The Buffalo Bills finally had solid play at the tight end position for the first time in years, with Scott Chandler becoming a focal point of the offense. However, Chandler tore his ACL in the last game of the year against the Miami Dolphins, and the timetable for his return is unclear. Aside from Adrian Peterson’s miraculous recovery from an ACL injury, they usually take up to a full year to recover.
Aside from Chandler, the only tight ends under contract for 2013 are Lee Smith, Derek Buttles, and recently signed Joe Sawyer. Neither of these players have ever seen significant playing time, and aside from Smith, are generally considered to be practice squad additions and training camp bodies.
The tight end position is developing into a key part of most NFL offenses in recent years, as players have turned more from being a sixth offensive lineman, to becoming a larger receiving weapon; with speed to outrun linebackers and size to out-jump safeties.
Regardless of Chandler’s injury, he only has one year remaining on his contract, and the tight end position is a bigger need for the team than most have been making it out to be.
Martellus Bennett, 26, New York Giants
Martellus Bennett finally earned the chance to see significant playing time this year with the New York Giants. He spent four years with the Dallas Cowboys, where he sat behind Jason Witten, before the Giants signed him to a one-year deal for the 2012 season. The 6’6” 265 pound tight end caught 55 passes for 626 yards and five touchdowns this year. Bennett was far more than just a receiving threat, as he ranked as ProFootballFocus’ 3rd best run-blocking tight end in the league, while allowing just three quarterback pressures in 97 pass blocking attempts.
Delanie Walker, 28, San Francisco 49ers
Delanie Walker is the type of player the Bills hoped they gained when they signed FB/TE Dorin Dickerson last offseason. Walker is just 6’0” and 242 pounds, but he’s utilized in a multitude of ways in Jim Harbaugh’s offense, as a wide receiver, a fullback, a tight end, a gunner on special teams, and even a reserve kick returner. Drafted in the 6th round of the 2006 NFL Draft out of Missouri, Walker has used his versatility and athleticism to consistently earn roster spots. In 2012, Walker caught 21 passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns. However, out of the 30 “catchable” passes thrown in his direction, he dropped nine of them, a 30% drop rate according to ProFootballFocus. However, Walker was best used as a deep threat, as he caught eight of the nine passes attempted for 20+ yards. Walker is one of the best run-blocking tight ends in the National Football League, and was the 7th ranked pass blocker, despite being asked to pass-block only 29 times.
Anthony Fasano, 28, Miami Dolphins
Anthony Fasano isn’t going to “wow” you in any one particular aspect of his game, but he is a solid, all-around tight end. In his seven years since being drafted in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft, Fasano has caught 205 passes for 2,373 yards and 25 touchdowns. He doesn’t offer much in terms of blocking ability, but he is a reliable receiver that could be the perfect security blanket for a young quarterback.
Fred Davis, 27, Washington Redskins
Fred Davis hasn’t lived up to the high expectations given to the former Southern California standout tight end that won the 2007 John Mackey Award, but he’s a nice tight end prospect. He slowly worked his way into the Redskins’ offense before finally eclipsing Chris Cooley as the starter in 2011, when he caught 59 passes for 796 yards and three scores, despite missing four games due to a suspension. He tore his ACL early in 2012, but the 6’4” 247 pounder should command some interest on the open market.
Jared Cook Jr., 25, Tennessee Titans
Jared Cook is the most intriguing of the free agent tight ends. At 6’5” and 248 pounds, Cook has incredible speed for his massive frame. The Titans don’t ask him to block, but he’s the prototypical receiving tight end that more and more offenses are turning to. He runs a 4.4 40-yard dash, and caught 44 passes for 523 yards and four touchdowns this year.
Dustin Keller, 28, New York Jets
Dustin Keller was a highly thought of prospect coming out of Purdue n 2008, and the athletic tight end has been a favorite target of Mark Sanchez throughout their careers. Keller missed most of the 2012 season with an injury, but in his five-year career, he’s caught 241 passes for 2,876 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Brandon Myers, 27, Oakland Raiders
Brandon Myers shocked the National Football League this season, when the former 6th round draft pick out of Iowa caught 79 passes for 806 yards and four touchdowns this season. Myers was one of the worst blocking tight ends in the entire league, as he allowed nine quarterback pressures, but his ability as a receiver is unquestioned. In his first three seasons in the National Football League, Myers played just 706 snaps combined, before earning over 1,000 in 2012.