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State of the Buffalo Bills’ roster: tight ends

Hot Take: What if the Bills added a stud here rather than another wideout?

NFL: Pro Bowl-AFC at NFC Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills have a clear pecking order at tight end. One guy plays basically all of the snaps, and one guy comes in every once in a while. That’s essentially how it goes at a position that, for much of the franchise’s history, has been an afterthought. Given the team’s recent propensity towards “11” personnel (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers), it makes sense that the team was light on tight ends in 2022.

But what if the team decided to go a different direction in 2023? What if, instead of running out in an “11” alignment, the offense added another dynamic weapon at tight end and started coming out in “12” personnel more often? Could the team better exploit mismatches that way for easy completions? Might it help the running game? And, how about the elephant in the room — would offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey be creative enough to scheme touches for multiple tight ends when it felt like he struggled to do it last year for just one?

In our latest look at the state of the Buffalo Bills’ roster, we discuss the tight ends, an oft-neglected group that could become a focal point with some tweaks.

Dawson Knox

Contract status for 2023: Signed; first year of four-year contract extension ($6.425 million cap hit; $17.555 million dead-cap charge if cut or traded)

Age: 26 (27 on 11/14/23)

Playing time: 15 games (15 starts), 825 offensive snaps (76.04% of team total), 5 special teams snaps (1.22% of team total)

Key statistics: 65 targets, 48 receptions, 517 receiving yards, 6 receiving touchdowns

In some ways, Knox’s 2022 season felt a little disappointing, as he didn’t have the tremendous coming-out party that we expected after signing his four-year, $52 million contract extension last year. And, through eight games, it definitely seemed like the team may have been hurtling down a path of misusing their tight end. In those first eight contests where Knox played, he saw just 27 targets, catching 20 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns. His red zone usage increased towards the end of the season, and Knox caught a touchdown pass in five straight games from December 12 to January 15. Overall, it’s hard to say that the team’s second-leading receiver in terms of receptions had a poor season, especially when his usage in the passing attack was limited at times. I’d like to see the team unleash him a bit more as a No. 2 option next season. He definitely has quarterback Josh Allen’s trust, and he’s shown the ability to take short passes and turn them into big gains throughout his career.

Quintin Morris

Contract status for 2023: Signed; final year of two-year contract ($870,000 cap hit; $0 dead-cap charge if cut or traded)

Age: 24 (25 on 1/21/24)

Playing time: 14 games (1 start), 281 offensive snaps (25.9% of team total), 276 special teams snaps (67.32% of team total)

Key statistics: 11 targets, 8 receptions, 84 yards, 1 receiving touchdown, 1 fumble, 3 tackles

Morris was a nice surprise this past season, as the former college wideout-turned professional tight end rose all the way up from the ranks of the undrafted to slide in as the second tight end in Buffalo’s offense. On the way, he unseated a former seventh-round draft choice. Morris has some good athleticism, and his route-running is strong thanks to his experience as a receiver. As it’s currently constructed, Buffalo’s offense doesn’t really have much need for a TE2, so playing a low-cost, low-risk, high-reward type like Morris in that role makes sense. He’ll most likely be on the roster next year, and it’s quite likely that he’s the TE2 again, though that’s not necessarily what I’d do if I were in general manager Brandon Beane’s shoes.

Tommy Sweeney

Contract status for 2023: Unsigned; UFA

Age: 27 (28 on 7/1/23)

Playing time: 5 games, 68 offensive snaps (6.27% of team total), 51 special teams snaps (12.44% of team total)

Key statistics: 1 target, 1 reception, 7 receiving yards

Sweeney fell from the second tight end to the healthy scratch on game days, and given that his rookie deal expires at the end of the league year, it’s likely that he’ll be elsewhere in 2023. The former Boston College standout hasn’t been able to gain much momentum in his pro career thanks to a litany of injuries and inconsistent play, not to mention the strong development of two of his teammates.

Zach Davidson

Contract status for 2023: Signed reserve/futures deal on 1/23/23 ($754,500 cap hit; $9,000 dead-cap charge if cut or traded)

Age: 24 (25 on 7/15/23)

Playing time: N/A

Key statistics: N/A

Davidson spent the season on Buffalo’s practice squad after spending time with the Minnesota Vikings for the 2021 season. He hasn’t appeared in an NFL game, but he’s an intriguing athlete with great size (6’7” and 245 pounds) and speed (4.64-second 40-yard dash at the 2021 NFL Scouting Combine). He began his college career as a punter, which is both a cool fact and a terrifying thought: imagine seeing a guy this size as the last person to beat if you were the punt returner?

Lot’s of the focus this offseason has been on Buffalo’s need to upgrade the WR2 spot, or even the slot receiver position given that the team operates with three wideouts more often than not. However, and take this with a huge grain of salt for multiple reasons (I’m not a college football expert, for starters, and the mock draft simulators aren’t real life), but it seems likely that there will be upwards of four receivers drafted this April by the time Buffalo picks at No. 27 overall. I’m already on record stating my preference for guard O’Cyrus Torrence at that spot, but what if the Bills went a different route?

There are plenty of top-end college tight ends set to come available this April, and I can think of four who would instantly make Buffalo’s offense even more of a nightmare for opposing defenses. Utah’s Dalton Kincaid, Notre Dame’s Mike Mayer, Oregon State’s Luke Musgrave, and Iowa’s Sam LaPorta would all be matchup nightmares. Georgia’s Darnell Washington is 6’7” and 270 pounds. Granted, not all of these players would be worth a first-round pick...but at least three of them sure would be. If general manager Brandon Beane were presented with a scenario where all three of these guys top his board at 27, does he draft one? Does it change his thinking if, for example, he’s looking at taking the fifth receiver off the board as opposed to the first or second tight end?

Now, there may be some snickering about Ken Dorsey being unable to integrate one tight end into the offense consistently, so how could we expect him to use two? All I’m dreaming of is an offense where one of Buffalo’s gargantuan, athletic tight ends can line up on the outside, allowing Stefon Diggs to move into the slot at different times to force himself into better matchups. Does a defense stay in their base? Do they counter with an extra corner? How much does this help the running backs?

Now, in all likelihood, the Bills are rolling with Knox, Morris, and maybe another late-round flier with good athletic traits the team thinks it can coach up this summer and beyond. However, if Buffalo had a chance to add someone like Mayer at No. 27 overall, I think it could reinvigorate what is already one of the league’s best offenses.