Sometimes you take a few steps back at a position in the offseason, as I don't think anyone can say they are overly pleased with the fact that Kellen Winslow is no longer on the team. On the same note, Browns fans didn't have a huge uproar over Winslow being traded, showing that some of the antics of the highly-talented had become tiresome. In the end, it yielded us an extra second-round draft choice, allowing the Browns to choose receiver Mohamed Massaquoi. The Browns are shifting from a tight end known for their receiving abilities and back to the days of just knowing how to block.
As part of our continuing training camp coverage, the theme this week was "See ball, catch ball...and block". Over the next two days, we'll talk about the tight end position, largely representing the blocking portion of the theme.
1. ROBERT ROYAL - STARTING TIGHT END (BLOCKING SITUATIONS)
With Martin Rucker lacking the experience, Steve Heiden coming off of a serious injury, and Mangini's desire to have good blocking for the running game, Robert Royal is heading into training camp as the team's starting tight end.
After spending the past three seasons with the Buffalo Bills, did Royal do enough to qualify as a starting tight end? Brian Galliford, from our Bills affiliate over at Buffalo Rumblings, doesn't think so:
"...trust me when I say that Robert Royal is NOT good. He drops as many passes as he catches, and when he does catch it, he’s a HUGE risk for fumbles. As a blocker, he’s above average. But the dude just straight up isn’t a starting TE in this league."
Yes, it's a big dropoff from the days of having Kellen Winslow as your starting tight end. It would be silly to say that Royal is a better tight end than Winslow. Nonetheless, in Royal, you get a player who is less controversial, a better blocker, and someone who fits well enough into Mangini's gameplan.
In the parenthesis, I note that Royal will be in on blocking situations; probably first and second downs. While Royal is a better pass catcher than Darnell Dinkins was, he's not a sure-handed receiver. We should see a rotation of the tight ends this season, depending on the situation. One thing that stands out in Royal's statistics is that he has fumbled the ball four times over the past two seasons.
Player Quality: C-
Final Roster Odds: 100%
2. MARTIN RUCKER - BACKUP TIGHT END (RECEIVING SITUATIONS)
Experience: 2 years
Note: 4th round pick in 08
What a waste of Rucker's potential talent last season by head coach Romeo Crennel. After drafting Martin Rucker in the fourth round, we only saw him in action for a few plays later in the season; for the year, he only recorded two catches. It was ridiculous that we were down to Darnell Dinkins and Rucker as our only two tight ends, and yet despite knowing that Dinkins didn't have a future with the team and we were far eliminated from the playoffs, Dinkins got all of the playing time. After he was deemed as first/second-round talent by general manager Phil Savage, it's another example of Crennel having been one of the worst coaches in the league at utilizing younger players.
Rucker isn't known for his blocking, but that remains a part of his game that could be developed over time. His athleticism is more comparable to what Winslow brought to the team, having the ability to run routes vertically down the field. ClevelandBrowns.com just had an article about it being a new year with new chances for Rucker.
"I feel like I'm a better player," he said. "I got stronger in the weight room and I worked hard on perfecting my craft. I'm a better player in every area.
Dustin Keller, an athletic tight end for the New York Jets who was a rookie last season, recorded 48 catches for 535 yards and 3 touchdowns. I think Rucker is capable of having similar production for the Browns this season, especially if Heiden isn't able to return close to 100%.
Player Quality: TBD
Final Roster Odds: 99%
3. STEVE HEIDEN - VETERAN BACKUP TIGHT END
College: South Dakota St.
Experience: 11 years
Note: Coming off torn ACL
There's a big question mark next to Heiden's name heading into training camp this season. He had ACL surgery in the offseason, and returning from that on time and with your body cooperating is a crapshoot at best. Based on the time he had the surgery, he might be able to participate a little in training camp and be cleared to play for the regular season in a best-case scenario.
We already know what type of player Heiden is; he will be entering his eighth season with the Browns. Even if he returns healthy this year, I think he'll officially take over the "Darnell Dinkins" role from the past several years as the third tight end. Heiden would still see plenty of action though, as I imagine a decent amount of our plays with include multiple tight end sets when we're running the ball.
Player Quality: B
Final Roster Odds (if Healthy): 100%
Odds of Being Healthy Enough: 50%
4. AARON WALKER - BACKUP TIGHT END
For entering his seventh NFL season, Aaron Walker isn't exactly a household name at the tight end position. He began his career as a fifth-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2003. Over two seasons, he had 18 receptions for them. He played with the St. Louis Rams the next three years in limited duty, seeing similar-to-less playing time than Dinkins saw with the Browns.
After being with the Ravens in camp last season, he did not make their final roster. This year, he's giving the Browns a shot. At 6'6 and 277 pounds, Walker is the biggest tight end on our roster. You'll see that the Browns do not have any undrafted free agent tight ends in camp this year; the purpose for that is probably due to the fact that either Walker or the player below (John Madsen) might make the final roster depending on Heiden's status. If that's the case, you need some veteran depth in camp, and Walker fits that description. There's also a chance we could keep four tight ends to start the season if Heiden won't be ready until Week 4 or something to that effect.
Final Roster Odds: 40%
5. JOHN MADSEN - BACKUP TIGHT END
John Madsen has played for the Oakland Raiders the past three seasons, and was originally undrafted. He has 19 catches for 248 yards and 2 touchdowns in his career. The Browns added him to their roster in December last season due to all of the injuries to our tight ends.
Madsen is an interesting player, because he's fast enough to be a receiver but also just big enough to play tight end. In fact, it was the Raiders who converted him to tight end after he was a receiver in college. If we're looking for a third tight end to take Heiden's place temporarily, I'd imagine we would go for someone with bulk -- that isn't Madsen. Madsen seems more so like the competition to Martin Rucker; in that case, Madsen's roster odds are a little bit less than Walker's.
Final Roster Odds: 10%
TE Position Quality (Overall): D+
After being graded an "A" last season, the tight end position plummets this year. A lot of that has to do with the uncertainty -- Rucker hasn't had the chance to prove himself yet, Heiden might not be ready to go, and Royal isn't even close to being a top-tier tight end.