The Browns just finished another double-digit loss season and questions abound throughout the roster. Are the Browns heading in the right direction? Do the Browns have a core to build around?
The OBR is breaking down the Browns current roster position-by-position. In the fourth in the series, we will take a look at the tight ends.
Similar to the running back position, the Browns thought the tight end position was an area of strength going into the season. Ben Watson was returning after a career year in 2010 with a team-leading 68 receptions for 763 yards and three touchdowns.
Evan Moore emerged as a downfield receiving threat with a yard per reception average of over 20 yards a catch in 2010. He had just 16 receptions for 322 yards and one touchdown, but showed enough promise to the front office to get a multi-year multi-million dollar contract extension.
Watson and Moore were to be the security blanket for Colt McCoy in the West Coast offense and Moore looked as though he was heading for a big season as he and McCoy hooked up early and often in the preseason in the red zone. Moore's 6-5 frame created a mismatch on smaller defensive backs.
However, Watson battled concussions all season and ended up on injured reserve after suffering his third concussion of the season against the Steelers. He still finished third on the team with 37 catches for 410 yards (11.1 avg.) with two touchdowns, but the production was far shy of his previous year totals.
Moore had a career-best 34 receptions for 324 yards (9.5 avg.) with four touchdowns. After Moore received his contract extension, curiously his playing time seemed to decrease. There were games when he played less than 10 snaps. The reasons were not stated, but it seemed that Moore was mostly a receiver and the Browns needed blocking at the position.
Alex Smith was used more than a normal third tight end with the injuries to Watson and his ability to block. Smith caught 14 passes for 131 yards (9.4 avg.) and a touchdown. Smith also ended up on injured reserve and missed the final three games. Smith's most infamous play of the season was when he fumbled a handoff when he was at fullback in place of Owen Marecic in a critical moment of an early season loss.
Jordan Cameron was drafted in the fourth-round because of his athleticism and basketball background. Tight ends have become in vogue that played basketball in college in Antonio Gates and more recently Jimmy Graham. Cameron didn't see the field until late in the season and he finished with six catches for 33 yards. Cameron is raw, but the Browns saw something in him to draft him as highly as they did.
Dan Gronkowski was added for the end of the season after Watson and Smith were placed on injured reserve. Gronkowski fit the bill of the blocking tight end and saw action, but didn't catch any passes.
Bottom Line: The tight ends combined for 91 receptions and seven touchdowns as a group. Watson's concussion problems are not a good sign and hopefully, he will be cleared and is able to return to his 2010 form. Moore needs to become a better blocker in the off-season. He definitely creates mismatches and can be a play maker, especially in the red zone, but the Browns have to figure out how to use him. If he is unable to be an effective blocker, the defense knows the play is going to be a pass play when Moore's on the field. If Moore can't block effectively, the Browns could make Moore a full-time wide receiver similar to Dave Logan of the ‘Kardiac Kid' era.
Smith is a free agent and the Browns definitely need a blocking tight end as Watson and Gronkowski are the only others on the roster that fit the bill. With Watson's injury history, the Browns have to decide if they are going to re-sign Smith or address the position in free agency.
(Next Up: We'll take a look at the offensive line)