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Giants position preview: Lots of options at tight end

Who will be in, out when the 53-man roster is assembled?

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants
Will Tye
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Without spending high draft picks or tons of free-agent cash the New York Giants have managed to put together a deep, flexible tight end group with a variety of skill sets. The competition for roster spots at this position promises to be one of the most intriguing of the preseason.

Let’s go player-by-player and look at each of the guys hoping to earn a spot on the season-opening 53-man roster.

Will Tye

The belief here is that Tye’s performance during the second half of the 2015 season makes him the favorite to be the full-time starter this season. Here is part of what I wrote recently in comparing Tye and Donnell.

Both are relatively even in pass-catching, with the 6-foot-5 Donnell having an advantage over the 6-2 Tye on fades and high throws in traffic. Tye, though, seemed more consistent than Donnell during his time as a starter last season. Donnell is, truthfully, an atrocious, seemingly, unwilling blocker. Tye, while still needing work here, seems to have the ability to become a useful blocker.

Perhaps they both make the team. If only one does, that will almost certainly be Tye. Given an opportunity to start for an entire season, I don't think it's out of the question that Tye could equal or surpass Donnell's 63-catch 2014 season.

Tye gives the Giants a reliable pass catcher for Eli Manning, as well as a player capable of developing into a solid blocker both inline and as a lead blocker out of the backfield.

Larry Donnell

As often as Donnell seems to land on his head after making catches, it can’t be a shock that he missed the second half of last season with a serious neck injury. He is back, but what does the future hold for him?

We know Donnell can catch passes and can be a weapon in the red zone with his 6-foot-5 frame and his leaping ability. We also know he has historically been an atrocious blocker. If Tye is going to be the primary tight end, will the Giants look to some of the other more versatile players on the roster to back him up?

Will Johnson

After a $200 million spending spree on defense, the most notable free-agent addition by the Giants on offense was to add Johnson. He is a four-year veteran fullback/tight end/H-Back with 31 catches and eight rushing attempts in four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Johnson could be an underrated, important addition to the Giants offense. Why? First, he could signal a move away from the use of a traditional fullback. His presence makes it possible that the Giants, as many teams do now, will use a tight end in that lead-blocking role and won’t carry a traditional fullback. Another reason is that the Giants, without a quality blocking tight end, struggled mightily to run the ball in key situations last year. Johnson should be able to help there.

"My mentality is the more you can do, that's what I'm here for. In Pittsburgh I was always listed as a fullback, but I also did some tight end things," Johnson told me during the spring. "I believe I can be a valuable asset to an offense. Wherever they need me to be or whenever my number's called I'll be ready."

That number figures to get called in a variety of ways.

Matt LaCosse

LaCosse had an unusual rookie season in 2015. He impressed in the spring, got waived/injured at the beginning of training camp, was re-signed to the practice squad at midseason and finished the season on the active roster for the final two games, catching three passes.

LaCosse impressed as a receiver, showed blocking potential and impressed tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride Jr. with his ability to learn and retain information. LaCosse missed minicamp with an undisclosed injury, but figures to have a good chance to stick if he can stay healthy throughout training camp and the preseason.

Jerell Adams

The sixth-round pick from South Carolina was drafted as a long-term project at tight end, and struggled with drops throughout spring practices. That was no surprise to Dave-Te Thomas of The NFL Draft Report, who referred to Adams as “a very impressive athlete with poor hands.”

The Giants likely see potential in Adams, but off what we saw in the spring it looks like they are going to have to wait for it to develop. Question is, do they keep him on the roster or do they dare try to get him through waivers and allow him to begin his career learning on the practice squad? It’s a tough call, and one that might be influenced by whatever progress he shows during the preseason.

NFL: New York Giants-OTA
Ryan Mallack makes a catch during OTAs
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Malleck

The numbers are obviously not in Malleck’s favor, but Thomas believes Malleck’s reliability as a pass catcher in the short areas and his potential as a blocker both inline and as a lead blocker from the backfield give him a chance to have an NFL career. From here, Malleck looks like a terrific candidate to open the season on the practice squad.

Roster projection

In my post-minicamp 53-man roster projection, I had Tye, Johnson and LaCosse making the roster and I kept Nikita Whitlock as a true fullback. In his roster projection, Chris leaves Whitlock off the 53 and adds rookie sixth-round pick Jerell Adams to my trio.

I was uncertain when I made my projection, and I’m still uncertain now. I am, however, going to side with Chris on this one. Johnson is listed as a fullback and can obviously handle those blocking duties. Tye probably can, as well. I’m not sure LaCosse and Adams can, but they are both excellent athletes with solid blocking potential, so it is possible. The depth and flexibility at tight end means no room for Whitlock.

I have Donnell, never a good blocker, missing the cut. Malleck heads to the practice squad.