft. An EDGE rusher in high school, Pinckney is known for excellent explosion out of the break. You should watch his Notre Dame and Arkansas games from 2018. Also take a gander at his 119-yard effort vs. Missouri, 11/18/2017, a fun battle with Albert Okuegbunam. Pinckney wants to be a sportscaster like Shannon Sharpe when his career’s over. He’s a walking fountain of stats.
Fit For Bills: A
Grant Calcaterra, Oklahoma
#112 on DraftTek’s Big Board
6-4, 240, 12ypc vs AP-ranked teams
An acrobatic TE with a receiver’s hands, Calcaterra reminds me of what Beane and McDermott’s Panthers were trying for when they drafted Devin Funchess (6-4, 225, RD2#41 in the 2015 NFL Draft). He would be a Day 2 target for Beane, and a wonderful target for Allen. Calcaterra has an insane catch radius, and can high-point errant passes from young QBs. He can do something with the pigskin after he hauls it in; Calcaterra’s yards per catch average of 16.2 is the highest among my Bills’ fits.
Fit For Bills: A+
Luke Farrell, Ohio State
#279 on DraftTek’s Big Board
6-6, 250, 8.7ypc vs AP-ranked teams
One of the two captains for the Gray team in the Spring Game, Farrell will climb as his chemistry with a new QB develops, but he’s one to watch, especially in late season when he’ll climb draft boards. The Buckeyes’ system doesn’t maximize TE catches, but watch Farrell’s all-round play. I think he’ll make a better Bill than a Buckeye.
Fit For Bills: B+
Charlie Woerner, Georgia
#168 on DraftTek’s Big Board
6-5, 245, 15.7ypc vs AP-ranked teams
A 4-star prospect as a wide receiver, Charlie became a Georgia Bulldog like his uncle Scott, an All-America DB on Georgia’s 1980 National Championship team, had done. The Woerners are an outdoor family of educators, and Charlie really knew his uncle from their hunting and fishing trips, and didn’t actually find out about his gridiron accomplishments until middle school. A switch from WR to TE has taken some getting used to, but Woerner has the DNA and the athleticism to build on his impressive resume.
Fit For Bills: B+
Best Of The Rest:
Jonathan Holland, Penn State
#162 on DraftTek’s Big Board
6-4 252, —
16.3ypc on 7 catches last season, just no AP games.
Holland has only played in 7 games over 2 years to this point, biding his time. This could be his year, although McSorley (RD6, Ravens) is gone and other tight ends will vie for attention.
Fit For Bills: C+
Sean McKeon, Michigan
#242 on DraftTek’s Big Board
6-5, 251, 7.8ypc vs AP-ranked teams
Known for his soft hands and solid frame, McKeon (“mic-KYOON”) needs better use of his feet and hands to gain cleaner separation from defenders, or he needs better coaching to scheme him open on misdirection plays like this, and like this.
Fit For Bills: C
279 Tyler Mabry, Maryland
#279 on DraftTek’s Big Board
6-3, 265, —-
Mabry transferred from Buffalo to Maryland after graduating. While with the Bulls, Mabry had 230 yards on 27 catches with 2 TDs from Tyree Jackson in 2018, and totaled 567 yards and three TDs on 60 catches over three seasons (31 games). Mabry averaged 8.5 ypc last season with the Bulls, but didn’t play in any AP-ranked games. I can just see Mabry reuniting with his former QB and making catches like this. Chemistry and Kismet. Indulge me at least one pick from the heart and not from the head.
Fit For Bills: A+
Editor’s babble: Certainly not good news Tyler Kroft is out of action again with the same broken foot he suffered last season in Cincinnati. Hopefully not another Sammy Watkins situation. Thanks to Dean Kindig for his in-depth contributions to our blog. You can find Dean on Twitter @TCBILLS_Astro.