After covering the wide receivers, the next part of our training camp preview series on the Cleveland Browns shifts to the tight end position. In Part 1, we will look at Jordan Cameron, Gary Barnidge, and Jim Dray.
1. JORDAN CAMERON - STARTING TIGHT END
Because Pat Shurmur had neglected Jordan Cameron so much on offense, there were a lot of question marks about Cameron being the team's starting tight end last year. I even pondered whether Gary Barnidge could be the team's starting tight end by the end of the year.
Thankfully, for once, a player on the Browns actually lived up to all of their "potential," and for that, the Rob Chudzinski hiring in 2013 just might have been worth it. Cameron caught 80 passes for 917 yards and 7 touchdowns last year, his first as the team's starting tight end. Cameron is now entering a contract year and will be motivated to build upon his successful season so that he can capitalize with a monster contract, whether that be with the Browns or another team.
Besides his basketball leaping ability (see his windmill dunk making the rounds), Cameron has great hands and good speed. His best two-game stretch of the season came with Brian Hoyer under center, when he caught a combined 16 passes for 157 yards and 4 touchdowns. Cameron isn't known for being a stellar blocker, but that's what the guys behind him are for.
Job Security: A+
Final Roster Odds: 100%
2. GARY BARNIDGE - PASS BLOCKING TIGHT END
This will be an interesting camp for Gary Barnidge. In 2013, he signed a three-year deal with the Browns, largely because Rob Chudzinski wanted him from their days together in Carolina. Now that Chudzinski is gone, though, will the new coaching staff have enough of an allegiance to Barnidge?
I don't know if Barnidge was widely known as a fan favorite last year, but those who follow him on Twitter know that he's more-than-willing to engage with the fans, especially when he does his weekly movie night contests.
Last year, Barnidge was billed as a solid receiving and blocking tight end. Because of the issues the team had on the right side of the offensive line last year, Barnidge often had to stay in to block. Last year in early December, Pro Football Focus noted that Barnidge led the NFL by far when it came to staying in as a blocker on passing downs. On passing downs, Barnidge stayed in to block 62.6% of the time. The next closest player, Ben Watson of the Saints, stayed in to block 45.2% of the time. When you get to the end of the top 10, you're already down to the 20% range. Barnidge was also great in pass blocking efficiency. For the higher sample size he had, in 174 pass blocking attempts, Barnidge only allowed five pressures.
Final Roster Odds: 90%
3. JIM DRAY - RUN BLOCKING TIGHT END
Just a couple of days into free agency, the Browns signed Jim Dray to a 3-year deal worth $5.63 million and $2.25 million guaranteed. The signing raised questions about the future of Barnidge. Dray is entering his fifth year in the NFL. He was a seventh-round draft pick in 2010 by the Arizona Cardinals, where he has played for the past four seasons.
Dray saw the most action of his career this past season for the Cardinals, where he started 15 games and recorded 26 catches for 215 yards and 2 touchdowns. He did not drop a pass all season, according to Pro Football Focus, but is mostly considered a blocking tight end. In fact, on two thirds of his snaps, he remained in as a blocker.
When it comes to pass blocking efficiency, PFF had Dray graded as basically the worst qualifying pass blocker in the NFL, giving up a pressure about 10% of the time. He also graded poorly in run blocking. When I started reading that, I thought to myself, "well, so much for him replacing Barnidge." This article from late-March portrays Dray as having the skills and knowledge necessary to block in Kyle Shanahan's zone blocking scheme, though. Dray sounds like a good third tight end, although his contract is a little pricey for that spot on the depth chart.
My hunch is that Barnidge will see more reps in two tight end passing formations, while Dray will see more action when the team goes to the running game. Up-and-down the roster, everybody can catch the ball well, though, which is a great bonus.
Final Roster Odds: 100%
Tomorrow, we'll talk about the two new tight ends to the club who are undrafted free agents, and we'll also have a brief note about MarQueis Gray (fullback now) and Keavon Miltion (offensive lineman now). Today's poll asks how the reps will be split among the backup tight ends this year.