State of the 2016 Denver Broncos: Tight Ends

Mile High Huddle brings you State of the Broncos—a position by position evaluation of the roster. Today's edition focuses on the tight ends. Analyst Adam Uribes breaks it down.

This is a group that was in a constant state of flux last year, never settling into a consistent rotation, and never really resulting in having two tight ends on the field at the same time.  By the end of the season the Denver Broncos 2015 season, Owen Daniels was the most productive of all the tight ends, which wasn’t saying a whole lot, but the now-departed veteran did come up big in the postseason with two big touchdown grabs in the memorable AFC Championship Game against New England

The Vernon Davis experiment was thought to be a quite the coup for the team but ended with a fizzle. Davis never did find a true fit in the offense and when he did manage to find his way on to the field, he found a way off of it just as quickly with crucial drops in clutch situations. His most notable drop came in the regular season loss to Oakland on a drive that might have set up a game-tying field goal.

We did hear a lot of talk about Virgil Green making an impact after he was re-signed in the offseason. However, the coaching staff was forced to go with fewer two-TE sets once it was decided that the offense would need to be more tailored to a shotgun-heavy personnel. This led to less 22 personnel groupings (2 TE, 1 FB, 1RB) that may have been more suited to Green’s skill-set.  With the coaching staff going with the veteran Daniels, with only quick spells from Green, the big TE saw the best part of his repertoire struggle—his blocking. It came as no surprise when he took to the media with his disappointment in his role within the offense. 

This year’s group figures to resemble last year’s model, as they are looking to move forward with a younger version of Daniels in the recently signed Garrett Graham.  In Gary Kubiak’s last year with the Houston Texans, Graham did pull decent receiving numbers, with 49 catches for 545 yards and five touchdowns. 

He will look to put his familiarity with the offense to good work as his last two years with Houston were pedestrian, mostly due to a change in offensive philosophy with the coaching change to Bill O'Brien

With there not being a big name brought in through free agency or the draft, the team looks poised to bank on the upside of youngster Jeff Heuerman and a resurgence in Green.  Rounding out the group will be undrafted rookie free agents Henry Krieger-Coble from Iowa and Manesseh Garner from PITT.

Projected Depth Chart 

TE1: Garret Graham

TE2: Virgil Green

TE3: Jeff Heuerman

TE4: Henry Krieger-Coble

TE5: Manasseh Garner

From looking at some tape of the Big Ten title game, I came away quietly impressed with Krieger-Coble.  The young TE is more in the mold of a traditional blocker but was used in several different formations and showed well in all of them. If he was asked to be on the backside of stretch runs, he did a good job either cutting the trail defensive player, negating pursuit, or getting to the linebacker at the next level.  Everyone remembers C.J. Anderson’s overtime run that clinched the win against New England in the snow; that play was run out of a toss with a bunch formation led by Vernon Davis at the point of attack.   

Krieger-Coble showed that he is a more willing and effective blocker in the same formation as well.  While he did have some erratic quarterback play in college that didn’t see him catch a lot of balls, he did show soft hands with receptions away from his body—going over the middle and in seam routes, crucial to any TE skill-set.

If Virgil Green’s funk persists and continues to show a decline in his blocking, I could easily envision a scenario where the rookie could unseat the veteran.  It could also make financial sense as well, as the Broncos will be looking to be fiscally aware of any means they can find to save money.  If they can get the level of blocking or better from an undrafted rookie, it may be the end of the Virgil Green era in Denver.

Free Agent Options

By looking at the street free agent market, there isn’t much in the way of a quality TE stepping in and immediately helping out the Broncos.  But in case of an injury to a player, there are two names that could step into the breach, Scott Chandler and Owen Daniels. 

Chandler is a serviceable player and did have a couple of good games with New England last year in place of the injured Rob Gronkowski.  Chandler also could be a fit as the receiving TE in the two-receiver system Denver figures to use, as that’s what he was asked to do opposite Gronkowski in New England.

Then there’s Daniels. He knows the system and is a steady locker room presence; it just looks like the knee issues were a bit more significant than initially thought last year.  Still, it’s not hard to imagine that if someone goes down in camp, Daniels’ phone may be ringing. At the time of his release, the front office didn’t put the idea completely to bed that Daniels could still end up being a Bronco at some point in the upcoming year. 

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Adam Uribes is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @auribes37.

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