Fact: in 2012, the Redskins did not have a single tight end on the roster who exceeded 25 receptions, 325 yards, and one touchdown reception. In comparison, at least nine tight ends around the league actually doubled that stat line.
But i’m here to tell you: 2013 is going to be a completely different story.
Let’s start with this: despite what people like Donovan McNabb or people in the talking head media might tell you, the Shanahan’s proved that they’ll adapt their offense to the talent that they’ve acquired, and borrow offensive concepts from anyone and everyone to incorporate into their offense.
In 2012, the Redskins lost tight end Fred Davis to a season ending injury to his Achilles tendon. That was a damn shame, too, because he was having a pretty nice season (he was on pace for 50+ receptions and over 740 yards receiving).
When Davis went down, neither the Redskins nor the fans knew whether we were going to get back the “same Fred Davis.” An injury to the Achilles tendon is completely different than your “traditional” year-ending knee injury is completely different. Injuries to the knee have become so common that sports medicine quickly learned and adapted to it, in terms of how to fix it. That’s why you see guys like Wes Welker and Adrian Peterson (and hopefully Robert Griffin III) come back from them as if nothing ever happened in the first place. But the Achilles injury is far more rare, and thus far more crippling. Who is the last player you remember who came back at even 80-85% of his former self after suffering an Achilles? Jon Jansen was probably the best right tackle in football from 2000 to 2003, but after he went down with that injury in 2004, he was never the same player again.
But then again, modern medicine is so freaking amazing these days, that it’s increasingly astounding how quickly players can bounce back from what used to be catastrophic, borderline career-ending injuries (like a torn Achilles tendon). Case in point? Roughly 10 months after the injury, Davis has (somewhat quietly) been one of the better performers during training camp, almost looking like he’s picked up where he left off from previous years.
And here’s the bigger picture: Davis is in a contract year, again. He was an unrestricted free agent prior to this season, and given the uncertainty with his injury lead the Redskins to let Davis test the free agent waters. Yet after visiting no less than three other suitors for his services, he ended up coming to DC and take only a one year deal at a drastic “home team discount” (or put another way: every other team he talked to was likely just has freaked out about what they’ll be getting from a guy coming back from an Achilles injury as the Redskins were/are).
And he probably has to realize one other point, too: when the Redskins drafted Jordan Reed out of the University of Florida with their third round pick, the first thing that came to my mind was that this selection was effectively an “insurance policy” if things didn’t work out with Davis (and his recovery from the injury).
So from all accounts, Davis is healthy. You know he’s motivated, knowing that he was passed over by a handful of other teams and essentially came back to DC with his tail tucked between his legs. He has to know that this season is his one big chance to cash in on his first major NFL contract, just a season removed from his rookie contract.
So, assuming Davis is fully recovered from the Achilles injury, and assuming Reed gets a little more experience and polish as a tight end, would it really be that far fetched to think that the two of them could harass defenses in the way Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernadez did for New England, running amuck in opposing secondaries as receivers that are too big for corners and too fast for safeties and linebackers? Would it really be far fetched to think that both Mike and Kyle Shanahan didn’t study some tape of how New England used Gronkowski and Hernandez to terrorize opposing defenses and create a renaissance at the tight end position?
I really believe that a healthy Davis and a mentally-up-to-speed Reed could form the most dangerous tight end duo in the league (damn the hyperbole, full speed ahead!).
Reed was an absolutely intriguing pick, and may very well be my favorite pick in this Redskins draft class (this side of Bacarri Rambo, anyway). He gives you some flashes of an Aaron Hernandez, and even daresay an Antonio Gates, in his game. Like the latter, he sometimes attacks opponents and the ball like a basketball player would: creating space at full speed, using his body to shield away from the defender, and simply going up and attacking the ball at an angle that the defender can’t. He has quick feet, vertical speed, and the ability to make plays in space. He just needs to learn how to polish his routes, and become a better blocker (both of which he’s very cognizant of).
Davis and Reed are easily the headliners at tight end for the Redskins, but what makes this group even more interesting is the depth behind them, with Niles Paul and Logan Paulsen.
As far as the Niles Paul experiment: it’s an intriguing idea that hasn’t been fully developed yet, but you can’t really expect meaningful contributions from him as a pass catching tight end — yet. From all accounts, he’s grown significantly at the position between any point in 2012 and currently. But we still don’t know, for sure, if he’s really going to be a true contributor at the position.
But, he’s a “football player” in the sense of the word: he was willing to try out another position, just to be able to contribute to the team (or have a job on the team at all), he’s willing to do the dirty work, and he plays his ass off on Special Teams. But between being a receiver and a tight end, he seems to be not quite six of one and not quite half a dozen at another. So, it’s nice to have this “swiss army knife”-type player on the roster, and if Davis really leaves town after the 2013 position, maybe he’ll develop into the full-time second string tight end behind Reed.
And then there’s Logan Paulsen, a “grunt” in the truest sense of the word. Fairly or unfairly, Paulsen is the blocking tight end; the guy you bring in on third and short, or goal-to-go situations. But just because he doesn’t put up the big numbers or make the flashy athletic plays doesn’t mean that he’s any less important to this offense. Why else would the Redskins bring Paulsen back on a three year contract this past offseason, in a year when they were miserably strapped for any spending money in free agency?
The bottom line is: this is as intriguing a group of tight ends, start to finish, as we’ve seen in years. They have guys who can catch and guys who can block, but each of those guys is pretty sufficient at the other, too. They have experience and they have youth, and speed and strength.
Everyone already knows that Robert Griffin III has playmakers around him, like Alfred Morris, Pierre Garcon, Santana Moss. This year, there’s a great chance that some other guys will step into major contributing roles, like Josh Morgan, Aldrick Robinson, and Roy Helu. But the tight end position could be a true “X Factor” that many around the country may not have realized.