Jacksonville Jaguars: Full Breakdown and Depth Chart Analysis at Tight End
The Jacksonville Jaguars have made numerous additions to their offense during this offseason. They drafted their quarterback of the future, two potential star receivers and added a bruising running back to replace Maurice Jones-Drew. One position they didn't really address, however, is the tight end position.
The tight end position has experienced a revolution over the past few seasons. In the past, players like Shannon Sharpe, Ozzie Newsome and Kellen Winslow Sr. were considered rare athletes with the ability to be a dynamic threat. However, it is rather commonplace in the league to have these type of players.
Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Jordan Cameron and many others have taken the league by storm. They have made a living in the NFL with their astounding combination of size, speed and catching ability. While there are no tight ends on the Jaguars roster that are quite as dynamic as Graham or Gronkowski, they do have a solid group of players looking to find their niche on the roster.
Currently there are six tight ends on the roster, including a trio of undrafted rookies in D.J. Tialavea, Reggie Jordan and Marcel Jensen. Third-year pro Branden Barden joined the Jaguars after being claimed off of waivers back in November. Rounding out the pack are veterans Clay Harbor and Marcedes Lewis.
It is highly unlikely all six will make the final cut. With Lewis and Harbor most likely locked in for the final roster, it makes the battle for the last spot (they only carried three for the majority of last year) all the more important.
You could make the case that the Jaguars have four undrafted rookie tight ends because of Barden. He went undrafted in the 2012 draft and hasn't caught a pass yet in the NFL while appearing in only three games over that span.
Barden finished his career at Vanderbilt being the school's leading tight end. His best season came in 2010 when he caught 34 balls for 425 yards and three touchdowns. Despite his collegiate success, Barden likely won't be in serious competition for the final spot and would be relegated to special teams duty.
Barden has been fairly quiet so far in OTAs but did make a bit of a splash, according to Mike DiRocco of ESPN.com. DiRocco mentioned that he "made nice catches on back-to-back plays, snagging a low throw by Bortles and catching a pass that was behind him near the sideline." DiRocco also mentioned that Barden is more of a flex tight end that doesn't give the Jaguars much in the way of blocking.
Although there have been plenty of unheralded players who used great special teams play as a gateway to greater success (think Terrell Davis of the Denver Broncos), being a special teams-only player is a damning label for Barden. As Alfie Crow of Big Cat Country wrote:
Barden hasn't really done much thus far in his NFL career and it appears he may just be a special teams/back end of the roster type player at this level. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I believe the Jaguars are close to the point to where special teams-only type players will have a tough time making it.
I am inclined to agree with Crow. I don't see Barden making the final cut of the roster. As DiRocco stated, Barden isn't a blocking tight end. This combined with his inability to find legitimate playing time will drastically decrease his chances of making the final roster.
D.J. Tialavea is the first of this year's undrafted tight ends on the Jaguars roster to appear on this list. Tialavea had a rather unspectacular college career, totaling just 30 receptions for 198 yards and five touchdowns in his three-year career.
What Tialavea lacks in stats, he makes up for in physical traits. According to Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com, he is a "well-built, muscular blocker" with "good arm length and overall mass." Tialavea is a raw talent who needs a lot of development, particularly in route running and blocking.
Nawrocki summed up his examination of him by saying, "[He] Looks like Tarzan but plays like Jane, and must learn how to convert his natural strength to the field to earn his way in the NFL. Has raw moldable tools to be groomed as a developmental H-back or move tight end. Will require patience."
With there being a number of developmental tight ends on the roster, Tialavea looks to be on the outside. He has the physique you want from a tight end but nowhere near the experience. Unless things change drastically, Tialavea will end up being more famous for looking like Mark Sanchez or Khal Drogo than for any on-field exploits.
Reggie Jordan is another developmental project like Tialavea. Jordan has a lot more experience as a receiver, however, hauling in 17 touchdowns on just 52 receptions in his career. Jordan does not have the typical size you would expect from a tight end, coming in at only 6'3".
Even though he possesses a smaller-than-average frame, he makes up for it with top-end speed. He was a playmaker at Missouri Western, which is evident by the fact that more than 30 percent of his receptions were touchdowns. This is further shown by the fact that he had a 28.6 yards-per-carry average on nine rushing attempts, including runs of 64 and 86 yards.
