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Posted: Friday, 18 April 2014 10:17AM

Bills Draft Outlook: Tight End



(WGR 550) -- For whatever reason, acquiring a game-changing type of talent at tight end has eluded the Buffalo Bills throughout the history of their franchise. From a statistical perspective, the best and most consistent tight end the Bills have had was Pete Metzelaars, and he left the team after the 1994 season.

While he was a solid piece to the team’s offense during the glory years, he never had a season where he took over. In fact, the Bills have never had a 1,000 yard receiver from their tight end. Heck, they haven’t even had one that got 75-percent of the way there.

The most yardage ever attained by a Bills tight end was Paul Costa in the 1967 season, when he gained 726 yards. The second highest total? Scott Chandler this past season with 655. The best year with Pete Metzelaars featured more receptions in a single season than any Bills tight end, but it only yielded 609 yards.

You might be asking, what is the moral of the story? The Bills haven’t found a player at the position that takes over games and that’s only magnified with the growing importance of tight end in today’s NFL.

Might this be the year that they try to find that player? Let’s examine:

What they have
Starter: Scott Chandler
Reserves: Tony Moeaki, Lee Smith, Chris Gragg, Mike Caussin

What they need
- It’s pretty simple for the Bills, but much harder to execute. They need a tight end that has not only the athletic ability to take over a game for their team, but to force the defense to adjust to that player whenever they're on the field.

Partially due to injury and other circumstances to the two main wide receivers of the team, the Bills’ leading pass catcher in 2013 was none other than Scott Chandler. His 53 receptions, 655 yards and two touchdowns led the way for the Bills last season.

Since they claimed him off waivers Chandler has been a worthy addition and a solid starter at tight end. However, he does not possess the skill set that dictates the way defenses play you. He doesn’t have the overwhelming speed or athleticism to blow a busted play wide open.

The Bills also have Tony Moeaki, a player that they’ve talked about having had success previously in the league, on more than one occasion. Signed only for this season, to think the Bills are complete at the position with the combination of he and Chandler isn’t necessarily one that will get the fans buzzing about the group, or defenses nervous about the matchup.

Chris Gragg is entering his second season and is thought of as the speed threat with an overall game that needs refinement. Lee Smith is the blocking extraordinaire, and he’s perfect for that role. The group gets rounded out by Mike Caussin, who has been unable to stay healthy for the past two seasons.

Each of the top four players seem to have one specific skill that highlights their game, but none of them put it all together as a complete tight end. Having just one player that is the jack-of-all trades type at tight end offers the team a considerable amount of versatility in play-calling. For the type of creative mind that offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett has, finding that player should be of utmost importance.

How will they do it?
- Draft day will surely be intriguing for many different reasons, but mostly for how GM Doug Whaley values certain positions against others. Tight end falls squarely on the 50-50 line of not knowing which way Whaley will lean. 

In his time in Pittsburgh, the Steelers drafted a total of seven tight ends. One in the first round (Heath Miller, 30th overall), one third-round pick (Matt Spaeth), two fifth-round picks (Jerame Tuman, Charles Davis), two sixth-round picks (Jason Gavadza, Matt Kranchick) and one in the seventh-round (David Johnson).

This raises three questions: Does he share the same belief about drafting tight ends as his former bosses in the Steel City? Has his belief changed with the way the NFL values tight ends more highly over the past few years? And, does Scott Chandler being the leading receiver in 2013 affirm a belief that an athletic tight end might be the best thing for a developing EJ Manuel?

Come draft day in 2014, ninth overall will be heavily debated for the message sent with either taking an offensive tackle or selecting a pass target for their young quarterback. If the board plays out and Texas A&M Jake Matthews is available, a tight end like North Carolina’s Eric Ebron might not be a big factor in the discussion. However, if both Matthews and Auburn’s Greg Robinson are selected in the first eight picks, the debate on Ebron against Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan should be one that’s wide open.

Even if the Bills decide against taking a tight end, their second-round pick for players like Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Notre Dame’s Troy Niklas will likely be heavily considered.

In the end, it’s about what is best for the development of Manuel. We’ll find out a lot about that very line of thinking on May 8 when the Bills turn in their card.

Players connected to the Bills (will be updated)
Eric Ebron, North Carolina (Pre-Draft Visit)
Troy Niklas, Notre Dame (Pre-Draft Visit)
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington (Pre-Draft Visit)

Previous ‘Bills Draft Outlook’ Editions
Wide Receiver
Defensive End
Running Back
Safety
Defensive Tackle

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

All photos courtesy of AP
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