by Greg Gabriel, Buffalo Sports Page NFL Expert

The Buffalo Bills new offensive coordinator Brain Daboll spent a good part of his NFL coaching career with the New England Patriots where they had Rob Gronkowski at the tight end position. Gronkowski is one of the most productive tight ends in the history of the game. Now that Daboll is in Buffalo, it is an unknown just how important the tight end position will be in the Bills offense for 2018.

Going into training camp, there are currently five tight ends on the Bills roster and as I see it, not one is a dominate NFL player. In 2017, Charles Clay was the leading receiver from the tight end group with 49 receptions for 558 yards and two touchdowns. That was actually his least productive season in the last five. He has averaged just over 50 catches so 2017 was actually a down year for Clay.

Molding Clay

Clay has adequate tight end size, he is athletic and has good to real good play speed. He is the most complete tight end on the Bills roster and because of that he is asked to do more than the others. Clay is an adequate blocker but not exactly what the Bills would like when he is asked to play in tight to the line. Clay is best utilized when flex out and used as a “move” tight end.

Why No “Y”

At this time I don’t know if the Bills have a top “Y” tight end. The Y lines up in tight and has to be a good blocker. Having a tight end who can be a top blocker can be a big plus to the run game. Right now the best blocker the Bill may have is Khari Lee. Lee doesn’t have the bulk that many blocking tight ends have but he has some explosiveness through his hips and knows how to get and keep good position. Lee has never been known to be a top receiving threat, and for his career he only has one reception. This will be a make or break camp for him.

Who’s Number 2?

The number two tight end on the Bills roster is third year vet Nick O’Leary. O’Leary runs good routes and has very good hands but he lacks top end speed and is very average as a blocker. Logan Thomas is probably the most athletic tight end on the roster but is still very raw because he was a quarterback in college. Thomas has the natural physical traits that many teams look for at the position but so far in his career he has shown that he can’t block. Unless he can show an improvement in that area he may struggle to make the roster.

The two other tight ends on the Bills roster are Keith Towbridge in his second year, and Jason Croom, who is a first year player from Tennessee. Towbridge is interesting in that he has ideal size to play the Y effectively but still needs some work on his blocking technique. It will be fun to see how he progresses in camp. Croom is an athletic guy who will compete for a move tight end spot on the roster.

Overall, I don’t think tight end could be considered to be a position of strength on the team. Clay is by far the most talented but after him there are a lot of questions. If the Bills could find a top blocking tight end who is a reliable receiver than Clay could play outside and be much more effective. Being that the Bills offense is new this year it will interesting to see how each player is utilized in Daboll’s scheme

Greg has already broken down the Bills receivers, offensive line, defensive line and linebackers.

Greg Gabriel

Gabriel has spent most of his adult life as an evaluator for various NFL clubs. He started his career in 1991 working for the Buffalo Bills as a part time scout under dormer Bills Director of Player Personnel Norm Pollom. He left the Bills in June 1984 to become the Great Lakes area scout for National Football Scouting. Following the 1984 season, Gabriel joined the New York Giants as their Midwest area scout and was promoted to Director of Player Development in 1996. The Giants went to three Super Bowls and won two during Gabriel’s time with the club.

Following the Giants appearance versus the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV, Greg became Director of College Scouting for the Chicago Bears under General Manager Jerry Angelo. He held that position until June of 2010. During his time with Chicago, the Bears won three Division titles and the 2006 NFC Championship. In his nine Drafts with the Bears, the team drafted 12 future Pro Bowl performers such perennial Pro Bowler Matt Forte, Tommie Harris, Devin Hester, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman.

In the 2012 – 2013 season, Gabriel was a consultant for the Philadelphia Eagles Scouting Department and has since done some small scouting roles for various NFL clubs.

Since leaving the NFL Gabriel has been a contributor for the National Football Post, the Bleacher Report and more recently Pro Football Weekly. He also is both a writer and contributor for WSCR (670the Score) in Chicago. The last three years he has authored the Pro Football Weekly Draft Guide.
Gabriel grew up in Amherst and is a 1974 graduate of Canisius College where he was a member of the football team. He and his wife Robin currently resides in the Chicago area.

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