With training camp now officially open, I’m re-examining the State of the Buffalo Bills’ roster, going position-by-position.
Here’s an in-depth look at the tight ends:
- Dawson Knox
- Tyler Kroft
- Lee Smith
- Tommy Sweeney
- Nate Becker
- Jason Croom
After several injuries and a revolving door at the position during last year’s training camp and preseason, Knox wound up the team’s No. 1 pass-catching tight end as a rookie, and he put together a really nice season, finishing with the second-most yards among all NFL rookie tight ends with 388. He showed good route-running, excellent run after the catch ability, and became a solid blocker. However, he had too many dropped passes. It seemed like there was at least one a week. Knox has a ton of potential and can be a matchup problem for a lot of defenses, but the drops have to go away. There’s hope that will happen as he gets more experience and reps. He didn’t have much of either before last season since he was a quarterback in high school and moved to tight end during his college career at Ole Miss, catching a total of only 39 passes.
Kroft was supposed to be the team’s top tight end when they singed him last offseason, evidenced by his three-year, $18.75 million contract, but that plan was altered really fast when he suffered a broken foot on the very first day of organized team activities. That allowed Knox and Sweeney opportunities to get more reps, and both players impressed. So Kroft suddenly found himself not only sidelined, but down the depth chart.
After initially trying to come back in Week 3 against his former team, the Cincinnati Bengals, Kroft suffered a setback and had to sit out a few more weeks. He finally made his Bills debut in Week 7 against the Miami Dolphins, played every game the rest of the season, and caught six passes for 71 yards, including the game-winning touchdown in the team’s Sunday Night Football win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, which clinched their playoff berth.
Kroft restructured his contract this offseason and will now be entering the final year of his deal.
Fans complain about how often Smith is used, but he was on the field for less than 30% of the offensive snaps last year (and more than 25% in only one of the last seven game), and is one of the best blockers in the NFL for his position. Almost every team has a guy like Smith, and it’s good to have one. The Bills also gave Smith a three-year, $9 million deal, and cutting him would only save $1.75 million versus $1.5 million still on the cap as dead money.
Sweeney was placed on the Active/PUP (physically unable to perform) list this week with a foot injury. That means he still counts on the team’s active roster. Last season, Sweeney played the first five games until Kroft came back, then was inactive the rest of the season except for the finale when Knox rested. He caught five passes for 76 yards in that game and eight for 114 on the season. Starting camp on the PUP list certainly won’t help his chances during a pretty contested training camp battle for roster spots.
Becker was on the practice squad all season, then re-signed to a future/reserve contract for 2020. I felt he did a good job in his limited opportunities during camp when there were several injuries to guys in front of him. He’s a nice insurance policy to have at camp since he knows the system, but is still a long shot to make the team.
Croom was the Bills’ leading tight end as far as catches (22) and yards (259) in 2018. He may have been in danger of not making the roster in 2019, but an injury allowed the team to put him on injured reserve and give him another shot in 2020. He does offer good athleticism and can be a nice option in the receiving game, but with the competition in front of and around him, it will probably be an uphill battle this coming summer.
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