For the first time in recent memory, the Buffalo Bills are entering a season completely comfortable with their depth at the tight end position. Long an area of weakness for Buffalo's offense, the Bills had three draft picks battling for playing time - Derek Schouman ('07 Round 7), Derek Fine ('08 Round 4), and easily the most talented player, Shawn Nelson ('09 Round 4).
Through two pre-season games, however, Buffalo's most productive tight end has been a second-year, former undrafted free agent castoff from New England by the name of Jonathan Stupar. The unexpected rise of Stupar, who spent the vast majority of his rookie season on the Bills' practice squad, has made a good situation even better for Buffalo.
Stupar is Bills' leading receiver
Through two pre-season games, no Bills receiver has as many receptions (10) or as much receiving yardage (92) as Stupar. Underwhelming in nearly every way - not a single part of Stupar's game sticks out as exceptional - Stupar has nonetheless proven himself well-rounded as a blocker and receiver, and clearly, he's shown the ability to make plays in the passing game.
By comparison, his three tight end cohorts have been lackadaisical in production. Schouman has one reception for five yards this pre-season. Fine has two catches for ten yards. Nelson has hauled in three balls for 11 yards, including the team's only aerial score thus far.
Needless to say, Stupar is blowing his fellow tight ends out of the water from a production standpoint. He remains, however, fourth in the rotation both in games and in the practice setting. Bills coaches are comfortable with Schouman, Fine and Nelson at the position, and have designs on using all three offensively this season. What, then, happens with Buffalo's most consistent pre-season receiver?
Can the team keep four tight ends?
First, the reality of the situation is that despite Stupar's impressive play this pre-season, it's going to be difficult for the team to keep four tight ends. The Bills have a bigger need for depth at several other positions - namely, defensive back, receiver and along the lines - and potentially keeping a fourth tight end takes numbers away from another position. That doesn't mean it isn't a possibility, however. Stupar's play has impressed to the point that keeping four tight ends is a distinct, if not very desirable, possibility.
The idea that Stupar could potentially leapfrog either Schouman or Fine on the depth chart (let's face it, Nelson's not going anywhere any time soon) is premature, as well. Schouman has two years of experience in the system and an established rapport with QB Trent Edwards. His lock on the starter's job is firm. Fine is a bit more naturally talented, but is working on polishing up his game in his second season. Stupar is cut from the same cloth - a little rough around the edges and not outstanding at any one thing, but he's not as talented as the Dereks.
Still, it's tough to ignore production, and Buffalo's coaching staff has certainly taken notice of Stupar's impressive pre-season. His surprising production makes a good situation better. There is absolutely no problem with having four solid players competing for three spots. The problem is possibly having to cut one, and Stupar is making the coaches think long and hard about doing exactly that.