Arizona Cardinals pre-NFL draft tight end outlook

The Cardinals return a pair of players who each started 12 games at tight end last season.

Current Roster Number: 5 (Jermaine Gresham, Darren Fells, Troy Niklas, Gerald Christian, Ifeanyi Momah) 

Ideal Roster Number: 3-4

Returning Starters: 2/2 (Jermaine Gresham, Darren Fells)

Draft Need: Low Priority

Roster Composition: Most NFL teams keep three tight ends on their active roster, but the Cardinals have stockpiled depth at this position which makes the possibility of keeping four tight ends a definite consideration.

The Cardinals don't have a true fullback which aids their flexibility and may allow the team to keep four tight ends, but even if they do, it's unlikely the team will add any players with a real chance of making the roster through the draft or free agency.

Jermaine Gresham returns to Arizona after starting 12 games last season, but the seventh-year NFL veteran is coming off of the worst statistical season in his career. In Gresham's first five years in the league, the Oklahoma product caught at least 46 passes each year. Last season, Gresham hauled in just 18 receptions for 223 yards and one touchdown. 

The Cardinals owe Gresham over $3 million this season, but his contract will come off the books after the 2016 campaign. 

Darren Fells is also back in the fold after starting 12 games a year ago (the Cardinals often play two tight-end sets, especially to open the game) and he returns after a relatively productive season in which he caught 21 passes for 311 yards and three touchdowns.

Fells actually became the primary tight end for Arizona for much of last season, but the team rotates frequently at the position and the players split a considerable amount of reps.  

At 6-foot-7, Fells is a larger target than Gresham in the red zone, but he's not the only 6-foot-7 tight end the Cardinals look to at that point on the field. The team also brings back third-year tight end Troy Niklas, who only caught four passes in 2015, but two of those were touchdowns.

Niklas has underwhelmed in his career at this point in part due to a number of injuries he's suffered since leaving Notre Dame. 

Fells is a cheap option for the Cardinals as his contract runs the team just $600,000 this season, while Niklas is a second round draft pick playing out a rookie contract that keeps him with the team for the next two seasons at under $1.5 million each year.

Aside from returning three tight ends who saw quite a bit of playing time last season, the Cardinals bring back Ifeanyi Momah, a converted wide receiver who began last season with the team but suffered an early season injury that landed him on injured reserve. 

The fifth tight end on Arizona's roster is Gerald Christian, a seventh round draft pick in 2015 who did not appear in a game last season. Christian was Mr. Irrelevant in the 2015 draft, and he will try to shed that title amidst an uphill climb for a roster spot this year. 

Draft Outlook

Unless Cardinals' management is really high on a player in the later rounds of the draft, it would come as a significant surprise to see Arizona draft a tight end this season. 

While the team may not have an elite playmaker at the position, Gresham has enjoyed a distinguished career as a receiver and Fells began coming into his own last year.

The continued development of Fells and Niklas is important for this unit, as versatility at the tight end spot can give offensive coordinators more options to play with, especially over the middle of the field. Fells is still adjusting to the competition level after playing his college ball at UC Irvine, while Niklas has been hampered by injuries and kept out of action as a result. 

If Arizona can find at least two dependable options at tight end this year, the likelihood the team will draft a tight end next season will decrease as well. At this point, drafting a tight end isn't even a moderate priority for Arizona, considering the team has the opportunity to fill holes elsewhere on its roster. 

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