Earlier this week, Bill passed along an article on David Njoku’s recent contract with the Browns, and that catalyzed my desire to write this piece sooner, rather than later.
I’ve written in the past about the time it takes for nearly all tight ends to adjust to the pro game. About how the quickest path to getting on the field as a young tight end is to be a solid blocker, because when coaches have to choose between protecting their QB and getting a tight end game experience, they’re going to take the former almost all the time. And, how most tight ends who come out of college aren’t particularly adept blockers, a skill that can easily take a year or two to learn.
The article on Njoku’s contract is interesting in its own right, for exploring the depths of that general management debacle, but I’m going to focus on a foundational element of the piece, “Tight ends take longer to develop than other players.”
From the article:
My colleague Timo Riske did excellent work on age curves, which showed that tight ends accumulate the lowest percentage of their career (wins above replacement) WAR (40%) before the age of 25 (Njoku is currently 25 years old) and the highest percentage of their career WAR after the age of 30 (19%).
Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap did an informative study on the premium-ness of positions by essentially going through the 20 highest-paid players at the position and determining what percentage of those players were available via free agency. Tight end was one of the least premium positions, in large part because even top players readily changed teams after their rookie deal.
The proverb from the Fitzgerald study speaks less to the mistake of paying guys like Njoku too much and more to drafting them too high in the first place.
It’s funny, I could have sworn I’ve heard admonitions against using high draft picks on tight ends somewhere else before. The article also finds that those “late blooming” tight ends who succeed are generally superior athletes, one of the reasons the Browns might be betting on Njoku.
The good news here, is that Washington’s tight end room is filled with three 4th round picks (one of whom was selected as a QB, another taken as a WR), a 5th round pick, and a hodgepodge of undrafted free agents, some of whom are incredible athletes (Logan Thomas and Sammis Reyes) and most of whom are very good athletes. The least athletic of the bunch, John Bates, will have almost certainly had the best rookie year of any of those in the room. It’s no coincidence that he came out of college - by far - the best blocker of the group.
The bad news, if it can be said to be bad news, is that several of these guys, and I include Reyes in that group, are probably years away from being serious contributors on the roster, given the time it takes tight ends to develop.
That having been said, Washington should be applauded for getting young, athletic tight ends into the fold and working to develop them.
Let’s take a look at this expanding tight end room.
Weight: 250 lbs
RAS Score: 9.53
In many respects, Thomas is the poster child for the late-blooming tight end. Converted from a college QB who flopped as an NFL QB, Thomas spent three more years trying to make it as a tight end - first with the Bills, and then with the Lions - before Washington signed him as a free agent in early 2020.
In 2020, he finally broke out, putting up the best receiving stats for a Washington tight end since Jordan Reed’s Pro Bowl season in 2016. He earned himself a 4-year, $8M/yr deal following that season. Unfortunately, however, he went down with an ACL injury in the middle of last season and was unable to replicate his banner year.
Though ACL injuries like Thomas’ generally have a 10-month recovery time, which would bring him back around Week 4, he’s optimistic he can return sooner:
“We never put a projection on it.” Thomas said. “But the way I feel and the type of person I am, the type of competitor I am, I’m shooting for Week 1.”
As of late April, Thomas was at the “jogging stage” of his recovery. If Logan can make it back to begin the season, he’s the clear TE1. If not Washington’s young tight ends are likely to get a baptism by fire.
Weight: 259 lbs
RAS Score: 6.79
Bates had not only one of the best first year performances among Washington’s rookie class, he also had a top three season among all rookie tight ends. Here’s what I had to say immediately after the season ended:
Bates’ performance even exceeded that of the promising prospect I had compared him to in the post-draft piece mentioned above:
He actually matches up very closely with Adam Trautman, one of the top TEs taken in last year’s (2020) draft, selected by the Saints in the 3rd round (4.8 40yd). Trautman was able to play in 15 games for the Saints last year - starting 6 - and collecting 171 yards receiving.
Surely some will suggest that Bates’ stats are “skewed” as a result of injuries to Logan Thomas and Ricky Seals-Jones throughout the season, but fundamentally, that misses the point. The only reason Bates was allowed to start in their stead - remember, rookie Sammis Reyes hardly saw any offensive snaps this year - was because he was equipped with the blocking fundamentals to be able to keep his teammates safe.
Had [former] tight end’s coach, and apparent wizard, Pete Hoener, been dissatisfied with Bates’ ability to perform the basics of the tight end position, surely the team would have acquired additional veteran depth after it lost Logan Thomas for the season.
I think it’s reasonable to expect that the big fourth rounder is going to continue to improve in 2022, likely starting the season as TE1 while Thomas continues to recover, if he can’t return immediately. Carson Wentz has a well-documented affinity for his tight ends, and Bates should be the beneficiary of that attention as Wentz gets comfortable with his arsenal of offensive weapons.
