The big focus this offseason for the Redskins has been on the secondary, and rightly so. Clearly they need to find a way to fix, or at least cover some of the holes in the defensive backfield. But the Redskins do have other needs. One of which is at the tight end position. Tight ends are becoming increasingly more and more involved in offenses up and down the NFL, with versatility being the key. In the Redskins offense, a tight end has to be multidimensional. They need to be athletic enough to run routes and catch passes, while big enough to maintain a block. They also need to be willing to move around in the formation and smart enough to get to grips with all the motions involved in this offense. One minute a tight end could be lined up as a standard inline tight end, then he could be moved out to the slot on the next play, and then switched to H-Back the play after that.
Now obviously, the secondary will be the focus with the first couple of draft picks, making it unlikely for the Redskins to draft a tight end in the first three rounds barring an unforeseen fall of one of the top prospects. So I thought I'd list a couple of the guys that could be had in the later rounds that fit the description above.
Jordan Reed, Florida.
At 6'2", 236 pounds, Reed might be on the light side of an ideal sized tight end. But Reed is an extremely versatile weapon. He'll be more of a joker tight end or H-Back than an inline guy at least initially, but compares well to New England's Aaron Hernandez. He runs solid routes that can be improved, but his big plus is his ability after the catch. Reed shows cutting ability similar to a running back in space and that along his athleticism makes him hard to bring down. He'd be a perfect target on the run/pass option plays in the Redskins playbooks, as well as the screen passes in the flat. He needs work on his blocking and being undersized won't help him. But Reed is a willing blocker and should be able to improve to a somewhat solid level.
Projection: 3rd-4th round.
Vance McDonald, Rice.
I've discussed McDonald before and you can read the entire breakdown here. But the short versions of that is McDonald's game is similar to Reed. He's a versatile receiving threat that can move around. He's even taken hand-offs on jet-sweeps on occasion. Like Reed he needs to work on his blocking, but unlike Reed, McDonald has the frame to help him. At 6'4", 267 pounds, McDonald is just about that ideal size for the position and could easily develop into an above average blocker. McDonald's main flaw is his drops. Multiple reports say he had at least one drop a game, which is a major knock. He would only see maybe three to five passes a game, and if he's dropping one of those, how much can he be relied upon?
Projection: 3rd-4th round.
Dion Sims, Michigan State.
Sims measured in at 6'5", 262 pounds, but he played at about 285 pounds. That frame gives him a big advantage as an inline blocker playing as almost a third tackle. But the upside is that he can move very well for his size. He has surprising straight line speed which combined with his body makes him a nice target, particularly in the red zone. While his straight line speed is good, he lacks the desired burst to get off the line of scrimmage and to go in and out of cuts. Versatility is also a question. It's tough to see him as anything more than an inline tight end.
Projection: 5th-6th round.
Michael Williams, Alabama.
Williams is another big bodied blocking tight end much like Sims. He uses his 6'6", 269 pound frame to his advantage in the run game and flashes ability to shield defenders from the ball in the passing game. His biggest weakness is his speed. He is very slow, running slower than some offensive tackles at the combine. But he's still a solid receiving option with reliable hands and ability to high-point the football, making him a legitimate red zone threat. But run-blocking is what his game is all about. He shows good footwork which helps him effectively seal an edge or cut off the backside defender depending on the direction of the run. Like Sims, isn't the most versatile, but could probably play some H-Back along with his tight end responsibilities.
Projection: 6th round.
Justice Cunningham, South Carolina.
If you follow me on twitter, you'll know I really like Cunningham. He's another blocker that stands at 6'3", 258 pounds. But what stands out is his long, nearly 34" arms. That enables him to reach the defender and set a good position before the defender can reach him. He's athletic enough to block in the zone scheme and his pass protection is very good as well. There were times that South Carolina left him to block a defensive end on his own, and he was rarely beaten. While Cunningham won't run away from too many defenders, he's a solid (not great) route runner and has good hands, pulling off some nice one-handed catches at times. He was underused as a receiver in college but I feel he has more too offer there. His speed is his biggest question and running a 4.94 forty time would help his cause.
Projection: 7th round.
Kyle Juszczyk, Harvard.
Juszczyk first caught my eye at the senior bowl playing fullback. He was an aggressive blocker and won just about every match-up he was given. So I was surprised when I went back and watched him play at Harvard. I was expecting a heavy dose of blocking, but found he was used as a swiss-army knife kind of player. He lined up in the slot, split tight end, inline tight end, H-Back and fullback. He displayed reliable hands that caught everything thrown at him. He created good separation with solid routes from every position he lined up at. While he won't blow you away with his speed, he's no slouch. He looked fairly nifty taking screens in the slot, making the occasional defender miss. His downside is his size. He's just 6'1", 248 pounds, which would be a very small inline tight end. But he could excel in a versatile H-Back role in this offense.
Projection: 6th-7th round.