Eagles TE Zach Ertz did his homework and was told that retired offensive line coach Hudson Houck still trained players. So he called Houck, who mentored Hall of Famers Anthony Munoz and Bruce Matthews at Southern Cal and coached the great Cowboys lines of the 1990s, out of the blue. Soon after, they spent two weeks together in San Diego working on blocking.
Ertz' time with Houck was just one part of his offseason plan. He spent a month focusing on strength training, another on circuit training and additional time on mixed martial arts training. He also sought out former tight end great Tony Gonzalez, who instructed Ertz on the importance of preparation and tenacity.
The 24-year-old Ertz's goals are high. He said he wants to be mentioned someday alongside Gonzalez and others in the NFL pantheon of tight ends. But he knows he can't get there if he's playing only 50 percent of offensive snaps, as he did last season.
There's ample reason, though, to believe that Ertz will finally become a focal point of Chip Kelly's offense. He caught a franchise-record 15 passes against the Redskins in the penultimate game of last season. And when asked to explain last month how he'll compensate for the loss of wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, Kelly prominently mentioned Ertz.
"I think he's still growing, and I think Zach will be the first one to tell you that," Kelly said at the NFL meeting. "I think he's working extremely hard in the offseason at continuing to get better."
Ertz was the #13 TE in both standard and PPR formats despite only playing half of the Eagles’ snaps in his second year. Ertz played mostly (73%) on passing downs, so if his playing time is going to increase, a majority of the additional snaps are likely to come in run formations. Still, there’s upside with Ertz if he begins to see starter’s snaps. The Eagles lost their leading receiver -- DeSean Jackson and then Jeremy Maclin -- in back-to-back seasons, so there will be opportunity from a targets standpoint. If Chip Kelly moves Jordan Matthews outside, then Ertz is a candidate to fill Matthews role in the slot, assuming Kelly is willing to play more two-TE sets to get Ertz on the field. Ertz is currently going in the 8th round of early PPR drafts.
After finishing 2-14 with one of the league’s worst offenses, the Buccaneers replaced interim OC Marcus Arroyo with a proven NFL offensive coordinator in Dirk Koetter, and the one player who could benefit the most is Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who is expected to be featured in Tampa Bay’s new offense.
The Bucs are so high on Seferian-Jenkins that he’s expected to be the starter in 2015 and the team did not go out in free agency and add a new tight end. The Bucs re-structured Myers’ contract to reflect the role of a backup tight end, and also re-signed blocking tight end Luke Stocker, but that’s it. The Bucs aren’t expected to address the tight end position in the draft, either, which means it’s up to Seferian-Jenkins to produce in 2015 and live up to his potential after an injury-riddled rookie campaign that ended with him on injured reserve due to an ailing back.
Seferian-Jenkins will be a featured weapon in Koetter’s offense and he should return to the form he showed in Washington when he hauled in 146 catches for 1,840 yards and 21 touchdowns in three seasons for the Huskies. While Koetter has the reputation for developing pocket passers everywhere he’s gone, he has also made stars out of tight ends.
Koetter has a history of featuring the tight end, coaxing a 58-700-10 season out of Marcedes Lewis in 2010 to go along with the 176 catches for 1,965 yards and 16 touchdowns in two seasons with Tony Gonzalez in 2012-2013. Seferian-Jenkins had an injury-riddled rookie season, but is a breakout candidate in his second season with a new quarterback and offensive coordinator.
Tamme could be a stopgap option if the Falcons draft a tight end and wait for him to develop.
The Falcons are shooting for a 55 percent touchdown conversion rate in the red zone this year. To accomplish that, 6-foot-8 tight end Levine Toilolo would be a wise option. In fact, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said this week, "In the red zone, Levine is a definite threat.'' Toilolo won't be counted upon as much as Tony Gonzalez, but he'll get his opportunities
He's not going to do much between the 20s, but Toiolo's size should make him a decent threat to score a TD in any given week.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014, 12:52pm
You can't overstate how much WR Julio Jones means to the Falcons offense. The Falcons sorely missed his big-play ability last season as opposing defenses had it easy. With Jones back and looking fully healthy coming off a second foot surgery, the Falcons have their explosion back. Jones put on 10 pounds of muscle and still has his breakaway speed. Where he really might thrive more than ever is the red zone, given that Ryan no longer has Tony Gonzalez as his security blanket. Also expect Jones to draw his share of defensive holding penalties against outmatched cornerbacks.
Jones was on pace for 131-1856-6.4 prior to his foot injury in Week 5. He has the potential to be the most productive receiver in the league, but the foot injury is a bit concerning, especially since it’s a broken bone in the same location as his pre-Draft injury. If he plays a full season, he’ll very likely finish in the top 5. At this point, we believe he is a high-upside 2nd round pick.
