Dynasty tight end bargains
The Dynasty Bargain series continues with a look at some tight ends who could surprise you. From the oft-injured to the developing, one common theme emerges from the situations they will play in for the foreseeable future. All are conducive to plentiful tight end production.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins – TE – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Seferian-Jenkins was supposed to complete a stellar trifecta of giant pass catchers, along with Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. Jackson and Evans have both compiled 1,000-yard seasons since the start of 2014 (Evans has done it twice), when Seferian-Jenkins entered the league. But, to date, Seferian-Jenkins has only played 16 out of a possible 32 games and caught 42 balls for 559 yards and six touchdowns. To say he’s been a disappointment would be an understatement.
But the physical attributes that made Seferian-Jenkins so attractive coming out of college are still there. At 6-5 and 260 pounds he shares a similar build to world beater tight end Rob Gronkowski. And in just 220 snaps last season he finished with a positive PFF rating. Speaking of PFF ratings, he’s also playing with a much better quarterback (Jameis Winston, who finished as PFF’s 13th-best quarterback during his rookie season) than mediocre options Mike Glennon and Josh McCown, who finished 20th and 30th in PFF rankings – respectively – in Seferian-Jenkins’ rookie season.
With his first two disastrous seasons in the books, Seferian-Jenkins’ value may never be lower. But he’s still just 23 years old. If he could just put together a full season, he could show what he’s capable of. Now would be the time to make a move for Seferian-Jenkins and hope that consummate season materializes.
Jordan Cameron – TE – Miami Dolphins – Despite recent history, Cameron is another tight end who’s starting 2016 in a promising situation. Unlike Seferian-Jenkins, Cameron has beamed flashes of greatness in the NFL. He broke out in 2013 with 80 catches, 917 yards and seven touchdowns on his way to making the Pro Bowl. Unfortunately, Cameron couldn’t quite replicate his success in 2014, playing in only 10 games during an injury-riddled season.
But that wasn’t enough to deter the Dolphins, who signed Cameron before the 2015 season, hoping to find a repeat of his stellar 2013 season. 2015 was a mixed bag as Cameron ended the season second on the team in targets with 70 but converted only 35 to catches for 386 yards and three touchdowns. He also posted the worst PFF rating of his career at -8.7.
If the same coaching staff was in place for 2016, Cameron wouldn’t be on my list. But the arrival of former Broncos and Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase means everyone on the Dolphins offense deserves another look. In Gase’s three years as offensive coordinator, the tight end position has averaged 74 catches for 804 yards. Cameron has produced those numbers before and this is, perhaps, his best coaching option to get him there again. His two underperforming years drove down his price to the lowest it’s ever been. But with the presence of Gase, Cameron has a real shot to bounce back.
Ben Watson – TE – New Orleans Saints – Ben Watson is football old. There’s no way around that. It’s rare to post career-highs in receptions and yards in your age-34 season. But Watson has filled in for Jimmy Graham in the very friendly tight end position with New Orleans and showed he still had some gas in the tank, meaning he could be a dynasty bargain.
At first, Watson wasn’t the tight end most likely to succeed Graham (and replicate his production) in New Orleans. That honor originally went to 25-year-old Josh Hill. Hill was all the rage heading into the season but it quickly became apparent that the Saints were deferring to the veteran Watson. It took until Week 6 for Watson to finally break out with 10 receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons. He never looked back. Watson ended the season ranked seventh among tight ends in receptions and eighth in yards.
Obviously, his production is predicated on playing with pass-happy New Orleans. Currently, Watson is a free agent, but a return to the Saints makes sense for both sides. Due to his age, Watson won’t command a large or long deal. That’s music to the ears of the Saints front office as they’re still reeling from various cap mistakes piled up over the years. Watson seems like one of those forgotten players this offseason that you could snap for a low rookie pick. If so, his production, especially in New Orleans, could far outweigh his cost.
Clive Walford – TE – Oakland Raiders – The Raiders made an effort to upgrade their pass catchers in 2015, from signing Michael Crabtree in free agency to drafting Amari Cooper with the fourth overall pick. They also drafted 6-4, 240-pound Clive Walford in the third round out of the University of Miami.
Conventional wisdom says rookie tight ends always struggle and Walford was no different. He managed eight catches through the first half of the season and didn’t contribute much to the Raiders offense. But during the second half, Walford performed much better, with 20 catches for 235 yards. He even managed to establish himself as Derek Carr’s preference at the position over veteran Mychal Rivera by the end of the season. In all, he managed to out-target Rivera 32-28 while tallying more yards (329-280) and touchdowns (3-1). Compared to other tight ends around the league, Walford ended the season with PFF’s 14th-best receiving rating among all tight ends.
2016 should be an even better year for Walford as the Raiders have good reason to get him more involved early in the season. He has a year of experience under his belt and can build on his impressive performance to end 2015. Beyond 2016, his high draft position and team-friendly rookie contract will mean Walford has plenty of opportunity in Oakland. If quarterback Derek Carr can continue to build on his breakout in 2015, Walford could be a big beneficiary. Walford’s current status as a rotational player can only contribute to his low cost. Of all the tight ends mentioned above, Walford has the biggest breakout potential.