The Browns have several positions that seem to be all but set as the team prepares for the 2013 season. However, tight end is not one of them. The top three at the position seem to be in place, but who will end up as the primary player is still up for grabs. Another possibility is that the position will be played by a committee of all three players.
Cameron is the favorite to be the starter when the season opens, but he has never been in that role. Cameron played behind Ben Watson, who departed via free agency.
Davis and Barnidge were signed as unrestricted free agents and both are expected to push for playing time.
Cameron (6-5, 245, 24, 3rd year) – Cameron caught 20 passes for 226 yards and one touchdown. His season best was five catches for 45 yards against the Bills. The Browns are hoping he can make the jump to being a starter. He has been plagued with injuries in his young career and had groin and hamstring injuries during minicamp. He certainly has the athleticism with his basketball background and has improved in his blocking skills. When Tom Heckert drafted Cameron, the hope was he would develop into another basketball turned football convert like Jimmy Graham.
Davis (6-7, 265, 27, 6th year) – Davis had some underwhelming seasons with the Bears, but the Browns think he can be productive with a fresh start. Davis was the first tight end signed as an unrestricted free agent. He has the size to be a big blocking tight end, but had trouble hanging on to passes with the Bears on occasion last year.
Davis was originally drafted by the Bears in the fifth round (158th overall) of the 2008 draft and has not missed a game in his career, having played in all 80 regular season contests with 35 starts. He has registered 47 career receptions for 529 yards with 11 touchdowns. In 2012, he set career-highs in receptions (19) and receiving yards (229), while adding two touchdowns in 15 starts. In 2011, he recorded a career-high five touchdown catches, which tied for sixth-most among NFC tight ends that season.
Barnidge (6-5, 250, 27, 6th year) – Barnidge joined the Browns with little fanfare as an unrestricted free agent signing from the Panthers where he had little production in five NFL seasons. He had just six receptions for the Panthers in 2012 and has just 18 catches in his first five seasons, including 12 for 242 yards (20.2 avg.) in 2009.
However, Chudzinski saw something in Barnidge while coaching him and he showed some good hands during the off-season program and could be a mild surprise for the Browns. He might be the best all around tight end with regards to blocking and receiving.
Smelley (6-2, 235, 24, 2nd year) – Smelley spent the first 13 games on the Browns practice squad before being elevated to the 53-man roster for the final three games. He caught one pass for three yards against the Broncos. Smelley was at fullback and tight end in his rookie season, but seems to be settled in at tight end under Chudzinski.
Gronkowski (6-5, 255, 28, 3rd year) – Gronkowski was in the Browns training camp last season and spent some time on the practice squad.
Tannahill (6-4, 255, 23, rookie) – Tannahill is an undrafted rookie free agent from Kansas State who will have his work cut out for him to make the roster.
Summary: The Browns need production from the tight end spot with the departure of Watson, who caught 154 passes the past three years with the Browns. Davis has the most receptions of any player on the roster for a season with 19. Chudzinski was a tight end at Miami (Fla.) and spent a good part of his early coaching career as a tight ends coach. He was credited with developing Antonio Gates and Kellen Winslow, among others. The Browns are hoping that Cameron will blossom with Davis and Barnidge providing depth.
(Next Up: We will take a look at the offensive line)