We're finishing off our theme of "See Ball, Catch Ball...and Block" this week with a preview of the tight end and fullback positions.
The fullback position only contains one player, but there are five players on the roster competing for a spot as a tight end. Let's start off with the tight ends...
1. BEN WATSON - STARTING TIGHT END
Adding Watson to the roster was a key offseason move, as I mentioned here a few weeks ago. After trading Kellen Winslow last offseason, the Browns' first-string tight end last year was Robert Royal. Although we still threw to the tight end fairly often, the same type of contributions weren't being made at the position. I sympathized with what Buffalo fans had been forced to deal with for several years.
I'm very intrigued by the type of season that Watson could have this year. His most productive season came in 2006, when he had 49 catches for 643 yards and 3 touchdowns. If Jake Delhomme gets out of his funk, I think Watson can top those numbers. He had been underutilized the past two years in New England as the team shifted to using more of Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and other receivers.
Right now, Watson is the only proven receiver on the entire Browns roster and I expect that to result in a quick bond between him and Delhomme. With Watson's athleticism, his route running abilities, and a decent set of hands, it's important for the Browns to have that threat in the middle of the field who can maybe open things up a little bit more for our young wideouts. In training camp, I hope that Delhomme and Watson hit it off right off the bat.
Job Security: A+
Player Quality: B+
Final Roster Odds: 100%
2. ALEX SMITH - BACKUP TIGHT END
A newcomer to the team, I think Alex Smith has a great chance at becoming the team's backup tight end. That's not to say that he would play ahead of Evan Moore, because I usually expect the second and third tight ends to receive equal playing time depending on the type of plays being run.
Smith took on a lesser role last season with the Philadelphia Eagles, but prior to that, he was a good backup contributor with a Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense that really hasn't been known for having too many prolific passers. During his four seasons with the Buccaneers, a typical season looked like a 30-catch, 300+ yards, 3-touchdown type of season.
While he's a good receiver with better hands that a Robert Royal, the issue with Smith might come down to whether or not he is a better blocker than Royal. If the dropoff in that category between him and Royal is too significant, then it'll be hard to justify having three tight ends on the roster who excel as receivers as opposed to blockers.
Job Security: D+
Player Quality: C
Final Roster Odds: 55%
3. EVAN MOORE - BACKUP/RECEIVING TIGHT END
After seeing him for just five games last season, one thing is for sure: Browns fans want to see more of Evan Moore.
I've rated Moore's roster odds as being the second highest, only behind Watson. If he makes the roster though, because we really don't know how well of a blocker he is on running plays, I expect him to be the third tight end (as I noted with Smith above though, the difference between second and third would be minimal).
As a receiver, I loved everything about Moore last year. He's tall and seemed to know how to use his body to shield a defender and make a catch in isolation. For that very reason, we might see Moore line up as a wide receiver in some situations. He did well when he was catching the ball through traffic too, despite the fact that the quarterbacks throwing to him weren't the most ideal passers. He's one of those players who made an impression during the team's 4-0 stretch to end last season, and I don't think Eric Mangini or Brian Daboll will forget that.
His roster odds are only 80% because if Moore has a bad camp and is getting eaten up by our defenders on blocking plays, the team could always go with Smith as the backup receiving tight end and Royal as the backup blocking tight end. This camp, I want to see how Moore is rated as a blocker, because I have faith that he'll continue making players in the passing game. It'd be great to have him and Watson on the field at the same time, but we can't do that and pass every time out of the formation.
Job Security: B-
Player Quality: TBD
Final Roster Odds: 80%
4. ROBERT ROYAL - BACKUP/BLOCKING TIGHT END
Royal is like the Syndric Steptoe of the tight end position: fans just don't really want him to make the team; at least not to be utilized as a receiver. I still believe he can be an asset as a blocker in the running game, which is why I've still rated his roster odds so high (it's nearly a coin flip situation between him and Smith, with Smith getting the slight edge at 55%).
Part of fans' dislike for Royal as a player is the fault of the Browns, because they are the ones who put him in those situations and acted like he was a better receiver than he really was. He's not very fast, he drops too many passes, he has too many passes bounce off his helmet, and I seem to recall him having problems with jumping offsides. Special teams could also play a factor in saving his job.
Player Quality: C-
Final Roster Odds: 45%
5. GREG ESTANDIA - COMPETING FOR BACKUP TIGHT END
Estandia played in four games for the Browns last year after coming over from the Jacksonville Jaguars. His size is probably his biggest strength, as his frame (6-8, 265 lbs) is the largest among the group. While he can catch the ball fine, our Jaguars affiliate didn't feel he was a great blocker when they previewed their tight end position last year:
While Greg is a fine athlete and a solid pass catcher he isn’t much of a blocking presence or a threat to score. He offers a little more speed than Marcedes Lewis but isn’t quite the blocker Lewis is. Estandia is a contributor on special teams and that is where he will have to continue to make his mark.
Estandia might have to make his mark as a special teams contributor for the Browns. I wouldn't rule out the team carrying four tight ends, but without being stacked at the position, I'd prefer to use the extra roster spot elsewhere.
Final Roster Odds: 20%
TE Position Quality: C+
1. LAWRENCE VICKERS - STARTING FULLBACK
Since Ryan already previewed RB/FB Peyton Hillis with the running backs, I'm leaving him out of the fullback preview. That means that Lawrence Vickers is the only person in this category, and while Hillis can be a fullback, I really don't expect him to play that position unless Vickers suffers an injury.
Vickers was extremely important to the success of RB Jerome Harrison at the end of last season. All reports indicated that Vickers finally "bought in" to things around that time, and it showed on the field. I thought Vickers was a candidate for the Pro Bowl last year. If he can pick up where he left off last season, his powerful blocking is the type of thing that will alleviate some of the pressure off of the 'weak' right side of the offensive line.
Job Security: A+
Player Quality: A+
Final Roster Odds: 100%
FB Position Quality: A+
Next week, we take a look at linebacker and special teams in "Hard Hitting and Klutch Kicks."