Ladies and gentlemen, meet your five tight ends on the 2012 Cleveland Browns: the same exact group that was with the team last year. Although Cleveland did not have studs at the tight end position (i.e. Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Gates, Vernon Davis, etc.), it was not a position of concern.
On the same note, I think there was also a bit of a letdown. Many fans, including myself, hoped that Evan Moore would be "the next big thing," but he didn't have that type of season. We were curious to see what fourth-round pick Jordan Cameron had to offer, but he rarely played. Instead, we got a heavy dose of blocking tight end Alex Smith and veteran receiver Benjamin Watson. That could change this year, though, because Cameron is being pegged as an emerging star. Let's get to a preview of the tight end position, which also includes Dan Gronkowski.
1. BENJAMIN WATSON - STARTING TIGHT END
One of the things that has been floated out there is the following question: is it possible that Watson is a training camp casualty? He suffered three concussions a year ago, and the team could be looking to develop younger talent.
I think Watson's role increases a little bit from last year. Watson's stats in 2011 were down significantly from the 2010 season, but you also have to consider the fact that 2010 was a career year for him. I didn't think Watson regressed; he, like the rest of the receivers on the offense, suffered from poor play at quarterback, breakdowns on the offensive line, or the running game being a non-factor.
Watson has a tendency to drop a couple of passes, but he also bails his quarterback out with some very athletic grabs. He is also a necessary veteran presence for the offense and is well-respected around the league. There's a chance that Watson becomes the No. 2 tight end as the year goes on if Cameron emerges as a star, but until then, there's no need to cut him loose.
Player Quality: B-
Job Security: B+
Final Roster Odds: 98%
2. JORDAN CAMERON - BACKUP TIGHT END
With Watson in the final year of his contact, the Browns are going to want to see if Cameron can be their tight end of the future. The media jumped on the possibility of Cameron being an emerging star in 2012 after head coach Pat Shurmur, who is usually pretty vague when being interviewed, couldn't wait to single out Cameron back in May:
"The guy that looks way different is Jordan Cameron," Shurmur said. "Oh, gosh -- the size -- and he’s had a great offseason. He’s a guy that hadn’t played much football, so I think he’ll make a big improvement this year."
Cameron's development was put on the backburner last season. He was inactive for half of the season, finishing with 6 catches for 33 yards. Since we have hardly seen Cameron in action and he is still trying to make it at the NFL level, it is impossible to know whether the guy is going to boom or bust. In a perfect world, he takes over for Watson (who won't need to be re-signed next year) and has good chemistry with Brandon Weeden. One reason you can't start Cameron right off the bat? He needs to improve as a blocker. That's where he can come in handy in two tight end sets to help stretch the field, though. Cameron will be one of the most interesting players to follow in this year's camp.
Final Roster Odds: 95%
3. EVAN MOORE - RED ZONE SPECIALIST TIGHT END
Don't count out Moore even though I listed him as the No. 3 tight end. He remains one of my favorite players on the team, and I would love nothing more than for him to be featured prominently on offense. Last year, Moore finished with 34 catches for 324 yards and 4 touchdowns.
I think Moore can create mismatches up and down the field. Last year, due to the issues the team had at right tackle, and the fact that he is not known for his blocking skills, Moore did not play as often as many of us thought. He was often utilized only when the team entered the red zone, which was not very often. There were also a few opportunities in which Moore was unable to haul in passes, which was a little disappointing.
Not known for being a physical guy, if Cameron ends up being the second guy behind Watson, I'd be willing to settle for Moore being inserted into the game down near the red zone. Going based off Shurmur's strategy from a year ago, Moore will probably be used in that manner on gameday. I am a little concerned about Moore's chances at making the team, because I think the coaching staff still really likes Alex Smith.
Final Roster Odds: 90%
4. ALEX SMITH - BLOCKING SPECIALIST TIGHT END
Even though the Browns re-signed Smith this offseason, he only agreed to a one-year deal with no signing bonus. In that regard, it's not like the Browns are obligated to keeping the veteran tight end around.
Smith only had 14 catches for 131 yards and 1 touchdown in 2011, but was was utilized often as a blocker. His all-around ability was invaluable to Shurmur last season to the point where he even started getting some reps as a backup fullback. One player to consider in terms of competition for Smith is fullback Brad Smelley, the team's seventh-round draft pick. He played tight end in college and is younger with just as much versatility as Smith. I think Smith is a fine person to have in camp in case something doesn't work out with Smelley or the three guys ahead of him on the depth chart, but when roster cuts are due, I think it comes down to Smith or Smelley. With Trent Richardson on the roster, I think Smelley has the edge.
Final Roster Odds: 50%
5. DAN GRONKOWSKI - BACKUP BLOCKING TIGHT END
A relative of the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski, Cleveland's version does not have anywhere near the same skill set. He was a 7th round draft pick by the Lions in 2009. In 2010, he played for the Broncos and finished the year with 8 catches for 65 yards. Last year, he began the season with the Patriots and finished with Cleveland when Watson got concussed.
Gronkowski is known for his size and blocking. As a receiver, he reportedly has good hands but isn't really going to stretch the field or run superior routes. Honestly, Gronkowski is probably your typical No. 3 blocking tight end, but he's in the wrong city: Cleveland already has enough players ahead of him. When Gronkowski doesn't make the team out of camp, odds are that he'll find another team to latch on to.
The alternative? He morphs into brother Rob and is a beast. Wouldn't that be a unique twist?
Final Roster Odds: <5%
That it is for our preview of the tight ends! Next up, we'll start taking a look at the Browns' wide receiver position. Before we get there, here is another poll: which tight end between Moore and Cameron would you like to see have a big part in the offense?