The Redskins are loaded at tight end - Jordan Reed is the emerging star and Vernon Davis the veteran with a stellar track record. But don't forget about Niles Paul. Lost last season to a broken ankle, Paul looked strong throughout Washington's offseason work, and with the team heading to Richmond this week to begin training camp, the former Nebraska receiver has been clear he plans to compete for playing time despite his loaded position group.
"If you’re not out there competing to be the No. 1, I don’t know why you’re in the league," Paul said on ESPN980 earlier this summer.
Paul's mindset is admirable, but Reed is locked in as the No. 1 tight end. There's no debate there. And GM Scot McCloughan did not bring Vernon Davis to Washington without plans of playing him.
But here's the thing with Paul - he can be very good.
In the first four games of the 2014 season, Paul caught 21 balls for 313 yards and a touchdown. He was averaging nearly 80 yards receiving per game in that stretch, the best of his career. It's no surprise that Paul put up those numbers when Reed was out, as he was injured Week 1 and did not suit back up until Week 6 of that season.
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Paul has proved himself a strong backup to Reed, and in Reed's three-year career, he has missed 14 games. Last year Reed stayed mostly healthy - he missed two games - but it would hardly be a surprise if the Redskins have to go one or more games without their new $50 million tight end. Davis will be expected to step up should that happen, but the team might lean on Paul more in that situation, in addition to a major role on special teams as well. There were also a few snaps this summer where Paul worked as a fullback - a role the tight end might have to take on with the departure of Darrel Young.
Jay Gruden acknowledged Paul's hard work during minicamp.
"He’s done an unbelievable job in rehab to get himself to this point," Gruden said. "We didn’t expect him back until training camp."
A 5th-round pick in 2011, Paul has already surpassed expectations with a five-year NFL career. That he outpaced his rehab schedule should not come as a shock.
Should he significantly contribute this fall, even considering Reed and Davis will be the first and second targets at tight end respectively, would not be a surprise either.