At the start of 2014, the New York Giants' tight end position seemed to be among the biggest unanswered questions the team had.
Following the free-agent period, draft and spring workouts, the team seems no closer to identifying who its starting tight end is going to be.
“It's fully open right now to all five guys,” Kevin M. Gilbride, who is in his first season as the Giants' tight ends coach, told Jordan Raanan of NJ.com and other reporters during the assistant coaches' media availability at the end of the minicamp.
“Whoever can step in and play the role the best way, that is the way we need to go. We're not worried about who was drafted where, who was just signed in the offseason, who is a rookie. None of that matters."
Source: New York Giants
Adrien Robinson (6’4”, 264 pounds) is a fourth-round draft pick from 2012 whose first two seasons have been sabotaged by one thing after another.
As a rookie, Robinson was not allowed to show up to the Giants’ OTAs until early June, a time when most of the spring work had been completed, because of an NFL rule that mandates rookies still in school complete their studies before joining their clubs.
Because the University of Cincinnati’s class schedule ran late that year, Robinson was a late arrival to camp.
Unfortunately, he never really was able to make up for lost time. He was inactive for all but two games as a rookie, playing in just three offensive snaps, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Last year, Robinson competed with Bear Pascoe be a part of the trio at tight end for the Giants, however, disaster struck again as a preseason foot injury suffered in the finale against the New England Patriots again put Robinson on the shelf.
By the time he was finally healthy to get in a game, which came in Week 16, Robinson suffered a knee injury on the game’s opening kickoff, thus ending a season in which he didn’t take a single snap on offense.
To recap, that’s two years, three snaps on offense and zero receptions for Robinson.
So why should we believe that the third year is going to be the charm for Robinson?
“My weight’s down, we’ve got a new offensive coordinator, new tight ends coach. Everything is fresh; it’s like a clean slate. I’m just ready to go,” he told reporters last month.
More importantly, he admitted that in the past, he didn’t have an understanding of what it really took to make it at this level.
He says he does now.
“I stay extra every day, stay and get extra film. I’m on the elliptical every day trying to get my weight down more so I’m just doing a lot of things differently,” he said. “I feel like I’m more mature, I’m more of a professional now, so I have that approach.”
Despite finally understanding what it takes to be successful, Raanan correctly points out that Robinson has yet to separate from the pack.
The reason? Consistency.
"The thing that Adrien needs to continue to do is develop in his consistency," Gilbride said, according to Raanan.
“He has some speed to get downfield. He has some athleticism to get in and out of breaks. But his body control needs to improve, whether it's foot placement in the run game or controlling his body to come to a complete stop on a pass route where he needs to present himself to a quarterback as a stationary target.
"These things need to improve as far as the consistency of it. He shows flashes of being able to do it. He needs to carry it onto the field on a consistent basis."
So why is Robinson still on the team?
Per Numberfire,com, he displayed raw athleticism in his Pro Day numbers, the kind of numbers that seem to make general manager Jerry Reese swoon, especially when stacked up against other tight ends who weighed in at 260 pounds or higher.
Like Adrien Robinson, Larry Donnell, originally an undrafted free agent, is another young player who is entering this third season.
Also like Robinson, Donnell has had injury issues in 2013. He missed the entire spring last year while recovering from a broken foot, an occurrence that, he told me, set him back I his development.
“That was tough, not being able to do anything other than sit there and watch,” he said of not being able to practice last spring. “I can’t really learn sitting there and watching and not doing it.”
When he did play, the former high school quarterback, who played his college ball at Grambling, received 107 snaps on offense, per Pr Football Focus, mostly as a decoy.
Donnell was targeted six times last year, catching three passes for 31 yards. His biggest issue was that his routes weren’t run as crisply as they should have been, which often meant that he wasn’t where the quarterback expected him to be when the ball was thrown.
If you were looking for the Giants to sign a veteran free agent at tight end, you got your wish in the form of Kellen Davis (6’7”, 275 pounds).
Davis, a fifth-round draft pick of the Chicago Bears in 2008 (158th overall), is entering his seventh season.
He was ousted in Chicago when they signed former Giants tight end Martellus Bennett in 2012. Davis then went on to the Seattle Seahawks with whom he won a world championship, though, he was a healthy scratch for that game.
