This offseason, the Buffalo Bills have done a great deal of shuffling in new players. Days before the start of free agency, Buffalo released Charles Clay, who has been the Bills starting tight end since signing with the team in 2015. After releasing Clay, the Bills turned to former Cincinnati Bengal Tyler Kroft. Buffalo extended a three-year offer to Kroft who spent most of his time with the Bengals in a back-up role behind Tyler Eiffert.
Despite primarily being considered a reserve player, Kroft saw decent playing time with the Bengals, as Eiffert was often injured. Although Kroft was productive, he was also injury prone himself. Looking to ditch the injury prone narrative that loomed over him in Cincinnati, Kroft sought a fresh start in Buffalo. Unfortunately, Kroft broke his foot in his first OTA in Buffalo, leaving the tight end competition wide open for the Bills.
With Kroft sidelined for a minimum of a few games into the 2019 season, someone else will need to step up into the starting role. With training camp only two months away, an intense competition for the starting role, depth spots, and even practice squad spots will ensue.
Now that Kroft is out of the picture, Jason Croom looks to be one of the front-runners for the starting spot. Croom spent the 2017 season on the Bills’ practice squad before earning the primary back-up role behind Clay in 2018. Croom was able to establish decent chemistry with quarterback Josh Allen and although he was just the back-up, Croom recorded similar numbers as Clay in his first season on the 53-man roster. With the addition of Kroft and the newly drafted Dawson Knox and Tommy Sweeney, Croom’s job security was in question but with Kroft’s injury, he can feel much safer.
The Bills traded back into the third round of the 2019 draft to draft Ole Miss tight end Dawson Knox, who often got overshadowed by second-round receivers AJ Brown (Titans) and DK Metcalf (Seahawks). Knox also ran limited routes at his alma mater, as he has continued to adjust transitioning from being a quarterback, to his new position at tight end. Although Knox is very raw, his explosiveness and physicality mixed with his football knowledge made him a lock to at least make the team. With his competition for the starting role now narrowed down to just Croom, Knox may slide into a more prominent role in Buffalo’s offense.
Starting his second tenure in Buffalo, Smith recently signed a three-year deal with the Bills. Smith provides a strong veteran presence as well as excellent blocking, something the Bills have lacked in recent years. Smith is considered one of the best blocking tight ends among active players and will be a great addition to the offense and special teams unit. That being said, he does not possess the skills to be Buffalo’s mainstay at tight end but he will be on the roster come September.
Utilizing one of their many late-round draft picks to further bolster their tight end room, the Bills brought in Tommy Sweeney out of Boston College. Sweeney is a solid overall tight end and may possibly find his way on the 53-man roster but will likely find his way to the practice squad. With Kroft’s eventual return and the presence of Knox, Croom, and Smith, it is doubtful Sweeney gets his chance this year unless he really wows McDermott and Daboll in camp.
Practice Squad Competition
On the back end of the competition, looking to find a practice squad role is Western Kentucky product Mik’Quan Deane and Florida product Moral Stephens. Both players should push Sweeney for a practice squad spot but there is certainly no room for either player on the 53-man roster. Stephens impressed the coaching staff in rookie minicamp and Deane was acquired earlier this week.
Like many other positions, the Bills are enjoying their depth at tight end in 2019. This will be an interesting group to watch come July and the competition will be fierce. Depending on Kroft’s timetable, I would entertain the idea of keeping Kroft (possibly on injured reserve) as well as Croom, Knox, and Smith with Sweeney on the practice squad. Smith will obviously play a limited role on the team with Croom and Knox playing significant parts in the offense in Kroft’s absence. This option also leaves Sweeney on the sideline as an emergency alternate barring any other injuries.