Tight End Fits for the Bills

Photo of TE Dawson Knox from buffalonews.com.

Let’s start with positional analysis. Who do we have?

Over 11 games in his final year at Ole Miss in a loaded offense, Dawson Knox still managed four games where he averaged 20+ yards. That’s making the most of your opportunities, and getting plenty of YAC.

Recruited as a walk-on QB, his HS position, Bills TE Knox wisely switched positions because of crowded QB room (Chad Kelly, Shea Patterson). I’d add a Knox pass to the #Bills’ playbook.

Dawson Knox has size, speed, and ‘suddenness’ to stretch the field that the other TEs can’t match. He’s much improved as a blocker, but his missed block vs the Ravens resulted in a hit on Josh Allen and led to the Bills’ first turnover.

Knox’s drops in the end zone and on third down would have been helpful to the Bills against Baltimore. Knox is also 4th in the NFL in drops, on the NFL’s team leading in drops. His catch rate is 58%, tied for 3rd-worst with Noah Fant.

Photo of TE Tommy Sweeney from newyorkupstate.com.

Tommy Sweeney’s a very good blocker and caught passes well in training camp, so uptake of the playbook COULD be the issue.

The venerable Lee Smith signed a three-year, $9M contract in mid-May, 2019, and is the vet voice in the #Bills TE room. He blocks well, but hasn’t been used as a receiver (4 rec, 31 yds, long=9, 1 TD). Does that telegraph his function on a given play? You bet it does. Smith also has been flagged for 5 false-start and 4 offensive holding penalties this year.

Then there’s Tyler Kroft. Two years ago, for the Bengals, Kroft hauled in 42 passes for 404 yards and 7 TDs. This year, for the Bills, the $18.7-million-dollar man has caught 4 for 52, no touchdowns, having broken his foot during OTAs. Kroft played in his third game for the Bills on Halloween week, disguised as a chess piece.

Unfortunately, he’s a pawn. He was targeted once in the Ravens loss, but didn’t catch it. He’s the #60-ranked tight end in fantasy. The biggest question is, “Can Tyler Kroft get free from injuries and become the player he was 2 years ago?”

Daboll’s offense is supposed to utilize TEs effectively, and you can blame Daboll if you want, but an NFL-leading number of drops and NFL’s 9th-most penalties (4th before the snap) suggest otherwise. Let’s look at the free agents, then at the draft class.

Rookie tight ends don’t usually make a big contribution to their team, so that’s why Brandon Beane thought he’d revamped the TE room with Smith and Kroft. Intelligent GMs know you have to add fresh meat to the grill, too, so he added Knox and Sweeney.

Eric Ebron has already quit on his team, per Locked On Colts, and that may not be a process guy sort of thing. Hunter Henry hasn’t seen a 16-game season and is recovering from an MCL, but LAC is loaded with cap money and he’s likely to re-sign with the Chargers, so he’s out.

Austin Hooper in my mind is a top-7 TE, and the Falcons (4-9), are already over next year’s projected salary cap. A Bills 2017 draft target and draft visitor, O.J. Howard, might get dealt if Tampa Bay (6-7) begins a rebuild. They’d keep Cameron Brate over Howard, although it’s the previously-inconsistent Howard that’s caught fire over the last two games (nine of 11 targets, 134 yards).

2020 NFL Draft:
The TE class is slightly weaker than usual. I expect 13 TEs expected to hear their name, a bit lower than usual. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if we go a full RD1 without a tight end coming off the board. It may remind you of last year, with Irv Smith drafted first at RD2#50, and 6 TEs coming off the board in the Top 100 (Dawson Knox was the sixth, at RD3#96).

The number before each Bills fit below is his rank on my Big Board:

Aug 31, 2019; Laramie, WY, USA; Missouri Tigers tight end Albert Okwuegbunam (81) is tackled by Wyoming Cowboys safety Alijah Halliburton (3) during the third quarter at Jonah Field War Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports.

40 Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri (6-5, 255)
Yds Avg. vs AP, 2018=10.2
Overall Avg., 2019=11.8
Receptions 2019= 26
TDs’19= 6
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“Oh-Koo-Ay-BOO-Nom” is a seam-stretcher with great hands. He was DraftTek’s #2-#3 TE most of the time last year, but he didn’t declare. Having this size and this athleticism is a consideration, especially in the red zone. I want to see more urgency than I see from Albert O., especially when blocking. Scouted By Bills? Yes.

Photo of Purdue TE Brycen Hopkins from purduesports.com.

