OTA’s are underway. The draft and free agency is in the rear view mirror, and the NFL calendar is steaming towards the new season with the Summer months flying by like seconds. Last week, I looked at the Kansas City Chiefs’ cap situation, noting that is unlikely for the roster to undergo any major changes over the next couple of seasons.
One position group on the roster that is not receiving much attention this offseason – mainly due to the continuity and lack of change at the position – is tight end. The Kansas City Chiefs are likely to take three tight ends to their 53-man regular-season roster, but on the depth chart, there are four tight ends with a very realistic chance of making the roster, so who is the one to miss out?
The Chiefs have one of the best starting tight ends in Travis Kelce. Baby Gronk, as he is aptly named, is outstanding in the passing game. His after the catch ability is such that Andy Reid regularly employs tight end screens. Kelce is phenomenal with the ball in his hands, a good route runner, and utilizes his size well in the end zone.
Kelce is not the best run blocker in the world, he does not play up to his size in the run game, but he more than makes up for that with his 875 yards and 5 touchdowns. Who joins Kelce on the roster, however, is far from certain.
The likely back up is Demetrius Harris again. The former college basketball player has shown in glimpses great athletic ability, especially in the passing game. He has great height, standing tall at 6-foot-7, and has shown decent hands, hauling in a terrific touchdown in the Week 17 win against the Oakland Raiders.
However, Harris has now been with the Chiefs for two full seasons and in all honesty, his development is not progressing as expected. Harris only caught 7 passes last season for 74 yards. While Kelce will always dominate the targets from the tight end position for Kansas City, 7 catches is simply not good enough, and with some promising tight ends on the roster, Harris could be stunting the development of others while not contributing to the success of the team.
Speaking of the promising tight ends, one such player is now second-year player James O’Shaughnessy.
In only seven games, O’Shaughnessy, as a rookie in a difficult to learn Andy Reid offense, caught six passes for 87 yards. He showed some outstanding athleticism in the passing game, especially after the catch. Built in the same mode as Kelce, O’Shaughnessy did struggle in the run game, meaning he was on the field for limited amount of snaps. However, graduating from small school Illinois State, it was always going to be difficult to handle the huge step up to the NFL.
He showed outstanding potential in the passing game, and could well develop into a better player than Harris, who is currently listed above O’Shaughnessy on the depth chart. Andy Reid and John Dorsey do seem to have faith in the development of Harris, and with him only beginning to play the game in college, he is still learning the nuances of the position.
However, O’Shaughnessy showed more potential in his rookie year than Harris did in his second season, and if the 6-foot-4, 245 pound tight end develops as expected this offseason, he should become the back up tight end behind Kelce.
The final man with a chance of making the roster is Brian Parker. In terms of athletic ability, Parker cannot hold a candle to either Harris or O’Shaugnessy. He does not have the same blend of size and speed, can be comfortably covered by linebackers dropping into coverage, and in no way will ever supplant Kelce, Harris or O’Shaugnessy in the passing game.
However, a weakness in all the other tight ends is their blocking, especially in the run game, something that Andy Reid asks a lot of in his tight ends. This is where Parker is simply top quality. He is quick off the snap, his technique outstanding, he has fantastic hand placement, and then utilizes his strength in dominating opposing defenders. He is also good in space, on screens and jet sweeps, two tactics that Reid’s version of the West Coast offense uses frequently, and excels in two and three tight end sets.
This is where the headache comes in terms of the tight end position. If Kelce gets injured, the Chiefs, while having two talented pass catchers, have very little experience on their roster. They also lack a good, run blocking tight end if Parker is indeed the one to miss out on the likely three roster spots. It will be interesting to see how the position shakes up come August.
There is a lot of uncertainty associated with the Chiefs tight ends, and other than Kelce as the true number one, a lot of questions must be answered.