The New York Giants began the 2016 season with what appeared to be a logjam at tight end, more good players than they could possibly keep. They ended the season having to wonder if they have any long-term answers at the position on the current roster.
Let’s continue our series of position-by-position profiles at a position that proved to be disappointing in 2016.
Before the season even started, the Giants ended up losing the guys who would likely have been their best blocking tight ends as both Will Johnson and Matt Lacosse wound up on injured reserve. The loss of Johnson, questionably placed on IR with a stinger before 53-man rosters were set — meaning he could not be considered for a return — was a bigger blow than anyone could have realized at the time. Johnson, a hybrid fullback/tight end was expected to be the primary blocking tight end. The Giants never adequately replaced him.
Larry Donnell began the season as the nominal starting tight end. His inability to block along with his ball-security issues cost him that job after six games. He wound up with just 15 receptions.
Will Tye started the remaining 10 games and finished with 48 receptions. Tye, though, struggled to win one-on-one matchups and became mostly a dump-off guy for Eli Manning, averaging only 8.2 yards per catch. His blocking was atrocious as he finished 61st of 63 qualifying tight ends graded on their blocking by Pro Football Focus with a grade of 33.7.
Rookie sixth-round pick Jerell Adams was the beneficiary when Donnell went to the bench, as his playing time increased. He ended the season with 16 catches. Adams did not have enough snaps to qualify among the 63 tight ends graded by PFF, but would have finished 42nd in blocking among those 63 tight ends.
2017 free agents
Larry Donnell (Unrestricted)
Will Tye (Exclusive rights)
Matt Lacosse (Exclusive rights)
Offseason decisions to make
Let’s begin with the idea that Donnell’s time with the Giants is almost certainly at an end. The Giants need to get better at the position, and the place they will likely start is by clearing a spot by letting the 28-year-old Donnell go.
After that, the Giants need to honestly assess what they have — or don’t have.
Tye showed potential pass-catching potential as an undrafted free agent out of Stony Brook in 2015. He regressed as a receiver and a blocker last season, though, struggling to get open and to handle his blocking assignments.
Adams flashed some potential as a receiver and was a good blocker as a college player at South Carolina.
The Giants have loved Lacosse’s all-around skill set for two years, but he has been unable to remain healthy. Do they give him one more chance? There is probably no harm bringing him to camp, but they certainly shouldn’t count on him.
Johnson, who spent four years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, is under contract for another year. Will the Giants give him a chance to do in 2017 what they hoped he would do for them in 2016?
Draft/FA priority level
High. I’m told by a source that the Giants are prioritizing the tight end position as they evaluate draft prospects. There is no way to know how that evaluation process will play out or who might be available to the Giants at No. 23, but it would not be a surprise if the Giants selected a tight end in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Tight end is said to be a deep position in the upcoming draft. If not in Round 1, expect the position to get attention at some point during the draft.