Our next training camp preview for the our fullback/H-back preview should be kept in mind too).looks at the tight end position. We will cover all five tight ends in this preview (with an asterisk to note that both players from
1. ROB HOUSLER - STARTING TIGHT END
In 2011, the Browns spent a 4th round pick on tight end Jordan Cameron. After Cameron emerged as one of the better receiving tight ends in the NFL, though, he opted to leave for the Miami Dolphins in free agency. That brings us to Rob Housler, who was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the 3rd round of the 2011 draft.
Housler was seldom used as a rookie. In 2012, he caught 45 passes for 417 yards, and in 2013, he caught 39 passes for 454 yards. Considering the quarterback issues the Cardinals have had, that's not too bad. Last year, Housler was phased out of the offense by head coach Bruce Arians, posting just 9 catches for 129 yards.
In June, when head coach Mike Pettine was asked about the team's tight ends, he segmented the position down into different roles. One of the roles is the F, which he described as "more of a move type, off the ball, more of a wing" and that "you can flex him out some." In categorizing the tight ends, he said Housler is the ideal F. He's been the primary receiving tight end in most of the offseason programs thus far, and I expect that to continue into the season.
I want to keep expectations a bit tepid on Housler, but for a team that missed out on re-signing Cameron, Housler was a great choice to take a chance at striking gold. He is coming from a team that wasn't a tight-end-friendly offense, and he has impressive 4.46 speed for his size.
Final Roster Odds: 95%
2. GARY BARNIDGE - BACKUP TIGHT END
Now entering his 8th season in the NFL and his 3rd with the Browns, I feel like Gary Barnidge has been more involved in the passing game than he actually has been. In his first two seasons with the club, though, he's only averaging 13 catches for 142 yards and 1 touchdown per season.
Still, there is something to be said about the nugget that Pro Football Focus dug up earlier this offseason, saying that "over the past 3 seasons, no tight end has caught more consecutive passes without a drop than Gary Barnidge with 32." When Pettine described Barnidge, he said, "Gary is kind of a ‘tweener.’ He can do both." By "both," Pettine is referencing his ability to catch and block.
For the past couple of years, Barnidge has been used more as an additional blocker than a receiver, either because of problems on the right side of the offensive line or because Cameron was ahead of him on the depth chart. I think he'll still be used in that "tweener" role, but if Cleveland gets in a run-heavy gameplan with two blocking tight ends -- he and Jim Dray -- we could see Barnidge get a few more looks on pass plays out of the formation. Barnidge is in the final year of his contract, but he's versatile and does his role well, so I anticipate him sticking around.
Final Roster Odds: 95%
3. JIM DRAY - BACKUP TIGHT END
Expectations weren't high for Jim Dray heading into his first year with the Browns last year, but he showed good hands in catching 17 passes for 242 yards. Much like Barnidge, Dray serves as a good complementary piece at the tight end position.
In discussing the tight ends, Pettine said, "The Y is more the on the ball, blocker type" and that Dray leaned "more toward the ideal Y" of the three veteran tight ends.
Dray and Housler were actually teammates in Arizona, so they are re-united in Cleveland. I'm not sure how often we'll see them on the field at the same time, though. Dray should see a lot of snaps offensively still if the team commits to the running game, but from a receiving perspective, it feels like the Browns have a bunch of Steve Heidens on the club. That's not a knock, but an attempt to put into perspective that we can get average, but not great, production out of the position this year.
Final Roster Odds: 95%
4. RANDALL TELFER - ROSTER STASH ROOKIE TIGHT END
Randall Telfer was a 6th round draft choice by the Browns this year. He doesn't have the greatest resume in terms of production and injury history. Here is the scouting report that CBS Sports' Dane Bruglar provided on him leading up to the draft:
After an impressive redshirt freshman season, Telfer put his name on the NFL map as a player to watch, but he struggled to find an identity on the USC offense the last few years, failing to match his 2011 production. Spending most of his time inline, Telfer has an athletic skill-set to make acrobatic catches and block with flexibility, showing reliable effort in both areas. Despite the hustle, he lacks the overpowering strength to latch-and-sustain with passive hands – can be tossed by edge rushers. Telfer has enough speed in his routes, but is inconsistent at the stem and tends to fight the ball, leading to drops – more of a blocker than receiver in USC’s offense. Although he is a hard worker and toughs out pain, he has a long injury history, most recently arthroscopic surgery on his knee (April 2014) and left foot surgery (March 2015). Telfer flashes and he might be able to live on special teams (two career blocked field goals), but his track record makes it tough to trust him.
Pettine has already said that Telfer will probably miss a good chunk of the season after having foot surgery. He might not start testing his foot until the end of training camp at the earliest. He is likely to begin the season on the physically unable to perform list, but I anticipate that he'll basically be red-shirted his entire rookie year.
Final Roster Odds: PUP List
5. KEVIN HAPLEA - UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT TIGHT END
Kevin Haplea signed with the Browns after a tryout at rookie minicamp in May. He only caught two passes for 19 yards in 2014, his first season back after missing 2013 with a knee injury.
With Haplea not having much of a track record, how did the Browns end up signing him? It could have been a favor for tight ends coach Brian Angelichio. As NJ.com points out, Angelichio, who used to work for the University of Pittsburgh, once tried to recruit Haplea to the university. Instead, Haplea chose Penn State before later transferring to Florida State.
Scouting reports on Haplea label him as more of a receiver, not a blocker. Even though the Browns don't have an elite talent at tight end, Haplea faces an uphill battle trying to conquer the three veterans ahead of him on the depth chart.
Final Roster Odds: 5%
Please remember that Emmanuel Bibbs, who was covered in the FB/H-back preview, is also a tight end candidate, and in my opinion has a better chance at making the roster than Haplea. Today's poll is a harsh one -- if you had to cut one of the three veteran tight ends, which one would you say goodbye to?