While the offensive line has played poorly for the majority of the 2017 season, one of the biggest flaws on the Broncos’ offense often goes unnoticed by media members and analysts across the nation — the continued lack of production from the tight end position.
Sure, we can mention the below-average quarterback play for what seems like the millionth time this season, or bring up the Broncos’ redzone woes that sealed their fate in a blowout 41-16 loss to the Patriots.
But did anyone notice that the Broncos’ trio of tight ends accounted for only two catches and six yards of offense in front of a national audience on ‘Sunday Night Football?’
Tight end has been a major disappointment for the Broncos for the majority of 2017. The trio of Virgil Green, Jeff Heuerman and A.J. Derby have contributed little to the team’s offense, despite off-season hype about all three becoming difference-makers on offense.
Leading the trio is Derby, acquired from the Patriots for a late-round draft pick last season. Derby currently ranked 28th in the NFL with only 224 receiving yards over the span of nine games. Since his “breakout” game in week four against the Oakland Raiders, Derby has notched only 110 yards over the span of five games.
Green and Heuerman have also fallen short of expectation, as they currently rank 44th and 51st among tight ends in receiving yards, respectively.
The Broncos were hoping to get support at the tight end position in the latter half of the season with 2017 fifth-round Jake Butt slated to return from a knee injury sustained in college. Unfortunately, the troubles at tight end continued for the Broncos as Butt was placed on season-ending injured reserve last week due to complications while recovering from the injury.
By contrast, the Patriots, who have dominated the NFL after dropping their home opener, recently upgraded their tight end position by claiming former Patriots/Green Packers tight end Martellus Bennett off of waivers, who was made available after a bizarre injury situation led to his release from the Packers. Despite the Broncos’ lack of production from the tight end position, they decided to pass on Bennett and stick with the current players on the roster.
The decision immediately proved once again that the Broncos have mishandled the tight end position over the past two seasons. Bennett picked up where he left off with the Patriots in 2016, immediately catching a 22-yard first down pass from Tom Brady. Bennett would go on to have a relatively quiet night with three catches for 38 yards, but the point was made.
In case you had forgotten, that’s still 32 more yards than the entire tight end position group for the Broncos. One player, who was cut during the week leading up to a game, — and struggling through a shoulder injury — out-performed all three tight ends on the Broncos’ roster. Combined.
This isn’t Travis Kelce or Zach Ertz we’re talking about. Bennett is a back-up tight end behind one of the best tight ends of this generation in Rob Gronkowski. Bennett could have provided veteran stability for the Broncos at tight end, and all the Broncos had to do was claim him off waivers; they had a higher priority than the Patriots, thanks to their inferior record.
At some point, the blame needs to be shifted from the players and focused more towards the front office; one who failed to properly address the position in the offseason, the 2017 trade deadline or even an opportunity to claim a player that could step in and help immediately.