Fans of the Buffalo Bills have largely been disappointed by the lack of Charles Clay’s impact on the field in his four years with the team. In 2018, Clay had the lowest number of receptions (21) since 2012. He also set a career low in yards with a mere 184. Part of his low production was the result of missing three games—which is another concern with Clay. Charles Clay has only completed one season in his eight years in the league without missing time due to injury. In 2018, Clay appeared on the weekly injury report five times, which is actually his lowest amount since joining the Bills. Let’s head to the film room to check in on Clay.
Charles Clay was frequently asked to block in 2018, a role he’s often quite good at. Clay is strong at the point of contact, but can lapse when attempting to hold blocks for a longer duration. On this play he has Patrick DiMarco to back him up. It’s difficult to say if Clay passes his block off to DiMarco or if he starts to lose it, but the result is the same. The initial block is taken over by DiMarco and Clay would have been free to take the next block were it needed.
This block is on the upper echelon for the season. Clay looks the part of a lineman and maintains this block nicely. The clip does well to show off Clay’s strength. When setting the edge on the move, he is a clear mismatch for defensive backs. Unfortunately the Bills weren’t able to take advantage of this very often in 2018.
This is that struggle to maintain a block mentioned above. It’s not a bad initial contact with Trey Flowers by any means, but when Flowers flows to his right and off the block, he’s able to blow the play up. This is a “lowlight” of Clay’s to illustrate the point, but represents his weak area when it comes to blocking.
Clay is a well-rounded tight end and shows it off above. With a little help, Clay holds a nice block and gives Derek Anderson plenty of time. Clay then slips out where a defensive back is slow to see the play develop. It’s not surprising that he initially gets a step with the defender coming over late, but it’s a good sign for Clay that he maintains it. Clay won’t be setting any land-speed records, but has a good amount once he gets rolling. Like many tight ends, acceleration is the bigger concern. When set up with an early head of steam like he is here, good things can happen. This throw was a near miss for something big.
Charles Clay isn’t a shifty receiver with a complex route tree, but he does understand the field. He navigates a narrow corridor through three defenders and even manages to break free. He maintains that separation you see in the clip throughout the play.
Clay finds a soft spot in the field and Anderson delivers a nice throw to hit him in stride. The time is noted to circle back to the acceleration comment from earlier. Part of the reason Clay’s numbers were so low is the result of plays taking a little longer to develop for Clay than some of the other targets. A carousel of quarterbacks along with a poor offensive line meant that time was not always on the side of the Buffalo Bills. Clay was open a good amount but wasn’t being targeted. Either the play was decided before Clay’s route developed or the quarterback just wasn’t looking his way. Clay’s very low 21 receptions is not a surprise in light of only being targeted 36 times. This is half of the targets he saw the year before, which was with a low passing-volume offense. Clay has had 70 or more targets every year since 2012.
Josh Allen never seemed to develop a strong rapport with Clay, likely a result of some of the noted issues. This kind of play looks pretty darn nice though, and it’s one Clay can consistently deliver.
Charles Clay is roughly the same player he’s always been for the Buffalo Bills. When healthy he’s dependable in a number of roles, and occasionally shows flashes of dominance. He understandably never shined brightly in offenses designed to avoid passing and with the Allen offense, he never seemed to click. It’s quite understandable that Clay’s tenure with Buffalo has been disappointing as a result.
Clay has a good case for still being the best tight end on the roster, but being the best at a job that the team is still trying to figure out might not be enough. From a purely talent-based perspective there’s no compelling argument for moving on from Clay. But looking at it through the scope of a team looking to get younger while still figuring out their identity on offense, a separation has more merit. With the team not using the position to its fullest and constant injury concerns, it’d be a low risk gamble to try a different option.