The Denver Broncos launched Phase Three of their offseason training program today, as the team convened at their facilities at Dove Valley. It’s almost June and as usual, time is flyin’. Training camp, and the intrigue and scrutiny that comes with it, will be here before we know it.
We’re taking some time to break down the depth chart at each position group. We’ve covered the quarterbacks and running backs so far and now it’s time for the tight ends. There are some new faces in Denver and a couple of old familiars. The Broncos don't currently have a true fullback on-roster, so this tight end group has to be versatile.
Keep in mind, this is not a prediction of the pecking order, or how the competition will shake out. We’re simply evaluating the group.
TE1. Virgil Green
The first John Elway draft pick to be re-signed by the team, Green returned to Denver, after briefly testing the waters of free agency. He had several keenly interested suitors, but the draw of the Duke of Denver kept him in orange and blue.
The Broncos re-signed Green on a three-year, $8.4M deal. They’re not paying him close to $3M per year to just block. I believe that Green will finally be called upon as a weapon in the offense. He and Daniels will spend a lot of time on the field together and in truth, could be interchangeable as TE1 and TE2.
Green is hitting the prime of his career. He has many of the same athletic gifts that Julius Thomas has but he’s also measurably stronger and more physical. Green can be counted on to not only lead block or set the edge, but he can make plays downfield in the passing game, provided his route skills are honed a bit more.
After studying his game on tape recently, I came away convinced that if the Broncos make a conscious effort to feature him in the offense more, it could pay off for the team in the same way that Thomas did in 2013 and 2014—but perhaps on a slightly smaller scale, as Kubiak isn’t going to be as prone to throwing the ball 40+ times per game.
TE2. Owen Daniels
Daniels signed a three-year deal with the Broncos back in March. As a guy who was drafted by Gary Kubiak in Houston, Daniels brings with him a wealth of experience in the Broncos new offense. He might be on the back-nine of his career, but he still has plenty to offer on the grid-iron.
Daniels will be on the field a lot in 2015 and in the redzone in particular, he’ll be a deadly weapon for quarterback Peyton Manning. He’s a solid blocker and a team-first player. Daniels is a natural fit for the Broncos and could see career high numbers in 2015.
In his nine-year career, Daniels has amassed 433 receptions for 5,144 yards and 33 touchdowns, including last year with the Baltimore Ravens, in which he hauled in 48 balls for 527 yards and four scores.
TE3. James Casey
Like Daniels, Casey is a former Kubiak draft pick who brings to the table a lot of knowledge and experience in the offense. He has the versatility to play multiple positions for the Broncos and is completely comfortable lining up as fullback. The Broncos signed him to a one-year, $1.25M deal in April.
Casey is a ultra-athletic and can be a difference maker in the offense. When the Broncos run 22-personnel (2 TE, 2 RB), putting Green, Daniels and Casey on the field together, will provide Manning with the plenty of athletic, big-bodied targets in the passing game, and high-motored blockers in the run game.
Casey has appeared in 92 NFL games, including 23 starts during his career with Houston (2009-12) and Philadelphia (2013-14). He has amassed 72 receptions for 842 yards and six touchdowns. Also a boon to the third phase of football, Casey led the NFL with 439 snaps played on special teams, while posting 13 tackles and two blocked punts for the Eagles.
TE4. Dominique Jones
Jones went undrafted out of Division II Shepherd in 2010 and spent the first two years of his professional career playing in the United Football League and the Indoor Football League, before eventually signing as an UDFA with the Indianapolis Colts in 2012.
Since then, he spent time with the Miami Dolphins, the Colts again, Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills, before finally be signed to the Broncos practice squad in September of 2014. At 6-foot-3, 270 pounds, Jones is a physical, developmental tight end. He has three career receptions for 42 yards.
Although he faces a stiff competition to make the final roster, the Broncos have kept him around for a reason. Jones spent a brief time on the Broncos active roster in 2014 and in the few snaps he saw in Week 15, our very own Erick Trickel was impressed with what Jones displayed in the run game.
”All four of Jones' snaps came as a run blocker. He actually did really well. I would not be surprised if they used him more as a second tight end, instead of a sixth offensive linemen. If they do that, it makes the offense a bit more versatile, as a tight end can go catch a pass.”
TE5. Marcel Jensen
The Broncos were recently awarded Jensen off of waivers, after the Jacksonville Jaguars parted ways with him. The former undrafted rookie out of Fresno State has one career reception for eight yards. At 6-foot-3, 260 pounds, Jensen is raw, but he has potential.
The Broncos brought him in to ignite competition at the bottom of the depth chart when they lost rookie third round pick Jeff Heuerman to a torn ACL in rookie mini-camp. Jensen will have to fight hard to even secure a spot on the Broncos practice squad in 2015.
TE6. Joe Don Duncan
Duncan went undrafted out of Dixie State in 2014, despite most draftniks giving him a late-round grade. At 6-foot-3, 270 pounds, Duncan is strong, as his 35 reps on the 225-pound bench press he threw up at the ’14 Combine conveys.
For his size, he’s not as developed as a run blocker as you’d think, but he can be a formidable weapon in the passing game. He has tremendous athleticism and a high football IQ. Like Casey, Duncan will likely get a lot of looks at fullback. It’s his best shot to make the roster. He's even got a fullback jersey number.
The Broncos spent their 2015 third round pick on Jeff Heuerman but as mentioned above, in a most unfortunate turn of events, he tore his ACL in rookie mini-camp and is lost for the season. We won't see him in orange and blue until this time next year but the Broncos are obviously very high on Heuerman and have great expectations for him in the future.