Very Early Redskins Roster Preview: Tight End

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There are about 90 players on the roster of the Washington Redskins right now, but the team will have to trim down to a final roster of 53 before the start of the 2016 season. Here is an early look at what that roster might look like, position by position. This time we cover the tight end position. Starters in bold.

Previous in this series: Quarterback // Running Back

POSITION: TIGHT END

ON THE ROSTER: Derek Carrier, Michael Cooper, Vernon Davis, Marcel Jensen, Niles Paul, Logan Paulsen, Jordan Reed

LIKELY TO MAKE THE ROSTER: Jordan Reed, Niles Paul, Vernon Davis

ANALYSIS:  Jordan Reed finally stayed [mostly] healthy in 2015 so it was no coincidence that 2015 was the year he became recognized by most astute observers of the game as one of the top pass-catching tight ends in football. I rate Reed as no worst than the second-best receiving tight end in the game, behind only Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots [And Reed could surpass Gronkowski in that category this season.] No one will ever mistake Reed for a strong blocker, on his best day he’s merely adequate. But if you look at Reed as basically a big wide receiver, you’re closer to appreciating him for what he is. Although Reed only became the starter in 2015 due to the Niles Paul injury, he’s the unquestioned starter now and his shiny and expensive [but fair] new contract is merely recognition of his status as the straw that stirs the drink for Washington’s offense.

Niles Paul had a strong 2014 season [39 catches, 507 yards, 1 TD] and parlayed that into the starting job for 2015. However, he broke an ankle in the preseason opener against Cleveland, ending 2015 for him. Paul has been rehabbing and bulking up, leading head coach Jay Gruden to suggest that Paul might play some fullback in 2016, in place of the departed Darrel Young. [Paul played some fullback in 2013 while Young was briefly injured.] Unfortunately, for Paul, a terrible injury cost him his starting job, though it is doubtful he could have held that job against a healthy Jordan Reed. The tight end position looks to get stronger in 2016 with a healthy Paul joining a healthy Reed, giving the team a better blocking option, as well as another target for QB Kirk Cousins. Paul’s versatility in the offense should help keep him on the field and he’s a valuable insurance policy against yet another Jordan Reed injury.

GM Scot McCloughan recently signed one of his favorite players, 32-year-old Vernon Davis, bringing him to Washington and setting him up to compete with Paul for the backup tight end job. Davis has been to multiple Pro Bowls and caught 13 touchdown passes in a season twice, but his production has fallen off a cliff the past two seasons, catching 26 passes in 2014 and 38 passes in 2015. Much of that may be attributable to bad quarterback play in San Francisco in 2014 and 2015 and in Denver in 2015. However, considerable doubts about Davis exist around the league. Some wonder if he’s lost his athleticism or his desire or both. McCloughan is still a believer, though, saying Davis is “a genetic freak” and still “explosive.” If GMSM is correct that Davis still has something left in the tank, Washington will be very strong at the tight end position in 2016 [barring another rash of catastrophic injuries] because Davis, in addition to having pass-catching skills, is also a fine blocker.

Logan Paulsen is the team’s biggest tight end and has been its strongest blocker at the position for years. However, he also suffered a season-ending injury in the 2015 preseason. Paulsen was on the bubble a year ago — many observers thought he would not make the team — and he figures to be on the bubble again, though with even stiffer competition this time. My guess is an injury to another player is Paulsen’s best shot to make the team in 2016.

GM Scot McCloughan, former GM with the San Francisco 49ers, traded with the Niners in the 2015 preseason to acquire Derek Carrier after Paul and Paulsen were lost for the season to injury. Carrier played reasonably well for Washington and could have a place on the team. However, he suffered a bad knee injury against the Chicago Bears late in the 2015 season and I doubt he will be ready for the start of the regular season. I expect Carrier to begin the 2016 season on the PUP [Physically Unable to Perform] List.