Great teams change and set trends in the NFL. The good ones usually catch on early. The bad ones are usually left behind scratching their head, wondering what the missing ingredient has been. The Buffalo Bills clearly are not a great team, or even a good one yet. You can call them “mediocre”, “below-average”, or whatever else you’d like to avoid the truth: the Buffalo Bills are a bad team.
This isn’t news by any stretch of the imagination, certainly not to anyone who is a fan of a team other than the Bills, or even their loyal non-delusional fans. But why have they been so bad? There’s a myriad of reasons, some true, and some fabricated justifications conjured up by loyal fans. The bottom-line is, the Bills have consistently been behind the NFL learning curve as an organization. Sure, the future is bright with Doug Whaley as GM, but he has his work cut out for him.
The latest example: the continued neglect of a “premium position” in a league becoming ever more passing-centric. The position I’m referring to is tight end. And with all due respect to Scott Chandler, an end-zone specialist coming off a major injury and a seventh-round pick rookie about sums up Buffalo’s 2013 outlook at tight end in the passing game.
Recently, Joe Bussell, the former Special Events & Team Operations Coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, told me via Twitter that he considers tight end a premium position in the NFL. When asked why, he replied “versatility & ability to create matchup advantages is so vital.”
Let’s unpack that a little bit. The versatility Joe is referring to is being able to block, catch the ball, and on the rare occasion, being able to run the ball. Not too many tight ends can do all three. Off the top of my head, only Aaron Hernandez comes to mind, and he might never do those things again for an NFL team. But I’ll take blocking and catching.
The matchup advantages Joe is referring to is likely the run-pass conundrum that every good offense presents to the defense. As in, if the tight end is matched up against a linebacker, the quarterback knows there’s a mismatch in a passing play. For you basketball fans, it’d be like a point guard trying to guard a power forward down low. If the defense lines up a corner or a cover safety on the tight end, the offense knows it has the advantage in the run game.
Teams that are setting the trend in this area are utilizing two such versatile, mismatch creating weapons at tight end. I have to credit Bill Belichick with starting this trend and potentially revolutionizing the game by picking Rob Gronkowski and Hernandez, two athletic and versatile tight ends, in the 2010 draft.
The good teams have followed suit since then: Baltimore, in the 2010 draft as well, paired up Ed Dickson with Dennis Pitta. Cincinnati had drafted Jermaine Gresham in the first round of the 2010 draft but that did not stop them from selecting Tyler Eifert in the first round of the 2013 draft. St. Louis was able to pair up 2011 second round pick Lance Kendricks with free-agent acquisition Jared Cook. Indianapolis not only got the best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning last year, they also drafted Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen in the second and third round, respectively. Philadelphia paired up Brent Celek with 2013 second round pick Zach Ertz. Cowboys nabbed Gavin Escobar in the second round of the same draft to pair up with, and learn from, All-Pro Jason Witten. And the best roster in the NFL got better when the 49ers drafted Vance McDonald in the second round of the 2013 draft to pair with Pro-Bowler Vernon Davis.
The last time the Bills drafted a tight end in the first three rounds of the draft was Kevin Everett in 2005. On the roster, currently, is the aforementioned Scott Chandler and Chris Gagg, along with blocking specialist, Lee Smith, and journeyman, Mike Caussin. Also, as mentioned earlier, Scott Chandler is coming off a torn ACL from Week 16 last year. To say the Bills are behind the curve, is actually an understatement.
As long as they stay behind on these NFL trends, the Bills will continue to be a bad team. Whether they make the jump will be up to the new front office, starting with Doug Whaley. If EJ Manuel turns into the franchise signal-caller he is pegged to be, he will need more weapons in the passing game. Well, regardless of who is quarterbacking the Buffalo Bills in 2014, the team needs to stock up on tight ends and jump on this trend before it’s too late.