Sunday, August 10, 2014, 1:59pm
The Falcons showed a glimpse of the re-defined role of the tight end position in the exhibition opener against Miami.
All five of the tight ends played from scrimmage in the 16-10 win over Miami. Four tight ends also played on special teams.
The great Tony Gonzalez, who retired after last season, was a main target in the passing attack and never was a regular on special teams.
Levine Toilolo, who’s listed as the No. 1 tight end on the depth chart, played 43 snaps on offense and two on special teams against the Dolphins. He was targeted three times and made two catches for 19 yards, including a long of 15. Bear Pascoe played 19 snaps on offense and four on special teams. He caught one pass for 6 yards. Mickey Shuler played 18 snaps on offense and 13 on special teams. He caught two passes for 19 yards. Brian Wozniak played six snaps on offense and two on special teams. Jacob Pederson played four snaps on offense and was the only tight end on the roster who didn’t play on special teams.
“There are some interesting battles going on in the tight end group,” tight ends coach Chris Scelfo said. “Levine, Mickey, all five of those guys are battling.”
The position will not be featured in the offense’s passing attack. Where the Falcons used to call plays for Gonzalez, the tight end this season will mostly be blockers, special teams players and check-down options. Toilolo is ranked just 27th on our TE list and is projected for just 40 receptions.
Friday, July 25, 2014, 8:39pm
The Broncos are approaching a crossroads with tight end Julius Thomas, who is in the last season of his rookie deal. They’d like to sign him long term, but could also use the franchise player tag next season if they do not get a deal done. Either way, Thomas has done his part so far to build on his 65-catch, 12-touchdown season in 2013. Thomas has shown a comfort level in the offense, working on the line, out wide and in the slot. He also spent some time with Tony Gonzalez this past offseason for a little guidance as well. "For me, it was understanding how you continue to play at a high level," Thomas said. "What do you do to prepare for games? What do you do to get the most out of practice? Just some things that only a future Hall of Famer and a 17-year veteran would know."
It's great to hear that Thomas spent time picking the brain of Gonzalez, a sure-fire first ballot Hall of Famer. Thomas is a favorite target in the league’s most productive passing attack, and with Eric Decker no longer with the team, the fourth-year tight end could see an increase in targets as well. He scored 12 TDs in 14 games, but wasn’t simply a redzone threat — he also averaged 4.6 receptions per game, which was 6th among tight ends.
Despite recording just 63 catches for 771 yards and three touchdowns last season -- his lowest total in all of those categories since 2006 -- and despite the fact he'll turn 33 in November, the Falcons announced Thursday that they've agreed to terms on a contract extension for receiver Roddy White.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, it will mean up to $30 million for White, including $18 million during the next two years.
After five straight top 10 finishes, White battled injuries during the 2013 season to finish #52 in standard scoring formats. He’s over the hill, right? Not so fast. Once he finally gave his ankle some rest, he returned in Week 10 and averaged 6.1-73-0.38 over his final eight games, and 8.6-100-0.40 in his final five. If Julio Jones comes back strong, the defensive focus will turn to him, and White should benefit. But don’t be worried about targets – Matt Ryan will continue to throw Roddy's way with Tony Gonzalez out of the picture.
Falcons WR Roddy White, 32, is set to enter the final year of his contract. He wants to play three more years and wants a contract extension. The situation was put on hold after the shooting death of his brother Tyrone Moore Jr. over the offseason.
Both sides have been rather quiet and the “Holdout” word has been placed on the back burner. White held out of the 2009 training camp, while his six-year, $48 million deal was being hammered out.
As things stand, White can’t really play for the $5 million base salary that he’s set to make when there are 10 receivers ahead of him with higher average per year salaries.
Under general manager Thomas Dimitroff, the team has done a good job of taking care of productive players. But Jones’ mega-contract is also on the horizon.
After five straight top 10 finishes, White battled injuries during the 2013 season to finish #52 in standard scoring formats. He’s over the hill, right? Not so fast. Once he finally gave his ankle some rest, he returned in Week 10 and averaged 6.1-73-0.38 over his final eight games, and 8.6-100-0.40 in his final five. If Julio Jones comes back strong, the defensive focus will turn to him, and White should benefit. But don’t be worried about targets – Matt Ryan will continue to throw Roddy's way with Tony Gonzalez out of the picture. The contract situation probably won't be a major factor, but it's something to monitor as the preseason wears on.
Friday, July 11, 2014, 9:13pm
"There are tight ends in the league now I know he's better than -- an All-Pro tight end like Jimmy Graham," Huff told Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in May. "That's saying a lot. Guys like Tony Gonzalez, who's no longer in the league. Those athletic guys. Rob Gronkowski. I feel like he can be better than those guys."
The Packers were willing to take a chance, signing Lyerla to a free-agent contract in May. One of the more fascinating prospects in Green Bay's camp, the rookie's supporters continue to suggest one thing: His future is up to him.
