Let's throw two names out there: Pete Metzelaars and Jay Riemersma. Those were, in reality, the last two tight ends that played for the Bills that were difference-makers. Metzelaars was a favorite target of Jim Kelly's back in the Super Bowl Era; Riemersma was a top-notch red zone threat during the playoff years of the late-1990s and early 2000s. In short, it has been a long time since the Bills have had a tight end that made a true difference in the passing game. Expect that to change soon.
Last season, Buffalo's tight ends were anything but stellar in the passing department. Four players (Robert Royal, Brad Cieslak, Kevin Everett and Ryan Neufeld) combined for 31 catches, 284 yards and 4 touchdowns. That wasn't close to the production the team could have used, especially when our inept offensive line made it impossible for deeper routes to develop.
I chalk up much of that lack of production to, surprise, the offensive line. Royal spent the majority of his season staying in on pass protection and blocking in the running game, rather than actually going out and running routes. Consider that in his first 8 games, Royal had 10 catches for 104 yards and no touchdowns. Once the offensive line was revamped and J.P. Losman started to click, his numbers improved in the second half to 13 catches for 129 yards and 3 scores.
Buffalo's continued improvement along the offensive line should pave the way for the tight ends to be a bit more involved in the passing game. Royal was the main threat at tight end last year, but the team could use two or even three tight ends at once (in the name of versatility), so we could see some other names get some looks - especially near the goal line. This position is not overly talented, but our players are steady and should be more productive this season.
84-Robert Royal: By far the most dependable player of this group, Royal is a fine run blocker who may have been the sole reason the Bills had any success running to the right last season (which they didn't do often). He has not had much opportunity as a receiver, but he became a good end-zone target for Losman at the end of last season. Ideally, Royal could contribute eight touchdowns while continuing his solid run-blocking.
85-Kevin Everett: Everett has had some injury and blocking problems that have limited his time on the field through his first two seasons. But the kid is the most talented tight end we have, and he's been showing it by making waves during spring practices. If our offensive line can mask Everett's liability as a blocker, we could see the youngster play a lot more this season. I specifically envision him lining up in the slot as a third receiver, where his size could be a devastating mismatch against some poor nickel cornerback.
Rounding it out: Matt Murphy. Added to the roster late last year after injuries to Ryan Neufeld and Daimon Shelton, Murphy has been impressive in spring practices. The emergence of Everett and the presence of 7th-round pick Derek Schouman should spell an end to his tenure in Buffalo, however.
I'm not going to lie - I'm skeptical about this group of tight ends. I think they're talented and have diverse skills, but it has been such a long time since the Bills have had a tight end that can stretch the field that it almost seems impossible to think that the position can be effective in a Bills offense. I am, however, more optimistic about the position than I have been in quite some time, mostly due to the additions made along the offensive line. I'm not expecting Todd Heap or Alge Crumpler numbers, but this group (H-Backs included) could help pad JP's touchdown stats, as they are all potentially excellent red zone threats.