The tight end position for the Buffalo Bills has been inconsistent and mediocre at best since Pete Metezelaars' last year with the team in 1994. Yes, if you've done the math already, that is over 20 years of not having a Pro Bowl caliber tight end here in Buffalo.
Since that time, the Bills have unsuccessfully tried to replace Metezelaars, by either drafting or signing a total of 38 tight ends during that span. Lonnie Johnson (1995-1997), Kevin Everett (2006-2007), and Shawn Nelson (2009-2010) were all drafted reasonably early with the expectations of one day being the Bills' starter. Each was blessed with great physical skills, but for one reason or another, it didn't work out here in Buffalo.
Statistically speaking, Scott Chandler and Jay Riemersma have been the only two tight ends to even remotely approach what Metzelaars did within the past 20 years. Chandler averaged 36 receptions, 424 yards, and 3.4 touchdowns for four full seasons while here with the Bills, where Riemersma averaged 34 receptions, 384 yards, and 3.3 touchdowns per season. They were big targets with decent hands, but limited athletically with below-average blocking skills. Therefore, there has always been this feeling amongst most Bills fans that this position can and should be upgraded.
How do we measure an upgrade? If you are Bills fans, you know there is one statistic that is always bought up when discussing Bills tight ends; that is the franchise record for receiving touchdowns in one season.
For 19 years, Metezelaars held the franchise record for the most touchdowns in one season by a tight end with six. In 2011 and 2012, Chandler tied the record, but never passed it. In the grand scheme of things, six is still a low number, especially when New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski had 17 touchdowns in one season, the same amount that Chandler had in his entire career with the Bills.
In comes free agent pickup Charles Clay from the Miami Dolphins. Clay is certainly paid like the type of tight end that the fans have been clamoring for, and is expected to be an upgrade over Chandler. But can Clay exceed the touchdown mark for a tight end in his first season? Let's set the over/under at 6.5 touchdowns for Clay in his first season as a Bill.
Over or under: 6.5 touchdowns for Charles Clay in 2015
There's no doubt that Clay is going to be an integral part of the Bills' offense in 2015. He's the type of player that will never come off the field. He can line up split out as a receiver, on the line as a tight end, and in the backfield as an H-Back. He's an average to above average blocker, and will be an immediate upgrade over Chandler in that department.
Clay will definitely see his fair share of footballs, as he'll be among a second-level group of receivers vying for targets in the passing game, alongside Robert Woods and Percy Harvin. If you look at what Vernon Davis was able to do in San Francisco with Greg Roman as his offensive coordinator, you can probably expect Clay to be used the same way. In Davis' best statistical season, he led the team with 13 touchdowns. Even though Clay isn't the physical specimen or perhaps the talent that Davis is, it isn't be inconceivable to think that Clay can't at least come close to matching Davis production.
As good as Clay has been in Miami over the past two seasons, averaging 64 receptions, 682 yards, and 4.5 touchdowns, he has never scored more than six touchdowns in one season. Known for his work in between the twenties, Clay has never been considered a red zone threat. As the fourth-highest paid tight end in the league, he's ranked just tied for No. 17 in total receiving touchdowns (14) amongst tight ends since 2011.
|#||Player, Team||TD (11-14)|
|1||Jimmy Graham, SEA||46|
|2||Rob Gronkowski, NE||44|
|3||Antonio Gates, SD||30|
|4||Vernon Davis, SF||26|
|5||Julius Thomas, JAC||24|
|7||Greg Olsen, CAR||22|
|8||Jason Witten, DAL||21|
|T10||Anthony Fasano, TEN||17|
|T10||Kyle Rudolph, MIN||17|
|T10||Scott Chandler, BUF||17|
|T13||Delanie Walker, TEN||16|
|T13||Martellus Bennett, CHI||16|
|T13||Owen Daniels, DEN||16|
|T13||Jared Cook, STL||16|
|T17||Coby Fleener, IND||14|
|T17||Heath Miller, PIT||14|
|T17||Charles Clay, BUF||14|
|20||Brent Celek, PHI||13|
With expected inferior quarterback play in Buffalo and an added focus on the run game, Clay's opportunity to score touchdowns may be limited. Perhaps he can become a security blanket for a young quarterback like EJ Manuel, or a dependable target for a veteran quarterback like Matt Cassel. Either way, Clay will have to do something that he's never done before in this league.
Clay is a good talent and a versatile matchup problem for opposing defenses. His versatility and athleticism will make him a huge asset in Roman's offense. The Bills should be more explosive and talented than any team that Clay has been a part of in Miami, increasing the ways in which the Bills can score. Where Clay may benefit, is that teams may be more focused on stopping Sammy Watkins, Harvin, Woods, and LeSean McCoy in the red zone, allowing favorable matchups against slower linebackers and smaller defensive backs.
One of the hardest things about predicting stats for a pass-catcher is that so much of their success depends on the ability of other positional groups on offense. The Bills have been plagued by poor quarterback and offensive line play for the past two seasons. Clay is leaving a historically better situation in Miami, for an unproven one here in Buffalo. On paper, the decision seems wise, but we have no proof that it is the case.
You're going to have a hard time predicting this over/under, but let's see you take a shot at it.