Top tight ends hitting free agency
Thomas Maney takes a look at the best free agent tight ends on the market this offseason.
Top tight ends hitting free agency
Several big-name tight ends are set to hit free agency this offseason, and teams should have a good selection to consider, whether they’re looking for blocking or receiving help. Here are PFF’s top tight ends hitting the free agent market:
1. Ladarius Green
2015 team: San Diego Chargers
Green, who will be 26 at the start of the season, graded well in limited snaps over the last three seasons. He was on the field for 686 plays in 2015, lining up both inline and in the slot with a career-high 37 receptions. Green provides a solid threat after the catch – his average of 6.0 yards after the catch ranked in the top 15 at the position, as did his five forced missed tackles. Slightly inconsistent as a blocker, but has shown capability there, particularly in 2013.
2. Zach Miller
2015 team: Chicago Bears
Miller is an interesting case — he was drafted in 2009 but to this point has only logged 1109 career snaps, and in 2015, he saw his first regular season playing time since 2011. He enjoyed a solid year in Chicago, posting the seventh-highest receiving grade among TEs while catching 81 percent of passes thrown his way and forcing 11 missed tackles – both figures ranked among the top ten at the position. Miller was particularly great late in the year with 18 of his 34 catches coming during the three-game stretch from Week 14 to 16. It will be interesting to see what happens given that he’s over 30 years old with a somewhat lackluster career resume and last season graded negatively as a run blocker. Teams could see his low mileage as a positive trait, however, and based on his play in 2015, Miller can definitely contribute in the passing game.
3. Craig Stevens
2015 team: Tennessee Titans
Any team looking for a run-blocking specialist should consider Stevens, who’s graded positively as a blocker for six straight seasons and in 2015 ranked second among TEs there. He’s also coming off of a career-high receiving grade after catching 12-of-13 targets, although this is the first season he’s graded positively in the passing game. There are few tight ends who provide the blocking that Stevens does, so his skill set should garner some attention even if he doesn’t offer much as a receiver.
4. Coby Fleener
2015 team: Indianapolis Colts
Coming off of his rookie contract, Fleener caught more than 50 receptions and 80 targets in each of the last three seasons. He’s graded mostly above-average as a receiver, though had a down year in 2015 and is less of a threat after the catch than several other players on this list. As a blocker, he’s been inconsistent, looking more adept at blocking in space on screen passes than at the point of attack in the run game.
5. Jermaine Gresham
2015 team: Arizona Cardinals
Gresham is back on this list after playing one year in Arizona, where he was far less involved in the passing game than he’d been in Cincinnati. Last season he caught just 18 passes, down from an average of 58 over his first five years. Even with that production, Gresham still finished with a below average receiving grade in five of six seasons, although he consistently ranked among the most elusive tight ends with 56 broken tackles in his career. He graded much better as a blocker over that span, and maintained that consistency in 2015 with solid grades in screen and run blocking. Age is a factor as well – he’ll be 28 at the start of next season.
6. Rhett Ellison
2015 team: Minnesota Vikings
Much like Green, Ellison has graded well with a somewhat low snap count over the last four seasons. What makes Ellison different is that he’s more of a blocking specialist, spending most of his spans lined up inline or in the backfield with solid run blocking grades over his career. When the ball is thrown his way, he’s been roughly average. Notably, Ellison tore his patellar tendon in week 17 which will likely scare some teams off. Also concerning is that he’s graded a bit worse each year after an outstanding rookie campaign in 2012.
7. Ben Watson
2015 team: New Orleans Saints
The offseason departure of Jimmy Graham from the Saints resulted in a career receiving year for the 35 year-old Watson, who caught 74 of 102 targets for 825 yards and six touchdowns in 1,003 snaps (all career-highs). Much of his work came as a blocker early in his career, but he’s fallen sharply there over the last two seasons and in 2015 ranked as the third-worst run blocker of 73 qualifying tight ends. Even so, Watson clearly still has something to offer at his age after a season during which he made several spectacular catches for the Saints.
8. Marcedes Lewis
2015 team: Jacksonville Jaguars
Lewis declined slightly over the last two seasons, posting below-average grades as both a blocker and receiver, but prior to that was consistently positive from 2007 to 2013. He’s elusive in the passing game with an average of more than eight yards after the catch per reception over the last three seasons (9.9 in 2015) and over his career forced at least 10 missed tackles several times. His blocking has been even better, whether it’s in pass protection or run blocking. If he can regain his early season form, Lewis should provide a solid short term option in all facets and at worst can still provide value as a blocker.