With higher volume passing attacks, it seems tight ends breakout more frequently than ever. Last year, tight ends such as Travis Kelce and Delanie Walker burst onto the scene. It also wasn’t too long ago that Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas and others had their initial seasons that put them on the map. The players in this group all will have varying roles on their respective teams, but they have the chance to really make the most out of their opportunity.
Tyler Eifert, Bengals: After dislocating his elbow in week one, Eifert’s second season in the league was essentially over before it began. Finally healthy and with Jermaine Gresham out of the picture, there is a lot to like about Eifert entering 2015. Reports from Bengals camp have indicated that Andy Dalton has formed a nice rapport with him and the defense hasn’t had an answer to stop it. At 6’6’ 250, Eifert has the size to make him a very dangerous red-zone threat and with his athletic ability allows the Bengals to try things they otherwise might not have with Gresham.
Even with Marvin Jones currently healthy and Mohamed Sanu in the picture, it is a very real possibility that Eifert is the Bengals number two receiver behind A.J. Green this season. These days it seems we have at least one or two young tight ends taking their game to the next level each year. Based off ability and opportunity, Eifert seems primed to fit the bill.
Jordan Reed, Redskins: Entering his third year, nobody has questioned Reed’s talents (I had him in last year’s installment as well). It has always been durability (or lack thereof) that gets the best of him. Ironically, he now enters what could be a “make or break” third year due to the other injuries on the Redskins tight end depth chart. Niles Paul (the projected starter) and Logan Paulsen both had season ending injuries which means Reed figures to have a bigger role than usual. With his natural pass catching ability and the mismatches he creates in the slot, Reed has the potential to catch 70 plus passes this year.
He can also create after the catch which makes him a nice safety valve for Robert Griffin III or whichever alternative between Kirk Cousins or Colt McCoy that Jay Gruden will have starting by week eight. Of course, Reed will have to stay healthy to live up to his end of the deal. He had a knee procedure done in the offseason and also has a history of hamstring (soft tissue injuries can linger) and concussions so not exactly a great combo. If Reed does manage to stay healthy over the course of a full season, he should be a huge boost for the Redskins passing attack.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Buccaneers: At 6’5’ 260, Seferian-Jenkins has the size and the athletic ability to become a presence for years to come. His rookie year was filled with injuries as he had a stress fracture in his foot that dated back to college which lingered and also had a back issue arise later in the year. Even though Seferian-Jenkins will at best be third in the pecking order behind Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, he is entering a very beneficial system for him. If his play in college was any indication, Jameis Winston targeted his tight ends pretty frequently and Dirk Koetter’s scheme is also very tight end friendly.
How friendly is it? Other than his years with Tony Gonzalez and the Falcons, Koetter had three years during as the Jaguars offensive coordinator where he targeted Marcedes Lewis over 70 plus times. And Lewis’ supporting casts included players such as Reggie Williams, Matt Jones and Dennis Northcutt as the lead receivers. With players such as Evans and Jackson helping open up some of the field, Seferian-Jenkins could be in for a very nice season despite still being a relatively raw talent.
Richard Rodgers, Packers: Usually it’s another Rodgers by the way of California that’s mentioned when discussing the Packers, but this one has the chance to make a name for himself in his own right. Rodgers was the second tight end behind Andrew Quarless last year, but is currently atop the Packers depth chart for 2015. While he struggled in blocking, Rodgers did show potential as a receiver and at 6’4’ 257 his size makes him an intriguing red-zone option.
While he never will be confused as a primary option in the Packers attack, Rodgers figures to see some additional targets as a result of Jordy Nelson’s season ending injury. From a fantasy football perspective, there is a chance Rodgers could be a tease as consistency on a week-to-week basis could be difficult. But with Aaron Rodgers at the helm, anything is possible. While it may not end up being a true breakout campaign, the potential for Rodgers to be an important part of the Packers offense with 50 to 60 targets directed his way is very real.