Jordan has all the physical traits necessary to make Jaguars tight ends coach Ron Middleton beam with excitement at his potential. Jordan just needs to refine his skills as a route-runner and as a blocker and he could be a potential gem for the Jaguars.
Prediction: Practice Squad
Out of all the undrafted rookie tight ends the Jaguars picked up, Jensen has the best shot to succeed. Jensen certainly looks the part, coming in at 6'6" and 259 pounds. Like Jordan, Jensen had some success as a receiver in college, notching 46 catches for 692 yards and seven touchdowns in his two years as a starter.
Things looked shaky at the start of Jensen's NFL career. He participated in the combine despite being injured, eventually having surgery in April. Despite this early hiccup, he has made the most of his opportunity with the Jaguars.
He has performed well thus far in OTAs, earning praise from head coach Gus Bradley, who said of Jensen, "We knew he had athleticism to be able to catch the ball...Some of the skills we saw on tape are what we are starting to see now."
Jensen definitely has the physical tools needed to perform well as a tight end. Ryan O'Halloran of Jacksonville.com compared Jensen's measurables to those of Carolina Panthers' first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin, stating:
Physically, he checks the boxes – he’s 6-foot-6 with an 84-inch wing span and a 35-inch vertical leap (which helped him block three kicks). Compare that to receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who was drafted in the first round by Carolina – 6-foot-5, 83-inch wing span and 32.5-inch vertical.
Jensen is primed to be the best developmental option for the Jaguars. He is raw but has a lot of talent and the fact he has already impressed his coaches this early is an excellent sign for him. There are no guarantees that he will be the guy to replace Marcedes Lewis once he is no longer with the team but Jensen does give Jacksonville an intriguing prospect.
Prediction: Third-string tight end
Clay Harbor's time in the NFL has been a rough one so far. He was once considered an up-and-coming tight end with the Philadelphia Eagles, who was to team up with Brent Celek to form a dangerous tandem. However, this plan was brought to a screeching halt when he suffered a bad back injury in 2012 that ended his season.
Harbor was released at the end of the 2012 season and found himself in Jacksonville playing backup to Marcedes Lewis. Harbor was able to find limited action last year, starting seven games while appearing in all 16. He recorded 24 receptions for a career-high 292 yards and three touchdowns.
Harbor looks to improve his role during his second year with the team. Contrary to Lewis, who fits more of a traditional role at tight end, Harbor fits the mold of a flex tight end, who can move around the offense prior to the snap. This kind of role was brought to national attention due to the success of former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez.
Harbor won't have the same type of impact Hernandez did on the passing game but he does offer them another reliable receiving threat. In a passing attack that will feature Allen Robinson, Cecil Shorts III, Marqise Lee and Marcedes Lewis, Harbor could be the forgotten man on the field, something he should be able to exploit.
Prediction: Second-string tight end
Marcedes Lewis is the wily veteran in this group of young tight ends. The ninth-year pro is the incumbent starter for the Jaguars and, with the retirement of center Brad Meester, is the longest-tenured Jaguar on the roster.
Lewis has had an up-and-down career with the Jaguars. He had a breakout season in 2010 when he set career highs in receptions (58), yards (700) and touchdowns (10). Since then, he has failed to produce similar numbers, topping 50 receptions and 500 yards just once.
Lewis' dip in production following his 2010 campaign was apparently due to then head coach Mike Mularkey. Lewis said of his former coach, per John Oehser of Jaguars.com, "That coach really took it out of me. He took my joy away."
He has since been reborn under new head coach Gus Bradley and, while the numbers haven't quite shown it due to injury, he is ready to bounce back and be an integral part of the offense again. He was quoted as saying, "I felt like I had a great offseason—the best offseason I’ve had. I just got to a point where I felt really good. I thought, ‘I can’t believe I’m going into my ninth year and I actually feel this good. Not just my body, but my spirit.'"
His receiving and blocking ability will be on full display as this offense looks to be better than it has been in years. He has already been active in optional team practices and has been busy helping the younger tight ends get into the swing of things. This looks to be a good year for Lewis.