"Just a monster," former teammate Terrance Mitchell told the newspaper. "Colt is a beast. I don't know how to explain it. A monster, a beast. ..."
While these comparisons are wild and probably inaccurate, it's still good to hear that his former teammates have a lot of confidence in him. If he can get his head on straight, he has a great opportunity to shine for the Packers, who are looking for a tight end to carry the torch.
Thursday, July 10, 2014, 12:22pm
Falcons TE Levine Toilolo played in all 16 games last season, including three starts, finishing with 11 receptions for 55 yards and two TDs. He added a lot of muscle in the offseason, especially to his upper body, aiming to become an even stronger force in the pass blocking game. Opposing linebackers will likely have a hard time defending against his height (6-8) and vertical abilities.
For a tight end, becoming a "stronger force in the pass blocking game" doesn't exactly equate to fantasy production. Don't expect Toilolo to replace future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez in the passing game. That responsibility will likely fall on slot receiver Harry Douglas, who caught 85 passes for 1,067 yards and two touchdowns with Julio Jones sidelined and Roddy White gimpy for much of the season. With Gonzo gone, Douglas should be on the radar, especially in PPR formats.
Tuesday, July 1, 2014, 4:27pm
Titans tight end Delanie Walker had a career-high 60 catches last season, playing well in his first year in Tennessee after spending the first seven years of his career in San Francisco. But Walker isn’t even close to satisfied.
In fact, Walker says he expects to catch about 20 more passes this year than he did last year.
“I’ve got to get better,” Walker told the team’s website. “I’m looking to catch 80 balls this year.”
The story points out that the 80-catch mark was surpassed by only two tight ends last season, Jimmy Graham with 86 and Tony Gonzalez with 83. If Walker could get into the 80s, he’d be among the elite tight ends in the NFL. We project Walker for 60 catches and have him ranked 14th at the position.
Head coach Mike Smith said after practice Tuesday that Roddy White will not practice during this week's minicamp sessions, joining receiver Julio Jones on the sidelines as watchers of practice rather than participants. But just because they're not watching doesn't mean they're not involved.
"I think if you sit back and watch Roddy and Julio when they're not participating, they're watching very intently," Smith said. "They're watching the guys that are out there playing their position so they can make comments (in the meeting room)."
Jones and White are expected to be healthy and ready for the season when training camp rolls around and all the changes that have taken place on offense could benefit them the most. Jones was on pace for a career year last season before his injury, and that was without White on the field most of the time. An improved run game and better pass protection will make the Matt Ryan-to-Jones/White connection even more deadly.
After five straight top 10 finishes, White battled injuries during the 2013 season to finish #52 in standard scoring formats. He’s over the hill, right? Not so fast. Once he finally gave his ankle some rest, he returned in Week 10 and averaged 6.1-73-0.38 over his final eight games, and 8.6-100-0.40 in his final five. If Julio Jones comes back strong, the defensive focus will turn to him, and White should benefit. But don’t be worried about targets – Matt Ryan will continue to throw Roddy's way with Tony Gonzalez out of the picture. Meanwhile, Jones was on pace for 131-1856-6.4 prior to his foot injury in Week 5. He has the potential to be the most productive receiver in the league, but the foot injury is a bit concerning, especially since it’s a broken bone in the same location as his pre-Draft injury. If he plays a full season, he’ll very likely finish in the top 5.
The Falcons don’t have a replacement on the roster. At OTAs last week, Mickey Shuler received a lot of action with the first-team offense. Levine Toilolo was the backup last season, and the team signed blocking tight end Bear Pascoe over the offseason.
“I think he can fit into that role really well,” Ryan said.
Douglas finished as the #32 WR in standard formats (#22 in PPR) thanks to injuries suffered by Julio Jones and Roddy White. The Falcons don’t have a solid pass-catching tight end on the roster to replace Tony Gonzalez, so Douglas is expected to fill that role. Gonzalez saw 7.5-7.8 targets per game in the last two seasons, so there is plenty of opportunity for Douglas to shine if the Falcons want to feature him in the slot.
Wednesday, June 4, 2014, 6:17pm
TE Mickey Shuler, a member of the practice squad last season, ran some plays with the first-team offense as the Falcons worked on their running game. With the retirement of Tony Gonzalez, a prolific pass-catcher, the Falcons will more often line up their tight ends tight to the formation as blockers. “We have got to create a position that plays to their strengths and they are different than Tony Gonzalez,” Smith said. “Levine Toilolo is more of a ‘Y’ (inline) tight end that has some ability to play some ‘F’ (spread). Mickey is a tough guy who was on our practice squad last year and he’s getting an opportunity to play. We added Bear Pascoe he’s got a lot of starts underneath his belt.”
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