Last year, Davis, finished with a minus-6.4 overall grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), which included a minus-5.3 grade as a run-blocker.
The year before that, as a member of the Bears, his final grade was a minus-8.8 with a minus-1.4 run-blocking grade.
Davis’ receiving stats are pedestrian. He’s caught 50 out of 99 pass targets for 561 yards and 12 touchdowns since 2009.
He’s never been targeted more than 45 times in any season, his highest reception total coming in 2012 when he caught 19 passes for 229 yards.
Six-year veteran Daniel Fells, who stands 6’4” and weighs 265 pounds, is probably the most accomplished receiving tight end on the Giants roster. In his career, the 30-year-old has 92 receptions (out of 152 targets) for 1,086 yards and eight touchdowns.
However, two things need to be pointed out about Fells.
First, he’s going to be 31 in September. More importantly, Fells, who started his career with the St. Louis Rams in 2008 before moving over to the Denver Broncos in 2011 and then the Patriots in 2012, couldn’t stick on a Patriots team that was desperate for tight ends last year.
While Fells has flashed this spring, my guess is the Giants might want a tight end that will stick around for a few years.
The Giants might not have drafted a tight end, but they did dip into the 2014 college talent pool to add at that position.
The addition is 21-year old Xavier Grimble, who declared as a junior for the draft after finishing his three-year career at USC with 69 receptions for 731 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The 6'4", 261-pound Grimble, who has been assigned No. 89, famously worn by ex-Giants tight end Mark Bavaro, whom he said has been an inspiration to him as he begins his journey in the NFL.
“Just his toughness and his humbleness and just how he let his actions on the field speak the most,” Grimble told reporters last month.
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“I always like to look at the guys who were great before and just look what they did and, you know, mold yourself after that. You can’t go wrong with following somebody who has already done it before you. That’s kind of my thing, to look back and try to envision myself doing the same type of thing.”
Grimble, who said he heard from four other teams besides the Giants, signed with New York because he thought they showed the most interest on his skill set.
However, there’s usually a reason why a player goes undrafted. Per CBS Sports' NFL Draft Scout, Grimble is not considered as an elite athlete, showing no burst off the snap or quickness.
Interestingly, though, NFL Draft Scout compared Grimble to Kellen Davis, who is also on the Giants roster. CBS Sports' Rob Rang wrote that Grimble “looks better walking off the bus than he does on tape.”
Like all his fellow rookies, Grimble joined the Giants, who were well into Phase 2 of the offseason program, which out him behind the others.
During the OTAs, he was given very few snaps on offense, and it was apparent that he was still trying to process what he learned in the classroom, which meant he was playing slowly.
If the rookie is going to hang around on the roster, he’ll have to do so as a practice squad player.
Assuming there are no injuries or changes to the current group of tight ends (I would not be surprised if they add another tight end to this group at some point this summer), I believe the three who will be on the final roster are Adrien Robinson, Larry Donnell and Kellen Davis.
Who will win the Giants' starting tight end job?
Davis, who has the most experience of that trio, will likely be the starter and the one who draws the majority of the in-line-blocking work.
Donnell, who has had prior experience lining up in-line, from the backfield and from the slot, will continue to do that role in Ben McAdoo’s offense.
Donnell could also end up as the team’s backup option at fullback, a role for which he has been training since last season.
As for Robinson, I think he’ll be used mostly as a slot and outside receiver in the red zone, where his size should give him a distinct advantage over his competition.
The bottom line, though, is anyone who believes that the Giants' tight end position is suddenly going to be a fantasy football must-have under Ben McAdoo, they might want to pump the brakes and review the statistical work done by Phil Alexander of NumberFire.com.
Alexander pointed out that since 2006, the number of pass targets aimed at the tight end in the Green Bay Packers offense (from where McAdoo comes) and in the Giants offense (under former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride) has been below the NFL average of 20.16 percent, with Green Bay’s tight ends topping the 20 percent mark in just two of the last eight seasons.
Patricia Traina is the senior editor for Inside Football. All quotes and information obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. All heights/weights per the New York Giants. Follow me on Twitter, @Patricia_Traina.