Thursday, March 8, 2012

Free agency preview: tight end

Tight end

Top 10 UFA TEs:
1 - Martellus Bennett: just 24, solid blocker who can contribute in passing game. (Signed by Giants, 3/14)
2 – Visanthe Shiancoe: can be a feature receiver who gets you 45-50 receptions. Not much of a blocker.
3 – Joel Dreessen: good blocker, great hands as a receiver, goal-line weapon. (Signed by Broncos, 3/23)
4 - Jacob Tamme: just 24, decent blocker, had 67 catches in 2010. (Signed by Broncos, 3/24)
5 - Jeremy Shockey: still good for 35-40 catches but likely isn't leaving Carolina.
Dallas Clark (cut by Colts 3/9, signed by Bucs 5/22): production and durability have dropped off the cliff since 2009.
Kevin Boss (cut by Raiders 3/12, signed by Chiefs 3/15) 
6 - Daniel Fells: we miss you Daniel! OK blocker, can contribute in passing game, hard to tackle. (Signed by Patriots, 3/20)
7 - Kellen Davis: 26, 5 TDs last year despite not many catches. Lovie Smith believes he can be the Bears' feature TE. (Re-signed by Bears, 3/15)
8 - Donald Lee: average-at-best blocker, but solid receiver for several years with Packers. (Re-signed by Bengals 4/14)
9 - Alex Smith (Cleveland, that is): 29, athletic, solid blocker. (Re-signed by Browns 3/15)
10 - Leonard Pope: tall target, can get you a couple of catches a game. Plus-character, saved the life of a 6-year-old drowning in a swimming pool. (Signed by Steelers 4/11)

Sleepers: I ranked Joel Dreessen at number 1 originally before re-calibrating a little for age and offensive production. But the Houston backup TE is one of the best ones out there. He had 6 TDs last season, and Houston's going to have a hard time keeping their free agents. An alert GM can steal away a solid player like Dreessen.

Wild card: John Carlson's production dropped last season thanks to Seattle's acquisition of Zack Miller, but his first two seasons were solid, each with 50+ catches. I know the Rams found him well-nigh uncoverable. Several teams are looking at him as a below-the-radar signing provided rehab for his shoulder injury progresses on schedule. (Signed by Vikings, 3/14)

Tag you're it: Fred Davis

Out of the running: Scott Chandler (re-signed by Bills), Jermichael Finley (re-signed by Packers), Reggie Kelly (re-retirement probable), Jim Kleinsasser (retired), Jake O'Connell (re-signed by Chiefs), Michael Palmer (re-signed by Falcons), Mike Sellers (cut by Washington 3/12, likely to retire)

Voting present: Justin Peelle, Dante Rosario (signed by Chargers 3/20), Will Heller (cut by Lions 3/12, re-signed by Lions 3/23), Tory Humphrey, Edgar Jones

The doctor will see you now: John Carlson (torn labrum, signed by Vikings 3/14), John Gilmore (ankle), Bo Scaife (shoulder)

Gawd no: Billy Bajema, Anthony Becht (he's still in the league?), Randy McMichael (re-signed by Chargers 3/20), Matthew Mulligan (Jets did not tender him because he commits too many penalties), Stephen Spach. GOD the Rams have had a lot of sucky tight ends who can't block, or in McMichael's case, catch. Naturally, the Rams signed Mulligan on March 26th.

RamView’s moves: Last year's Rams tight end group was an epic disaster. Lance Kendricks showed a ton of rookie promise in preseason, then dropped everything in sight when the games started counting. I didn't even realize Michael Hoomanawanui played eight games last year. I thought it was more like two before he tore an ACL that ended his season. That's how little he did in the offense. He blew the knee in November, though, which I would think puts his 2012 season in pretty good jeopardy. Can he be ready to go by the time training camp starts? My guess: IR in 2012, out of the league by 2013 because he unfortunately can't remotely stay healthy. And it gets even worse from there. Billy Bajema can't pass-block to save his, or Sam Bradford's, life, and Steven Spach was a whiff machine run or pass-blocking. Neither of them are worth keeping even as blocking TEs. They were a large reason for the Ram running game failing as often as it did. I'll miss all the Star Trek jokes after Spach's departure in free agency is official, but as a wise man once said, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.

So, the Rams, whose head coach Jeff Fisher's old teams were usually led in receiving by the tight end, whose offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer loves to throw to the tight end, have a second-year player who may have caught the football strain of Ankiel Syndrome, and NOTHING else. They may need to bring in two or three TEs from the outside, and this year's TE draft class, to put it as delicately as possible, sucks. What to do?

You probably already figured out I'd sign Texans backup TE Joel Dreessen, who can block and help you move the chains in the passing game. Kendricks we'll look at more as a pass-catcher, assuming he actually starts catching them this year. That would give the Rams great mismatches to exploit. This year's draft class at TE is even more awful than last year's, but if we get to the 7th round of the draft and UCLA's Cory Harkey is still on the board, I'm grabbing him. Best blocking TE in the country and really showed it at the Shrine Game. Fans as a rule aren't real big on drafting blocking TEs, but the Rams have had NOTHING from that position pretty much since Ernie Conwell, and they need tight ends who can block worse than Kim Kardashian needs attention. If the costs are the same anyway, I'd rather bring Daniel Fells back than keep Billy Bajema, but keeping Bajema might not be the worst move ever. He blocked pretty well a couple of years ago and is a good try-hard guy to have on your team.

Shoot the moon: Though the draft class is weak, the Rams could draft a tight end to pair with Kendricks and essentially demote Hoomanawanui to blocking TE if he's healthy. Dwayne Allen's pretty much identical in size and height to the most successful Fisher tight ends in Tennessee, and the Rams could well have an extra pick to play around with in the early rounds.

Prediction: I like Michael Hoomanawanui and hope my pessimism over his chance of playing in '11 is wrong. That'll make him the H-back-type TE, Kendricks the downfield guy, they probably keep Bajema and replace Spach (PLEASE) with a career blocking TE like Alex Smith or Dante Rosario.


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