Since the early 1990's, the tight end position for the Denver Broncos can be described in one word: stability.
From future Hall of Fame lock Shannon Sharpe to three-time Super Bowl champion Daniel Graham, tight ends have been a huge part of the Bronco offense for nearly two decades.
Nothing will change in 2009.
The Broncos feature two Pro Bowl caliber players at the position in Daniel Graham and Tony Scheffler, and a newly acquired second round pick whom the coaching staff is really high on.
Can this unit take pressure off of Kyle Orton?
Oftentimes, teams only keep three, maybe four tight ends, so who will make the final roster for the Denver Broncos?
1. Daniel Graham
Graham is a vastly underrated player at his position, mostly because his specialty is blocking.
The former Patriots first round draft pick out of Colorado was signed in 2007 as a big money free agent by the Broncos, and fans were calling for former head coach Mike Shanahan's head after he paid so much money for a guy who had only 24 receptions in his first season in Denver.
Casual observers of the team are still trying to figure out why this team paid so much money for Graham, but his blocking skills speak for themselves.
Last season, he earned his money not only as a blocking specialist, but as a pass receiver as well. Graham nearly eclipsed his single-season high of 38 receptions last season when he hauled in 32 passes for 389 yards and four touchdowns.
History proves that teams are much more successful when Graham catches 30 or more passes in a season.
- 2003: 38 receptions, 408 yards, 4 TD--Patriots win Super Bowl
- 2004: 30 receptions, 364 yards, 7 TD--Patriots win Super Bowl
- 2008: 32 receptions, 389 yards, 4 TD--Broncos 2nd place AFC West, one game away from playoffs
Now, there is no doubt that Graham did not single-handedly bring his team into the winner's circle, but there is also no denying the correlation between his play and his team's victories.
Graham should continue to be a safety outlet for new quarterback Kyle Orton, as well as a cog in the running game.
2. Tony Scheffler
Scheffler, when healthy, is arguably the best pass catching tight end in the NFL. Tony Gonzalez obviously is the clear cut No. 1, and there are players like Jason Witten and Antonio Gates who are also in the mix, but it is hard to argue with Scheffler's numbers.
In three seasons with the Broncos, Scheffler has caught 107 passes for 1,480 yards and 12 touchdowns while only playing in 40 games over that timeframe.
Scheffler is an athletic specimen at 6'5" 250 pounds with a 4.55 second 40-yard dash. This former Western Michigan dual sport star has turned into a big play threat for the Denver Broncos.
Heading into his fourth year in the league, Scheffler has been the subject of quite a few trade rumors throughout the off-season.
Unlike his former roommate and best friend Jay Cutler, Scheffler handled the trade talks with poise and confidence, stating that the NFL is a business and that his job is to help the Broncos win in any way he can.
In 2008, Scheffler proved he was a threat to score every time he touched the ball, leading the Broncos with an average of 16.1 yards per reception. He also set a personal single season record with 645 receiving yards.
Combined with the Broncos' arsenal of running backs and receivers, Scheffler provides the Broncos with yet another big weapon on the outside.
3. Richard Quinn
Quinn was undoubtedly the biggest surprise of the Broncos' draft class, but looking back the selection makes a lot of sense.
Many feel the Broncos screwed themselves over by trading away two third round picks for Quinn and a fourth round pick, but many forget that Denver acquired that extra fourth round pick in the deal, so they really did not sacrifice a large discrepancy in talent with their two picks.
Here are a few reasons why Quinn was a solid pick by McDaniels and company:
- Daniel Graham is 30 years old, and while he may just now be entering his prime, the Broncos are looking toward the future.
- Tony Scheffler has one year left on his contract.
- Outside of Graham and Scheffler, the only tight end on the Broncos' roster was late season free agent acquisition Jeb Putzier.
And the number one reason why Quinn was acquired with the 64th pick in the 2009 NFL Draft: Red zone efficiency.
Last season, the Broncos were second in the entire NFL in offense...in terms of yardage. They ranked a very mediocre 16th in the league in scoring, thanks largely to the fact that they could not punch the ball in when they got inside the opponents' 20.
Quinn only had 12 receptions in his career at North Carolina, but the former Tar Heel is regarded as the best blocker in his class not named Pettigrew, and scouts felt he showed very soft hands in off-season workouts.
When the Broncos enter their opponents' red-zone, expect Quinn to make them much more efficient with his blocking and receiving abilities.
4. Jeb Putzier
Putzier was a late season free agent signing in 2008, beginning his second stint with the Broncos.
The veteran tight end is known mostly for his blocking abilities, and not much else. He has fairly reliable hands for the position, but the Broncos' group of tight ends is a bit crowded and he could struggle to make the final roster.
5. Marquez Branson
Branson was an undrafted free agent out of Central Arkansas who put together a very solid collegiate career.
Somebody put together a nice YouTube highlight of this kid, and he sort of reminds me of Peyton Hillis in terms of his receiving ability, but he lacks the toughness of Hillis.
He should be a practice squad addition, as his skills are fairly raw and he may need a year or two to develop.
2008 Tight Ends Grade: B+
Tight End's Coach: Clancy Barone
Projected Starter: Daniel Graham (Acquired via Free Agency in 2007)
Projected Stats: Rec. Yds. Avg. TD
30 360 12.0 2
Projected Backup: Tony Scheffler (Acquired via 2006 NFL Draft)
Projected Stats 45 630 14.0 4
Projected Third String: Richard Quinn (Acquired via 2000 NFL Draft)
Projected Stats 15 150 10.0 1
Roster spots filled by TE: 3/54
Roster spots filled overall: 17/54
**Marquez Branson waived, added to practice squad; Jeb Putzier cut**