For some reason I was initially caught off guard when I heard that Niles Paul was moving to tight end. But after only a moment's thought I was actually surprised by how obvious it seemed in retrospect, and in fact was sort of bothered that I hadn't thought of it beforehand.
Here's what he did well last year:
- Run block.
- Force fair catches as a gunner on punt coverage.
Here's what he didn't do:
- Get open on pass routes, pretty much ever.
Now if you know me, you know I like the guys who do the (so-called) little things like block and contribute on special teams. But the reality of the modern NFL and all it's specialized packages means that your entire depth chart is going to be forced to play from scrimmage at some point, so no one can get away with doing just the little things. As such, given the additions to the wide receiver corps Niles was going to have a hard time keeping his roster spot. So if you think he's a guy who can help the team, the challenge is to find a role which plays to his strengths and minimizes his weaknesses.
There remains the question of whether Niles has ever gotten into a three point stance in his life, and if he would be able to hold up as a blocker on the line. But in the modern NFL, including the Redskins offense, multi-TE sets often have a tight end flexed, lined up in the slot, or in backfield motion as an H-back. So there is a lot of flexibility in how to use him.
And as a tight end he would of course be more often matched up against safeties or linebackers on his pass routes, so just maybe he could contribute as a pass catcher too. But if his impact in the passing game still proves to be minimal, that's less of a problem if he's the second tight end on the field instead of a wide receiver.
Now this doesn't mean Niles is safe, necessarily. Fred Davis is still around, getting a one year trial to see if he is worthy of a long term contract. And Chris Cooley may not be ready for the glue factory just yet. But there are big questions about both of those guys, especially in a long term sense. So while Niles will in all likelihood be competing against others for the third spot, there's nothing wrong with looking at as many options as possible that could eventually replace Cooley or Davis if needed.
This move sure seems to give Niles Paul the best chance to a) make the team and b) contribute on the field, so I'm all for it.