2015 Top Free Agents: Tight Ends
You’ve surely had a flip through the PFF Free Agent Tracker by this point, so this set of articles will build nicely on what you’ve already seen. This, our yearly effort to sort the top free agent options at each position, will present a position a day and offer a Top-10 of what’s available.
It’s more than just looking at our grades, but factoring in longevity, age, injuries and so much more in order to tell you who we think are the best gets out there.
1. Julius Thomas – Signed with Jacksonville
2014 Grade: +5.4
2014 Snaps: 754
Topping our list is the 26-year-old Thomas, who broke out in 2013 after totaling just 50 snaps in his first two seasons. With 83 receptions and 12 touchdowns, he finished with a +9.1 receiving grade, good for third among tight ends. It took him nine games to reach the end zone the same number of times in 2014, but he dropped off late in the season while missing several games due to injury.
Blocking is a slightly different story for him. While solid in pass protection, Thomas has struggled at the point of attack in the run game. To be fair though, he improved in that area from his league-worst -14.7 effort in 2013, grading at -4.7 in 2014.
2. Charles Clay – (Transition Tag by Miami)
2014 Grade: +4.9
2014 Snaps: 766
Another player from the 2011 draft class, Clay is one of the NFL’s most elusive tight ends, having forced 28 missed tackles over the last two seasons. His work in pass protection was somewhat shaky with five pressures allowed in 67 snaps, but we saw a big improvement in run blocking from 2013 while he maintained his performance as a receiver. Clay also substantially cut down on drops in 2014, finishing with one of the lowest Drop Rates at the position (3.33%). Versatility could make him an attractive option for teams; he’s primarily played from a standard, in-line tight end position, but has logged plenty of snaps out wide and in the backfield over the last several seasons.
3. Jordan Cameron – Signed with Miami
2014 Grade: -10.2
2014 Snaps: 487
Much like Thomas, how teams evaluate Cameron will depend on how they weight the value of blocking versus receiving. Despite uncertainty at quarterback in Cleveland, he’s been a productive receiver, catching 80 passes in 2013 and grading positively there in each of the last two seasons. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for his work on running plays as he compiled a -10.5 grade on 217 run plays last year. Cameron particularly struggled against Khalil Mack in the team’s Week 8 game against the Raiders. Blocking limitations aside, Cameron could be a solid addition to a team’s passing attack, having gained 1.93 Yards per Route Run and 17.7 yards per reception in 2014.
4. Virgil Green – Re-signed with Denver
2014 Grade: +1.8
2014 Snaps: 434
Green is the second Bronco to appear on this list and is coming off of his best regular season (+5.7 overall) since being drafted in 2011. Unlike his teammate, however, his entire grade came from positive run and screen blocking. Last season Green spent almost all of his snaps lined up as an in-line tight end or in the backfield at fullback, running a route on just 22% of his 434 snaps. He caught just seven of his 25 career passes, though gained an average of 7.1 yards after the catch on those plays. Green can probably be had for a bargain and will be just 27 when the season starts. He’s also a good enough athlete to develop into a threat in the passing game to go along with his positive play as a blocker. Even as he ended the season poorly with a -3.9 performance in Denver’s playoff loss, Green will be a player to keep an eye on once free agency starts.
5. Owen Daniels – Signed with Denver
2014 Grade: -0.1
2014 Snaps: 946
At age 32 when the 2015 season starts, Daniels may not be as useful as he was, but still provides a veteran presence and is a decent option in the passing grade after finishing last season at +4.9 there, including a +2.8 receiving grade in the playoffs. Teams might be wary that he just posted his lowest run blocking grade in the PFF era (-4.1), but he’s still good enough to provide value in a more limited role. There’s a chance that his blocking will rebound, given that he’s graded positively at the point of attack for most of his career.
6. Jermaine Gresham
2014 Grade: -3.5
2014 Snaps: 900
Gresham is similar to a player such as Hakeem Nicks, where it’s hard to imagine teams not being enticed by his size and first-round pedigree, despite the lack of production. He’s posted just one positive overall grade since being drafted, but is coming off a season in which he surrendered just one pressure in 109 snaps in pass protection, and was fairly effective when he got the ball outside of three fumbles.
Gresham dropped just one pass in 78 targets last season, while scoring five times and forced 11 missed tackles. In fact, he’s forced 37 missed tackles over the last three seasons and has gained more than 5 yards after the catch per reception. Unfortunately, he’s also fumbled eight times during that span and in 2014 only two tight ends had more than his six penalties. Age is in his favor, though, and he likely won’t be expensive, so he should still see some interest on the open market.
7. Daniel Fells – Re-signed with New York Giants
2014 Grade: +6.3
2014 Snaps: 434
After bouncing around the league since being undrafted in 2006, Fells enjoyed somewhat of a breakout season in 2012 with the Patriots. He played primarily as a run blocker, grading at +10.8 there and +12.1 overall before being cut loose and subsequently missing the entire 2013 season. He was back with the Giants in 2014, again playing the bulk of his snaps on run play, and again graded positively (+6.3 overall) as both a blocker and receiver catching 16 passes, scoring on four of them. He should be a very interesting player to watch as free agency progresses, given that he missed 2013 and will be 31 when the season starts. Not a bad option in a limited role as a blocking tight end.
8. Lance Kendricks – Re-signed with St. Louis
2014 Grade: -3.7
2014 Snaps: 613
Kendricks has graded slightly positive as a receiver over the past two seasons, and appears to be adept at holding onto the ball. He dropped just one pass in 36 targets last season, good for one of the lowest drop rates at the position. His blocking numbers are interesting since he followed up a combined +17.9 run blocking grade in his first two seasons with a -10.3 mark in the last two lining up primarily in-line. As is the case with many of the players on this list he’s still young and has shown ability as a blocker in previous seasons that should be enticing to teams.
9. Tony Moeaki – Signed with Atlanta
2014 Grade: -1.4
2014 Snaps: 229
Moeaki got off to a blistering start in his rookie season with the Chiefs, grading at +21.8 overall and +19.8 as a run blocker. He never reclaimed that form after injuries derailed his 2011 and 2013 seasons, with a slightly positive overall grade in the second of two full seasons he’s played (2012). In 2014 he joined the Seahawks down the stretch and was inconsistent as a blocker, flashing against the Eagles and the Rams, but struggling against the 49ers and in the playoffs against Green Bay. Should Moeaki remain healthy, he could add value in the running game and is a potential steal if he ever regains his rookie form, though teams shouldn’t expect much from him as a receiver.
10. Niles Paul – Re-signed with Washington
2014 Grade: -12.9
2014 Snaps: 585
Similar to several players on this list, Paul offers almost all receiving and little blocking, fitting given he’s a former receiver. He caught a career high 39 passes for 507 yards for Washington in his previous campaign, which was a huge increase after not breaking 10 receptions in any of his first three seasons, while showing ability after the catch (6.8 YAC per reception). Blocking was an issue, as evidenced by his -12.0 grade there, though he improved in the second half of the season after particularly rough outings in Weeks 3 and 6. Teams looking at Paul will likely look at his increased workload and production this season, as well as his age and contribution on special teams (16 tackles over the last two seasons).
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