Sunday, February 14, 2010

2009 Tight Ends Review

At the beginning of the season I for one did not suspect that Fred Davis would be the main focus of the post-season tight end review, but nothing went quite as planned in 2009. With Chris Cooley’s injury (his first ever) most people, including me, thought that what little productivity the Redskins offense had displayed would disappear. Instead, Davis stepped in and steadily earned the confidence of Jason Campbell.

Davis’ athleticism was never in question, but it was gratifying to see the timing and chemistry he had with Campbell – he was clearly running the routes correctly and Jason trusted Davis would be where he needed to be. Presumably the alleged issues with maturity and work ethic are in the past.

Of course he really took off once he started running in a sensible fashion. His early tendency to try to acrobatically leap over every tackler was simultaneously hilarious and frustrating, and it was such an obvious tendency that defenders knew to stay high and were unconcerned with the possibility that he may cut to either side, so Davis would just leap right into their arms. In my head I always imagined him shouting “Wheeeeeeeee!” each time he did this, and in the absence of direct evidence to the contrary I will assume that he did. The coaches somehow managed to cure him of such silliness, perhaps with threats of physical violence, and he finally started using his speed in the open field to turn short catches into significant gains.

But now that we know that Fred Davis is effective at this level, what do we do with him when Cooley returns next year?

There are certainly plenty of teams that use two tight ends productively, and Shanahan has a history of utilizing pass-catching tight ends (Shannon Sharpe, Tony Scheffler) and presumably would want some depth for that role. The problem is that most teams that use two receiving tight ends extensively use it to also get some good blocking. Two examples: Dallas’ use of Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett works because Witten is an outstanding blocker, so he creates options for the offensive coordinator. Tampa’s offense is built around Kellen Winslow and Jerramy Stevens, who have the downfield athletic ability but can’t block. You may note that the Tampa offense is terrible.

Chris Cooley, as great as he is at what he does, is simply a godawful blocker. Davis is quite a bit better, but is still barely adequate – he only looks like a good blocker in comparison to Cooley. Therefore any time both are on the field at once the defense can reasonably consider it a passing formation, because we’re really not threatening much power blocking by putting those guys in.

Cooley’s BFF Todd Yoder is really an ideal second tight end – he’s not an overpowering blocker, but he’s a competent one and he always knows his assignment and hits the guy who needs to be hit. And he can run the basic routes and if you hit him in the hands he won’t drop the ball. A tandem of Yoder and either Cooley or Davis just makes more sense for a double TE set because we can legitimately run or pass out of it.

For those reasons, the possibility of trading either Cooley or Davis has to be taken seriously. It is mostly speculative for now, and I would consider it unlikely to actually happen, but for a team with multiple needs and only two high draft picks, it at least has to be discussed.

Of course an advantage to keeping both guys would be to cover for the lack of receiving depth. The Redskins appear unlikely to add any front-line receivers in the offseason, and I stated in the wide receivers review that we should hope for either Malcolm Kelly or Marko Mitchell to take over the split end position so that Santana Moss can be moved into the slot full time. If those two don’t pan out or if injuries thin the receiving corps, we could certainly use either Cooley or Davis as a highly effective slot receiver, while the other teams with Yoder in a more traditional tight end role.

Previous position reviews: Offensive line, running backs, fullbacks, wide receivers.

1 comment:

  1. All this "conventional wisdom" about Shanny picking a QB at #4 is really starting to worry me... If we can fix the o-line, blocking won't matter quite AS much.