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2018 Buffalo Bills scouting report: tight end Charles Clay

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His contract has made him a lightning rod for criticism, but Buffalo’s tight end is still an effective weapon

Historically, the Buffalo Bills have not had many tight ends who were weapons in the passing game. Most of the players deployed at the position over the franchise’s history have been block-first, catch-second types; truthfully, this is what was expected at the position for most of the NFL’s early history. There were very few Ozzie Newsomes and Jay Novaceks running around, but there were plenty of Lee Smiths.

In our latest installment of “90 players in 90 days,” we profile a tight end who is already among the most prolific pass catchers at the position in Bills history—yet he is still viewed in some circles as a disappointment.

Name: Charles Clay

Number: 85

Position: TE

Height/Weight: 6’3” 255 lbs.

Age: 29

Experience: 7

College: Tulsa

Draft: Drafted in the sixth round (174th overall) by the Miami Dolphins in the 2011 NFL Draft

Financial situation (per Spotrac): Much of the consternation fans feel about Clay’s play is dictated by the very large contract he signed following the 2014 season. Clay is entering the fourth year of a five-year deal totaling $38 million that he signed in March 2015. In 2018, he will carry a $9 million cap hit, which is the second highest on the squad. Among all NFL tight ends, Clay’s cap hit is fourth.

2017 Recap: Clay was second on the Bills in targets (74) and receptions (49) in what was a low-volume passing attack. He led the team in receiving yards with 558 while adding 2 touchdowns to his ledger. He played in 13 games, all starts, while dealing with a chronic knee issue that has slowed him since his arrival in Buffalo.

Positional outlook: Clay is the top tight end on the depth chart, and he has a very familiar cast of characters in his positional group. Nick O’Leary, Logan Thomas, and Khari Lee all spent time on the active roster last season, and Keith Towbridge and Jason Croom both were with the team before they were waived and/or added to the practice squad in 2017.

2018 Offseason: Clay has continued to run with the starting unit, and he has attended all offseason workouts to date.

2018 season outlook: As it stands, Clay ranks fourth all-time among Bills tight ends in receptions with 157. If he has another season of 50-plus receptions, as he has each year in Buffalo, he will pass Scott Chandler (182) and Jay Riemersma (204) to move into sole possession second place behind Pete Metzelaars (302). He is fifth all-time in receiving yards by a tight end with 1,638 yards, trailing only the aforementioned trio and Reuben Gant. While his contract has left him open for criticism, it isn’t his fault that he has only averaged 79 targets per season in Buffalo, whereas other tight ends like Delanie Walker and Zach Ertz have averaged well over 100 targets each over the past three seasons. In new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s offense, Clay should see an uptick in targets, thereby giving him more chances to show off his plus athleticism. I think it’s quite likely that 2018 will be a career-year for the Bills’ veteran tight end.