This article analyzes the Jaguars current Tight Ends and those who they might go after in free agency or the draft.
There are some other options available to the Jaguars including: Nick O’Leary who doesn't seem to have the athletic ability and size required of a number one tight end in the NFL. He had great college production, however, paired with good hands; and Blake Bell, the former Quarter Back from Oklahoma, who is trying his hand at tight end to make an NFL roster. The Jaguars clearly have many options to choose from when it comes to improving their tight end group. Beyond the players highlighted here there are some other prospects projected as middle round selections that could have a huge impact for the Jaguars.
It is imperative that the team improve the tight end position with at least one of the players mentioned. I am of the opinion that having two legitimate pass catching tight end makes a team very difficult to defend. Running a two tight end set, with two pass catching tight ends creates match up nightmares for defenses. The Jaguars should add at least two tight ends this offseason via free agency and the draft. Far and away, the most proven commodities are Julius Thomas and Charles Clay. The Jaguars should open up the check book and bring one of them in. Thomas or Clay would immediately help the team on the field and get the fans excited about coming to The Bank next season (as if the scoreboards, the Bud Zone, and the Clevelander aren’t reason enough)! In addition to signing Thomas or Clay, the Jaguars should look to draft a Tight End. The group that they have now isn’t getting the job done; in order for Bortles to reach his full potential, he needs some viable options at tight end.
So DUVAL, what do you think? Should the Jaguars go after a couple of these tight ends or are there different tight ends you would like to see the Jaguars add to the roster?
The Jaguars are a team coming off an underwhelming season, to say the least. Earning only three victories and having one of the worst offenses in team history, there is sure to be a much different look on the offensive side of the ball in 2015. With loads of cap room and numerous holes to fill, the Jaguars look to be big spenders in free agency. One of the positions that is expected to have a major face lift is tight end. There was a lack of production throughout the season from this group. As a unit the Jaguars tight ends combined for 49 catches, 534 yards and 4 touchdowns. Marcedes Lewis is the highest paid tight end on the team, although you wouldn't know it based on how he’s been playing. His calling card was always his blocking, but even that deteriorated last season. Clay Harbor is a decent depth guy, as he has size and speed, but he does not catch the ball consistently. The rest of the Jaguars’ group does not seem to have any hidden gems.
The modern tight end has become a key component to the passing game and it is vital for a high powered offense to have at least one, good pass catching, tight end. The Jaguars have not had an athletic tight end with good hands since… well… ever. As sad as that is for Jags fans, it’s true! Marcedes Lewis is the most productive tight end the Jaguars have ever had, which says a whole lot about what the tight end position has, or has not been for this franchise. With the draft and free agency coming up there are many different directions in which the Jaguars could go.
The most popular idea, and maybe the best, that fans and media alike are proposing, is signing the upcoming free agent tight end Julius Thomas. Thomas caught 43 balls in 2014, which was only 6 less than all the Jaguars’ tight ends combined. He also racked up 12 scores, which is three times what the Jaguars were able to get from their tight ends. While Thomas had huge numbers in Denver last season, it is tough to imagine that he would be able to reach the end zone that many times for the Jaguars, as they only had 14 touchdowns through the air all of last season. However, Thomas would greatly improve the Jaguars offense. He fits the mold of what NFL executives look for in a modern tight end. He is big, fast and uses his basketball skill set to beat defenders. Over the past few seasons in Denver he has emerged as one of the very best at his position in the entire league, and he wants to get paid accordingly. Thomas reportedly will be seeking a contract that would make him the highest paid tight end in the league. Thomas is only 26 years old, so age is not an issue with him. The question is: do the Jaguars want to dish out the money that it will take to land him? If they do snag the highly valued Thomas, he will immediately be a safety valve and play maker for second year quarterback, Blake Bortles.
If the Jaguars decide to go in a different, cheaper, direction there are other options available. The most attractive tight end, not named Julius Thomas, that is set to hit free agency is Charles Clay. He is a versatile tight end, who has shown the ability to catch the ball and possesses above average speed and athleticism for the position. Clay had more production than the entire Jaguars tight end group in 2014, amassing 58 catches for 605 yards and 3 scores. Clay also just turned 26 in February, so he has a nice long career in front of him. He would cost less than the highly coveted, Julius Thomas, and would be a nice addition to a below average tight end group. While Clay would cost less than Thomas, he will still command a big contract and likely be the second highest paid free agent tight end from this year’s crop.
Clive Walford from Miami (FL) is another tight end that the Jaguars might look to draft to bolster their lowly offense. Walford has similar size and speed to Maxx Williams, but he is not as polished as Williams as a receiver, having many drops throughout his college career. While he is not a great route runner, he does have potential to be a good dual threat tight end. He has the ability to block and be a good receiver once he actually controls the ball. In order to develop he needs to refine his route running and work on making the easy catches. Many players that have issues dropping the ball are never able to overcome the issue. However, some players are able to overcome their issues with dropping the ball by reducing the amount of dropped balls slightly, and being consistent in other facets of the game. The Jaguars and their young quarterback need someone who can come in and be a safety valve at the tight end position, so the number of drops Walford has had throughout his career might scare the Jaguars away. Walford will likely be a second or third round pick and will likely be the second tight end off the board behind Williams. Maxx Williams and Clive Walford are the two highest rated tight ends in the draft, according to almost everyone.
There is another tight end, however, who could end up being the best from this years draft class. Jesse James out of Penn State is a massive 6 foot 7 inch Junior who could make a huge impact in the NFL. Being so tall and having a 37.5 inch vertical, James certainly has the measurables. He shows the ability to make big plays, but is far less refined than Williams and Walford. He is not a good blocker or route runner, and looks somewhat awkward while running. He likely will be drafted in the third round or later and would be much more of a project than Williams or Walford. Despite this, he might have the most upside because of his size and athletic ability.
There are some other intriguing players at the position that are set to hit the open market, but none that have the past production and potential that both Julius Thomas and Charles Clay display. These names include: Jordan Cameron, an oft injured tight end who is a beast when healthy, and was even able to thrive in the Browns' lowly passing attack; Anthony Fasano, a 30 year old tight end with 31 career touchdowns to his name; Jordan Reed, who has loads of potential, but can’t seem to stay healthy; Niles Paul, Reed’s team mate, who had his coming out party against the Jaguars last season; and Jermaine Gresham, who seems to have hit his ceiling, which is little better than an average NFL tight end. The Jaguars could certainly look to one of these players to help bolster the tight end position and help their young signal caller find some stability.
It is likely that even if the Jaguars do get one of these tight ends that they would draft one as well. In this year’s draft there are some fantastic options at the tight end position. By far the most polished and NFL ready player at the position is Maxx Williams from Minnesota. He displays great hands and athleticism, combined with the ideal height and build for a modern tight end. Standing at 6 foot 4 inches and weighing in at just under 250 pounds, Williams is a physical specimen. He plays like a smaller version of Rob Gronkowski. According to Mike Mayock of NFL Network “he is athletic, but not explosive” and “has really good hands”. While Mayock may not think Williams is “explosive”, he has shown the ability to make explosive plays. Williams has made many sideline grabs while dragging his feet and shown the ability to make difficult one handed catches. Mayock might mean that Williams is not “explosive” purely based on athleticism, yet on the football field he clearly can make explosive plays. Maxx Williams is a perfect fit for a young quarterback as he will be able to come in and make an impact immediately. While Maxx Williams is the best option coming out of college, he will also be the most difficult to obtain. He will likely go in the second round and could even sneak into the bottom of the first round of the draft. In the event that the Jaguars are unable to draft Williams, there are other worthy candidates.
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