Wednesday - May 22, 2019

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Talent + Opportunity = Value TE

Ok, so you are not willing to spend a top pick to get one of the “Big Four” Tight Ends this year. I probably will not spend a fifth round or better pick to get one either, and that is what it will take. If that is the case, just wait until after the 10th round and get a guy that has just as much a chance at finishing in the Top 5-10 range as the TE’s taken in rounds 6-10. These three veteran TE’s have a lot in common. All three have proven in the past that they have the talent to perform at the Top 10 level. Each of them has finished the year inside the Top 10 multiple times, so they are not just a flash in the pans. Finally, all three had a down year last year, for different reasons, but each has had something different happen in their environment to create the opportunity for a rebound back into the Top 10 this year.

 

            Alge Crumpler

– currently being taken at the beginning of the 11th round as the 13th Tight End off the board. Crumpler finished last year around TE15 in most leagues. He did this while missing two games with injuries, and playing for a team (the Atlanta Falcons) that had more issues than one person can count. By all accounts, a pretty good year considering what he had throwing to him. From 2002-06, Crumpler put together five consecutive years in the Top 8, with the last four being consecutive Top 5 years. He is a proven talent with an uncanny ability to get open despite not having great speed. Instead, he uses his body and route-running ability to create separation from faster defenders. Once open, he has great hands, and is very difficult to bring down after the catch. He has always been a very good blocker, which helps him stay on the field in all situations and downs, not just obvious passing situations like some TE’s. He has now moved on to greener pastures with his new team, the

Tennessee Titans.

           

Also joining the Titans coaching staff this year is offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger. Heimerdinger is returning to the team where he had the most success in his past, as he was in the same position with

Tennessee from 2000-04. He was asked to return this year to develop quarterback Vince Young, and the current Titan offense, just the way he developed Steve McNair and that explosive offensive team in the past. In the first half of the decade, under Heimerdinger’s watchful eyes, and during the development of then-quarterback Steve McNair, the Titans offense was very potent, and the TE position played a prominent role in that offense. During the first two years Heimerdinger ran that offense, the TE position averaged 87 receptions, 804 yards and five touchdowns. Does the name Frank Wycheck ring a bell? He was the main target at the TE position during that time. Wycheck alone averaged 65 receptions, 654 yards and four touchdowns a year in 2000 and 2001. He did this while sharing many of the catches with a Pro Bowl receiver on the field with him, Derrick Mason. I have no doubt that Alge Crumpler is more talented than Wycheck was in his day. Crumpler also does not have any other pass catcher on the team as talented as Derrick Mason was. Crumpler himself may indeed be the best receiver on the team right now. I’m not saying Young is as good as McNair was, but remember McNair was just developing in 2000-01, just like Young. If anything, it reinforces the thought that many developing quarterbacks tend to rely on experienced TE’s when things break down. Because of the above changes surrounding Alge Cumpler, I think he has a great opportunity to rebound back into the Top 5-10 TE’s in the league.

 

         

L. J. Smith – currently being taken in the 13th round, as the 16th TE taken off the board. Lets face it, Smith had a bad year last year. He fought injuries all year and was only really able to even play in nine games. Prior to last year, he had been in the Top 10 for two straight years. By all accounts, he was improving each year until the injury bug hit him last year. Some people thought his days were numbered with the Eagles, but the Eagles coaching staff must have seen something that the average football writer didn’t see. Instead, the Eagles placed the franchise tag on him for this year, which entitled him to be paid the average of the Top 5 TE’s in the league, $4.5 million. So I think it’s safe to say they still think he can play at a very high level, presumably a Top 5 level, as the money shows.

          Also, he is getting a healthier Donovan McNabb to throw the ball to him. McNabb will be two years removed from major knee surgery, and should be much more mobile this year than last, which, in turn, frees up Smith from blocking on some passing plays to getting out in the pass patterns. Many times during the prior seasons, Smith showed us his greatest strength to the team was when passing plays broke down and McNabb started scrambling. Smith had the unique ability to break away from his block and catch that short outlet pass for positive yards. Last year, McNabb couldn’t scramble around well, and those type of plays didn’t come often. The other thing working in his favor is that the Eagles play in a pass-first offense. During Smith’s two Top 10 years, he averaged 93 targets a year. That is a lot of targets for a WR, much less a TE. In fact, most people would say he is used more like a WR than a TE in the Eagles offense. He gets moved around all over the place, from the backfield, to the slot and even out wide. In his case, the facts that he didn’t change environments, and that McNabb and him are both fully healthy, are the main reasons he will have the opportunity to rebound back into the Top 10 this year.     

 

         

Randy McMichael – currently being drafted in the 16th round, as the 19th TE off the board, McMichael has completely fallen off the radar. He has become a forgotten man with the Rams. He was brought in last year to finally upgrade a notoriously poor TE group. He was a proven talent in

Miami, and from 2002-05, he finished no worse than ninth in the rankings. Even in 2006, with guys like Joey Harrington passing him the ball, he finished 11th. But, because the offensive philosophy with the Rams was still based on getting the wide receivers the ball on pass plays, and the fact that the offensive line was in shambles, McMichael was forced to spend most of his time blocking instead of utilizing his talents in the passing game. What a difference a year makes.

          The Rams hired the one offensive coordinator in the league that is an expert at utilizing the skills of a talented TE, Al Saunders. Saunders’ offensive system should change things dramatically for McMichael. In the last eight years, Saunders’ offense has produced Pro Bowl TE’s, (Gonzalez seven, Cooley one). Tony Gonzalez was a perennial Top 5 under Saunders. Chris Cooley finished TE6 in his only year with Saunders running the offense. Yes, those two guys have talent, but I think McMichael has talent also, and he may be the fastest of the bunch. Speed will only help him in Saunders’ offensive style, because Saunders tends to use TE’s in more vertical patterns than most offensive coordinators. They don’t just run dump off routes of five or 10 yards. During the last eight years under Saunders, his top TE has averaged 105 targets, 77 receptions, 956 yards, and six touchdowns per year. If McMichael even gets modestly close to those numbers, he is Top 10 and a steal. Isaac Bruce is gone, and besides McMichael, Torry Holt is the only reliable pass catcher left on the team. If you take into consideration the above, and the fact a healthy offensive line, with Orlando Pace, is back protecting Bulger, McMichael has a great opportunity to rebound back into the Top 10, with Top 5 upside.

 

I’m not saying that there are not other good prospects later on in the draft; Benjamin Watson comes to mind. I am saying I want someone that has done it before, and is in a proven system that gives them the opportunity to do it again. The best strategy might be to get two of these guys later in the draft, and get a top QB or good RB/WR3, while the other, less informed, owners in your league draft those other top TE’s. You could be laughing all the way to the bank in the end (especially with McMichael).

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