50 Brycen Hopkins, Purdue (6-5, 245)
Yds Avg. vs AP, 2018= 17.7
Overall Avg., 2019=13.6
Receptions 2019= 61
TDs’19= 7
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Impressive hands, release, and wiggle. He’s known for the very qualities that the Bills’ TEs seem to need: explosion, separation, and better ball skills. Improving on his techniques and numbers every year, Brycen has the 2nd-most receptions this year of my FBS TE fits (see Trautman and Bryant below). His 29 games over 3 years have yielded a whopping 1,115 yards and a 16.2 ypc career average, and an even-better average vs AP-ranked teams (“comes up big in big games”). Brycen’s father, Brad, spent 13 seasons as an OT with Oilers/Titans, so the DNA is there, and the work ethic is palpable. If he’s there in RD2, you take him. Scouted By Bills? Yes.

Photo of Oregon TE Jake Breeland from cbssports.com.

69 Jake Breeland, Oregon (6-5, 248)
Yds Avg. vs AP, 2018= 12.1
Overall Avg., 2019=15.6
Receptions 2019= 26
TDs’19= 6
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Sometimes life comes at you fast. Jake’s dad, Garrett, died of a heart attack less than one week after Breeland signed with the Ducks. Jake credits God for getting him through his rough redshirt freshman season. On the other end of his college career, despite playing in only 6 games in 2019 (left knee injury), Breeland had as many receiving TDs (6) than 2 of the Mackey finalists combined, and only 90 fewer yards than the third finalist. There’s a great chance he’ll be declaring. I love his investment in his blocking. I love his long speed, burst, and catch radius. But I love his grit more. Scouted By Bills? Yes.

Photo of Ohio State TE Luke Farrell from elevenwarriors.com.

88 Luke Farrell, Ohio State (6-6, 250)
Yds Avg. vs AP, 2018= 8.7
Overall Avg., 2019=18.0
Receptions 2019= 6
TDs’19= 2
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Farrell’s improvement from 8.7 ypc vs AP last year to 18.7 this year is among the best I’ve seen. Ever. Chemistry with a new QB develops over time, and it “clicked” for Justin Fields and him. In a system that doesn’t favor highlight-reel plays for the tight end, Farrell has used hard work, smarts, and athleticism borne from HS basketball to help his team win. Watch his all-round play; this is the 2020 draft’s best example of stats lying. Farrell’s style of play will resonate with Daboll, because Farrell is exactly what I think he wants his ideal TE to be like. Sleeper pick; RD3#88 is a ballpark guess. I’d even take him at #56. I bet he’ll get drafted before the John Mackey Award-winner below. Scouted By Bills? Yes.

Photo of FAU TE Harrison Bryant from sun-sentinel.com.

89 Harrison Bryant, FAU (6-5, 240)
Yds Avg. vs AP, 2018= 10.3
Overall Avg., 2019=15.4
Receptions 2019=65
TDs’19= 7
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The TE who won the John Mackey Award for the nation’s best TE is a savvy, willing (though not beefy) blocker, and played with Bills RB Devin Singletary, He lined up in the backfield a lot with him. Bryant led all FBS TEs in receptions (65) and yards (1,004) by establishing a working relationship with his QB, and he’s been invited to the 2020 Senior Bowl. He has great contact balance, and focus during the catch, but also I see sloppy fundamentals. I’ll pass on Bryant, and keep Singletary. Scouted By Bills? Yes.

Photo of Dayton TE Adam Trautman from daytonflyers.com.

141 Adam Trautman, Dayton (6-6, 253)
Yds Avg. vs AP, 2018= No AP Games
Overall Avg., 2019=13.1
Receptions 2019=70
TDs’19= 14
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While the uber-productive Trautman led college football in receptions and TDs, his best games were against the Jacksonville Dolphins, Drake Bulldogs (including Devin Cates, below), and the Indiana State Sycamores. But Trautman has something NFL coaches can’t teach: size. He blocks very well and does it snap to whistle.He’s smart and articulate, and Jim Nagy noticed him; he’s going to the Senior Bowl Trautman could be a sleeper, and I expect him to be there when the Bills pick in RD4. He had a 40-595-14.9-9TD stat line in 10 games last year. Scouted By Bills? No.

AMES, IA – DECEMBER 1: Wide receiver Devin Cates #1 of the Drake Bulldogs signals touchdown after scoring in the second half of play at Jack Trice Stadium on December 1, 2018 in Ames, Iowa. The Iowa State Cyclones won 27-24 over the Drake Bulldogs. (Photo by David K Purdy/Getty Images).

162 Devin Cates, Drake (6-4, 245)
Yds Avg. vs AP, 2018= No AP Games
Overall Avg., 2019=12.3
Receptions 2019=51
TDs’19= 9
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Devin Cates has been visited by 24 NFL teams, including Bills Midwest Area Scout Brian Fisher. He finished the 2019 year with 51 catches for 627 yards (second among TEs in Division 1), with a long of 76 yds and 9TD. Just as importantly, he finished with 0 fumbles, 0 penalties. He’s articulate and a details-focused young man. 42 games career. Nice RD5 pick. Scouted By Bills? Yes.

