The safety blanket. The mismatch. The quarterback’s best friend. The tight end has become one of the most difference-making positions in football as we’ve married the frames of linebackers with the size and speed of wide receivers.
WFNY’s Joe Gilbert has examined the quarterback position and wide receivers while I took a look at the running back unit. Today we will continue the grading by examining the performance of the Browns tight ends throughout this past season.
Alongside the wide receivers, the Browns tight ends contributed in the trouble producing quality numbers in the passing game. Coming into 2017, the Browns addressed the position in two ways: first, they released veteran Gary Barnidge, then they traded back into the first round to select David Njoku of Miami. The Browns decided to keep the status quo with Randall Telfer as their third tight end, and counted on the continued progression of 2016 draftee Seth DeValve.
How did it all shake out? Let’s examine this position further.
Overall Grade: C
David Njoku: B-
32 receptions for 386 yards, four touchdowns and 12.1 yards per reception
Seth DeValve: B-
33 receptions for 395 yards, one touchdown and 12.0 yards per reception
Randall Telfer: D
Three receptions for 36 yards and 12.0 yards per reception
Top Grade: David Njoku
Expectations were high for the 21 year old rookie from Miami. Most knew Njoku could handle the pass receiving side of the game, but his blocking is where most were concerned.
Hue Jackson used the rookie with caution early on, often opting to get him around 15 to 20 snaps a game. His snap rate was near 40 percent for most of the season until he figured out the position as a whole. After week eight, the rookie found his groove and improved his blocking to an above average level, and was often seen making they key block to spring a run downfield. Njoku struggled some with drops—dropping four passes on 60 targets—but he was sure handed when he needed to be and set a Browns rookie tight end record with his four touchdown receptions.
The sky is the limit for the young tight end.
Biggest Strength: Youth
The biggest strength of the Browns tight end unit is its youth. Both key contributors David Njoku and Seth DeValve are young. Njoku is just 21 years old and his companion DeValve is also young at 24 years old. Both players have shown the potential to hold down the position and make it an area of strength as they keep developing. DeValve went on a streak of catching a ball in 23 straight games, and Njoku has flashed the big play potential NFL teams dream about from the position. Randall Telfer is only 25 years old, but his on field play left much to be desired as the tight end struggled to consistently block his man, and was never a threat in the passing game.
Biggest Need: Veteran Leadership
The Browns came into 2017 with the obvious youth movement in full swing. After cutting Barnidge1 it left the Browns with 25 year old Randall Telfer as the lone veteran. Telfer was in an extremely limited role, and fittingly so. Perhaps the Browns now feel confident with the situation here as Njoku will be headed into Year 2, and DeValve Year 3, but the position group could use a veteran to show the young players the necessary habits it takes to be successful in the league.
Recently the Browns signed Gavin Escobar to a reserve/future contract in an effort to gain some experience at the position. Escobar was a second-round pick by Dallas in 2013 and appeared in 62 games over his first four seasons. He only caught 30 passes , but showed a knack for winding up in the end zone by scoring eight touchdowns on those catches. Escobar signed with the Chiefs last March when Dorsey was still Kansas City’s General Manager, but didn’t make the team in September. He played two games with the Ravens during the regular season.
The Cleveland Browns tight end unit was just not good enough in 2017. Alongside the wide receivers, it lacked the necessary consistency in the passing and running game to contribute a successful offense. There is plenty of potential within the group, but the long-term success or failure of the group will rely heavily on the younger players developing into key roles within the organization. Njoku has the ability to be a top five tight end, but player development isn’t always as smooth as we hope it will be.
This off-season for this group will be interesting. The 2018 draft class has plenty of potential in the area, and names like Miami’s Chris Herndon or Wisconsin’s Troy Fumagalli make some sense. The problem will be spending draft capital on an area the Browns saw some growth from in 2017, and a group near the bottom of their overall position needs. I look for the Browns to either add a cheap veteran or go with the current group of four currently on the roster with the addition of Gavin Escobar.
The Cleveland Browns will stand their group with this group and head into 2018 with the four tight ends currently on the roster. They will have to make a choice between Telfer and Escobar, and we will see Escobar win that battle during camp.
- Editor’s note: Barnidge is still a free agent, by the way. [↩]