Friday, July 24, 2009

Position Overview: Tight Ends

Confidence Level: 8 out of 10
Chris Cooley feels like the only part of the offense that can truly be counted on. I shudder to think what this offense would be like without him. What I really find impressive about Cooley is that his greatness as a player is not just based on athletic superiority. By the standards of playmaking tight ends, he’s really not particularly fast, and there are plenty of bigger or stronger guys out on a football field. And yet, he manages to be a serious threat in the passing game by always finding the hole in the coverage and being exactly where Campbell needs him. I also love his open-field running ability, again because it’s not based purely on athletic ability. He averaged 5.7 Yards After Catch last year, which was significantly more than Jason Witten, Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, and Kellen Winslow. Rather than bowling guys over or juking them out of their socks, he is expert at taking a perfect angle to avoid contact for as long as possible, and then positions himself in such a way that the first hit is often just a glancing blow. And he seems to be very good at maintaining his center of balance as he just doesn’t go down until someone manages to hit him square-on.

Fred Davis, to date, appears to be the exact opposite – an impressive athlete who can’t figure out how to exploit his physical skills at the professional level. I’m withholding judgment for now because plenty of rookies find the NFL to be mystifying, but Zorn was clearly unimpressed last year. If he does develop, we could really have some fun. With both Cooley and Davis in pass patterns, it couldn’t be all that hard to get one or the other of them matched up on a linebacker. Also, while a two tight end formation would normally tip off a run play, with Cooley and Davis defenses may be forced into a nickel package – and then we can run at them with extra blockers. Nonetheless, while it would be nice to have another weapon for Campbell, the development of a second pass-catching tight end would be a luxury rather than a necessity - as opposed to the urgent need for a wide receiver to play split end.

If Davis does pan out, then it’s probably time to say goodbye to Todd Yoder. Yoder has been admirably boring during his tenure here – he does everything you ask of a backup tight end, nothing more, nothing less. He’s a decent blocker. He’s not going to create separation on his own, but if the defense leaves him open and you can get him the ball, he probably won’t drop it. He was occasionally lined up in the slot last year, which I can only assume was done for humorous effect. Unless Davis looks utterly clueless again, I just don’t see room for a third tight end on this roster (I’m going to guess at the final 53 man roster sometime next week). I’ll miss him as much as you will.
Next overview: Quarterbacks

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