The New York Giants' tight end situation might be a fantasy nightmare, but what appears to be an inevitable platoon could be a dream come true for quarterback Eli Manning.
We hear time and again about how this new offense is supposed to make life significantly easier on Manning, and a key way in which that can happen is if the Giants utilize their tight ends frequently as both safety valves in the passing game as well as blockers.
With Brandon Myers gone, there's no clear-cut starter at that position, but that hasn't discouraged new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo from throwing his current handful of journeymen and/or under-performers into the lion's den.
Tight ends continue to be everywhere. There was a play on which Daniel Fells was the receiver lined up wide left and Larry Donnell was in the backfield. Running back Peyton Hillis was the one who ended up with the ball on that play, but it's clear the Giants would like to use the tight end liberally, and in a wide variety of roles, in their new offense. Now they just need to find one they can consider a starter.
I've written in the past that the Giants need someone proven in the starting spot here, but if indeed the team thinks they have enough talent already on the roster, it's possible not having a tight end who is paid like a starter and gets 800 snaps could pay off.
This is exactly what the Giants offense needs—something unique. And while McAdoo's former team, the Packers, weren't really known for using their tight ends more frequently or uniquely than anyone else, this is an indication that the 37-year-old is thinking outside the box rather than simply installing what Tom Clements had in place for Aaron Rodgers and Co.
Fresh thinking hasn't been a Giants trademark in recent years, particularly on offense.
Plus, the Giants have been buying and selling starting tight ends for half a decade, never with much success. Martellus Bennett was good but became too pricey as a free agent. Jake Ballard had promise but got hurt. Myers was a letdown and Kevin Boss lacked star power.
Now, though, this team is accepting that it doesn't have a star at that position and is attempting to use that to its advantage. If indeed Daniel Fells, Larry Donnell, Kellen Davis and Adrien Robinson all end up on the 53-man roster (rookie Xavier Grimble is a long shot), and if indeed nobody claims a clear starting job, defenses will be left guessing during preparation stages.
And if there's one thing this offense had lacked in recent seasons under Kevin Gilbride, it was the ability to keep defenses guessing.
Everybody appears to be getting plenty of reps right now in what the media and fans have naturally termed a battle for a starting spot, but it's possible the Giants will continue to mix things up throughout the year.
From NJ.com's Jordan Raanan at Thursday's practice:
The Giants ran a total of 51 plays in 11-on-11 drills. Twelve of those plays involved two tight ends and one didn't have any. The reps were almost equally distributed between Adrien Robinson (15), Larry Donnell (14), Kellen Davis (16) and Daniel Fells (17).
There's a reason 12 personnel sets are catching on across the NFL. As fullbacks become phased out, two-tight end sets make a lot of sense, especially because tight ends are typically more versatile. Nowadays, that's a requirement.
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Additionally, New York could use that type of help on offense. Hakeem Nicks is gone, Odell Beckham has been out with a hamstring injury and Rueben Randle has yet to prove that he can be a reliable starter, leaving the Giants with Victor Cruz and a bunch of question marks in the receiving corps.
Besides, those guys can only do so much to help an offensive line that allowed Manning to take a career-high 39 sacks last season. Robinson is the athlete of the group, but Donnell, Fells and Davis are all very good blockers. Mix and match your combinations there and you're guaranteed to add protection for Manning while keeping defenses in the dark.