The Buffalo Bills elected to cut ties with Charles Clay after the 2018 season, making the need for a tight end dire. So Buffalo went out and got a bunch of them. The carousel at tight end included rookies and blocking specialists, leaving the door open for a veteran receiving option to jump to the top of the depth chart. Cue Tyler Kroft who was promptly injured, resulting in a delayed Bills debut against the Miami Dolphins in Week 7. This forced rookie Dawson Knox into the starting role, which he never relinquished. Let’s check in on Kroft’s season to see if the Bills should keep him around in the rotation for next season.
Tyler Kroft is steadily losing ground in this one-on-one battle, which isn’t unusual for a tight end. As long as they buy enough time to get the play off it should be generally considered a success. One of the reasons Kroft is able to buy some time is a set of fairly refined hand-fighting techniques. His left hand being shoved away didn’t result in his shoulders turning him out of the block, which is a significant positive. Kroft is then able to reset his hands quickly.
Just about anyone on the field could run this route. Kroft isn’t particularly fast about it either. This play is selected to show the value of a veteran. Kroft sells a block that gets his opponent to hesitate. At the last second Kroft snaps into his route and creates space that his athleticism likely can’t give him.
A better throw from Josh Allen and this is a huge play. No one will mistake Tyler Kroft for Cole Beasley out there, but that’s a pretty good stop and turn from the 250-ish lb Kroft. I looked at all the angles to make sure it wasn’t offensive pass interference (I think it’s a good no-call). The bit of a tussle at the top sold the deeper route, though, allowing Kroft to be wide open.
Here are a few of the things we’ve already seen but put together in a different way. Tyler Kroft shows good patience actually blocking momentarily rather than chipping on his way through. He uses his hands to slip the block at the right time. His commitment to the deception allows him to be more open than he’d otherwise be.
Tyler Kroft isn’t perfect of course. Sometimes physics or another player will get the best of you. The first block to help Lee Smith is on the money. Kroft readies for a second block and is in good position. The running start from his opponent is too much and Kroft starts to get bulldozed.
The route isn’t especially pretty but it’s good. Kroft finds the spot he needs to and reels in a big catch. One of the biggest positive takeaways is that this play really depends on everyone syncing up and being on time. The throwing lane is clear thanks in large part to Devin Singletary drawing away one defender. Kroft being exactly where he should be can’t be overlooked.
We’ll end much as we began. This play takes a bit of extra time to develop thanks to the trickery and Tyler Kroft is up the challenge. It’s not spectacular. There’s nothing wrong with effective though.
It’s hard to discuss Tyler Kroft’s future with the Buffalo Bills without dipping into a conversation about Dawson Knox. While looking through the All-22 for Kroft I made sure to peek at Knox as well. In a lot of ways, Kroft is superior to Knox. Hand fighting specifically, and blocking in general all lean toward Kroft being the better player. Knox is the more dynamic receiving option. Tyler Kroft is a capable tight end who could likely benefit quite a few rosters. The question for us, though, is: Does his presence benefit the Buffalo Bills?
While I think Kroft is currently a more refined player in many ways to Knox, I don’t think it’s a huge gap. Looking forward to the 2020 season and which player is more likely to improve means that Kroft will continue to be the backup. Tommy Sweeney could also develop further and the team saw something they liked about Jason Croom to keep him around. The current winds are suggesting the Bills will lean heavily toward one tight end on the field at any given time. With all of those factors converging, it’s likely Kroft will not return for a second season in Western New York.