Over the next few weeks, Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will grade each position group’s performance in 2015, break down the current personnel situation and evaluate the unit's outlook for 2016. Previously, we took a look at the defensive line, offensive tackles, and interior offensive line. Today, tight ends are up.
2015 starter: Jordan Reed
Backups: Alex Smith, Marcel Jensen (Niles Paul, Logan Paulsen, Derek Carrier injured reserve)
Free agents: Smith, Paulsen
Rewind: Let’s start with what went right here. Reed moved from being a potential star into being a legitimate impact player. He led the team in all three major receiver categories with 87 catches for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns. The 2013 third-round pick saved his best performance for the biggest game as he dominated the Eagles with 9 receptions for 129 yards and two touchdowns in the Week 16 division-clinching games in Philadelphia.
Beyond Reed there was very little productivity at the tight end position. Paul, who was coming off of a solid 2014 campaign, suffered an ankle injury in the preseason opener and was lost for the season. Paulsen also went out before the season started with a toe injury. Those injuries prompted a trade for Carrier, who caught 17 passes before suffering a knee injury in Week 14. That led them to bringing in Smith, who played under Jay Gruden in Cincinnati. He provided some decent blocking down the stretch but he did not catch a pass.
Also taking snaps during the course of the year were former Seahawk Anthony McCoy, ex-practice squad player Je’Ron Hamm, and Jensen, who the Redskins signed off of the Bills’ practice squad a few days before Christmas.
It’s appropriate to mention tackle Tom Compton here, too. He frequently lined up as a tight end but served as an extra offensive tackle when the ball was snapped. With Paulsen out the Redskins didn’t have anyone who could fill the blocking tight end role and it remained an issue all season, forcing the team to utilize Compton in the role.
The grade of C is based on Reed receiving an A for his performance and the rest of the unit getting grades ranging from C-minus to D-minus.
Fast forward: The only question about Reed that is out there is whether he will play 2016 under the last year of his rookie contract and make $1.6 million or if he will get an extension and take home a considerably larger paycheck every week in addition to a nice signing bonus.
The day after the playoff loss to the Packers Paul spoke with reporters and said that he should be ready to go for the offseason program, which starts in April. It will be interesting to see what Gruden and Sean McVay can do with both Reed and Paul on the field at the same time.
Paulsen may or may not be back. There was talk that he may not have made the team last year had he not been injured; the organization wanted someone faster and more athletic. But that person is not out there right now and they have to ask themselves if they are better of with Paulsen, who can catch the ball, as the blocking tight end rather than Compton, who wasn’t targeted at all.
If Paulsen moves on the role of blocking tight end could prove to be difficult to fill. The free agent market is composed of some aging stars like Antonio Gates, some younger players who are primarily pass catchers like Jared Cook and Coby Fleener, and the usual assortment of players who are getting up there in age and/or have injury concerns.
The problem with finding a blocking tight end in college is that they are scarce as the popular spread offenses and their offshoots is that they generally don’t use big tight ends. It might be difficult to come up with an upgrade over Paulsen or perhaps even utilizing Compton as their blocker again.