Weight: 223 lbs (appears to be significantly heavier now)
RAS Score: 7.57
Too slow and lumbering to make it among Washington’s wide receiver group, this offseason the Gandyman made a transition that several here at Hogs Haven have suggested in the past: to a Move or “Joker” tight end. Essentially, an oversized slot receiver with limited blocking responsibilities.
Several accounts (including the one above) from OTAs suggest that AGG has beefed up significantly. A recent interview with former tight end Logan Paulsen suggested that Gandy-Golden might even be the most buff of Washington’s TEs at this point.
With good hands and contested catch radius, a stronger, heavier AGG (ideally, he’ll be over 235 lbs) could potentially be a dangerous red zone weapon if he can continue to hone his blocking skills over the pre-season. This conversion is likely his last chance to stick on the roster, so I expect a high end effort out of him over the next few months.
From Sammis Reyes' instagram: pic.twitter.com/dUdArOd7TM— Bill-in-Bangkok (@billhorgan2005) May 28, 2022
Weight: 260 lbs
RAS Score: 10
Last year, the Chilean nightmare was a surprise rookie free agent addition to the team. Originally attempting to make it as a basketball player in the NBA, Reyes recognized his ceiling in that sport and changed gears, deciding to try his hand as a potential tight end in football.
Though highly athletic, and in possession of a physique that looks like it was carved from marble by a Greek craftsman, his performance on the field last year was vaguely statuesque. Blocking, route running, and catching were all skills that Reyes needed to improve upon last year, and to his credit, he seems genuinely committed to trying to do what it’s going to take to stick in the league.
My own sense is that, with the burgeoning tight end room, this could be a year Reyes spends on the team’s practice squad unless his skill level has improved dramatically.
Commanders offensive coordinator Scott Turner says he wants to get more explosive plays from his unit this year. Adds that rookie tight end Cole Turner has been “great”, and is really flashing ability to use his size to his advantage.#HTTC #NFL pic.twitter.com/nr7GDgTnpi— David Harrison (@DHarrison82) June 1, 2022
Weight: 240 lbs
RAS Score: 7.44
With 10 TDs during his final season at Nevada, Turner was tied for second in the nation in trips to the end zone by tight ends. Washington used a 5th round pick in the 2022 draft to grab one of Carson Strong’s favorite weapons over the past two seasons.
Turner fits the mold of the Joker tight end described above, playing more of a large WR than a traditional TE role. But, like most young tight ends, he needs to add strength, and to improve his blocking acumen to ensure that he’ll get early playing time in the pros.
Given his draft pedigree and his early favorable evaluations by Scott Turner - who seems to appreciate the way he uses his size - expect Cole to make Washington’s roster.
Weight: 240 lbs
RAS Score: 7.38
An undrafted free agent out of Arizona State, Hodges is an imposing physical specimen, and the tallest of this group of gigantic men. He played most of his time at ASU as a wide receiver, and 2021 was his first full season as a tight end. He performed well enough to be named honorable mention All-PAC 12, with 20 receptions for 374 yards and 2 TDs.
He had a number of nagging injuries during his time in college, and projects as a potential Joker TE in the pros. He seems like the sort of developmental tight end who could use a year to two on the practice squad, short of a dramatic breakout this pre-season.
Meet Armani Rogers, the 6'5" 225lb former QB who is converting to TE for this draft. The words "tools" and "upside" do not even do him justice, but he is BRAND NEW to the position.— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) March 2, 2022
How new? This was the second route he ever ran in a practice in his entire life. Not bad, eh? pic.twitter.com/bgMmoU1mbn
Weight: 225 lbs
RAS Score: Not enough data
Another converted QB, Rogers played tight end for the first time in the last game of his college career, the East-West Shrine Game. As you might imagine, Rogers is an extremely raw TE prospect, even though he possesses the right size and athleticism for the position.
Rogers was a “freaky” enough athlete to be named to Bruce Feldman’s annual list:
29. Armani Rogers, Ohio, wide receiver/tight end: He’s a wild card in the draft process and an interesting prospect. He played quarterback at UNLV and Ohio and showed his speed last year by setting an NCAA record for quarterbacks with a 99-yard touchdown run vs. Buffalo. Word is, at 6 feet 5 and 230 pounds, Rogers has been turning heads now that he’s training as a receiver due to his size and speed. He’s vertical jumping in the high 30s. He has run the 40 in the low 4.4s and has been broad jumping around 11 feet. It’s probably a stretch to think that, even if he wows scouts at his pro day, a team drafts him, but he’ll likely earn a shot in someone’s camp.
I expect Rogers to be among the three tight ends that Washington keeps on the practice squad this year.
If Washington keeps four TEs this year, who is TE4?