Photo of Georgia TE Charlie Woerner from onlineathens.com.

183 Charlie Woerner, Georgia (6-5, 245)
Yds Avg. vs AP, 2018= 15.7
Overall Avg., 2019= 8.7
Receptions 2019= 9
TDs’19= 1
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So, Woerner (#89 in the video) had been utilized mostly as an in-line blocker previous to this year, with Isaac Nauta the “Move” TE, in one of the nation’s top rushing attacks. Woerner had 2018’s #1 run-block grade among all TEs, which makes him a fit with the Bills, who’ll likely move on from 32-year-old vet Lee Smith in 0-1 years. Woerner has the athleticism to be more than just a blocker; he was a high-hurdler in high school and a RB/WR/safety in HS, and he “sells his route” well.. He also has the character to be a Bill; he was an annual visitor to Camp Sunshine for kids with cancer. His uncle is Scott Woerner, one of Georgia’s all-time greats, and Scott says his nephew is better than he was. Woerner’s smart, articulate, and owns a good work ethic. He’d be a steal as a RD5-RD6 pick, and the Bills have 5 of those. Scouted By Bills? Yes.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Kevin Langley/CSM/Shutterstock (9930729bk) Memphis Tigers tight end, JOEY MAGNIFICO (86), jumps over the UCF defense during the NCAA football game between the Memphis Tigers and the Central Florida Knights at Liberty Bowl Stadium in Memphis, TN. UCF defeated Memphis, 31-30 NCAA Football UCF vs Memphis, Memphis, USA – 13 Oct 2018.

UDFA Joey Magnifico Memphis (6-4, 235)
Yds Avg. vs AP, 2018=22.0
Overall Avg., 2019=16.8
Receptions 2019= 20
TDs’19= 2
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Joey’s intensity and work in the community get him on the Bills’ PFA list, but he’s a bit light for anything more than a “move” TE. I’d wonder about a big WR role. Scouted By Bills? Yes.

Photo of Maryland TE Tyler Mabry from pressboxonline.com.

UDFA Tyler Mabry Maryland (6-3, 265)
Yds Avg. vs AP, 2018= No AP Games
Overall Avg., 2019= 11.9
Receptions 2019= 13
TDs’19= 3
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Familiar name for Buffs fans. Mabry went from Buffalo Bulls to Maryland Terrapins as a graduate transfer. I like his meat on the bone at 265 pounds. Mabry had 230 yards on 27 catches with 2 TDs from Tyree Jackson in 2018, and 73 career catches for 722 yards (9.9, ypc), 6 TD over five seasons. NFLPA Collegiate Bowl said: ” Praised as a workhorse by HC Mike Locksley, he can set the edge as a blocker in the run game and serves as a weapon in the pass game.” Scouted By Bills? Yes.

KNOXVILLE, TN – NOVEMBER 03, 2018 – Tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson #4 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the homecoming game between the Charlotte 49ers and the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Alison P. McNabb\Tennessee Athletics.

UDFA Dominick Wood-Anderson Tennessee (6-4, 257)
Yds Avg. vs AP, 2018= 5
Overall Avg., 2019= 13.3
Receptions 2019= 20
TDs’19= 1
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The colorful but humble Wood-Anderson has exploded this year, showing the most improvement over last year of all of the TEs here. He oozes Process, too. He’s more about team over his stats. Says Dominick: “I’m a team guy….If you work hard, and do everything the right way, you’ll always be better than the next guy”. He was right; Wood-Anderson got a bigger role this year with more touches and a chance to make plays. He keeps his feet active as a willing blocker. Scouted By Bills? No.

Photo of Iowa TE Nate Wieting from rrstar.com.

UDFA Nate Wieting Iowa (6-4, 250)
Yds Avg. vs AP, 2018= No AP Games
Overall Avg., 2019= 11.1
Receptions 2019= 9
TDs’19= 0
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Not Hockenson by any stretch, but Wieting’s a good blocker who is trying to “get better every day”: that sounds familiar. This former walk-on falls due to multiple surgeries, but Ferentz loves him: “he reminds me of Henry Krieger-Coble …glad he’s on our team. He’s really good.” Wieting is articulate and composed as a locker-room presence, and smart (Dean’s List seven times). He’s been invited to the NFLPABowl, so we’ll keep an eye on him against that level of competition. Scouted By Bills? Yes.

Editor’s babble: The Bills have yet to find a true stud TE since the days of Ernie Warlick in the 60s. Maybe if Dawson Knox can get over the dropsies he might fit the Bill (pun intended). However, if not, Dean Kindig always has the answers waiting for us in the next draft. Thanks to Dean for all his labor of love contributions to our blog. You can find Dean on Twitter @TCBILLS_Astro.