2010 Denver Broncos Positional Previews - Tight Ends

The Denver Broncos parted ways with Tight End Tony Scheffler during the off-season. During Training Camp in 2009, Josh McDaniels assured Tony he would be a part of the offense. When his involvement in the offense lessened, Scheffler developed an attitude problem. It was enough to get him benched for the last game of the season, and subsequently traded to the Detroit Lions. Tony didn't fit the versatility requirements for the offense that Josh McDaniels installed as the Broncos new Head Coach before the 2009 season. McDaniels requires the Tight End position to be primarily run blockers first and pass catchers second. This isn't to say that he wants blockers with stone hands. In the "Amoeba" approach, every player that handles the ball is required to be a "complete" player. If they are one dimensional, the defense can key on the play. For example, Scheffler was known as a pass catching Tight End. When he was in the game, the defense could key on him and know there was a pass play coming when it wasn't otherwise obvious, i.e., 3rd and long.

The Receiving productivity of Broncos tight ends has declined a bit since the retirement of future Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe. The catch and yardage averages have gone down slightly, but the Touchdown production of the tight ends has dwindled by half.

 The demands of the tight end are different in Josh McDaniels’ offense than they were in Mike Shanahan’s. Due to the nature of the amoeba, playing-to-the-strengths of the players, the production results can vary. In 2006, the Patriots’ tight ends (which included current Bronco Daniel Graham) accounted for 1,037 yards on 81 receptions; two years later, the tight ends’ yardage production dropped by 70.9 percent, to 302 yards on 31 catches.

The strengths of the Broncos’ tight ends now rest in their blocking abilities; Graham has one 30-catch season since 2005 while Quinn was a devastating blocker in college at North Carolina but didn’t have a catch last year. So this year the receiving achievements at the tight end position could be closer to McDaniels’ 2008 offense than his 2006 one. Or it could be somewhere in between like last year (59 for 705 yards).

The Bronco tight ends are in good shape in the meticulous hands of Coach Bob Ligashesky.
 
Says Marquez Branson:

"He wants you to do everything right. That's how it's supposed to be. He's always coaching you up on the little things -- footwork, steps, make sure you get your leverage, width on routes, coming back to the ball, being quarterback friendly -- stuff like."

 

  #89 Daniel Graham  (6-3, 257)

Season Team Gm Rec Yards Yds/G Avg. Long YAC 1stD TD Fum Fum L
2002-03 New England 12 15 150 12.5 10 31 7.8 7 1 0 0
2003-04 New England 14 38 409 29.2 10.8 38 4.5 21 4 0 0
2004-05 New England 14 30 364 26 12.1 48 4.7 20 7 0 0
2005-06 New England 11 16 235 21.4 14.7 45 11.4 9 3 1 0
2006-07 New England 12 21 235 19.6 11.2 29 4.9 12 2 1 1
2007-08 Denver 15 24 246 16.4 10.3 28 4.4 12 2 0 0
2008-09 Denver 16 32 389 21.3 12.2 28 6.3 20 4 0 0
2009-10 Denver 16 28 289 18.1 10.3 24 6.9 14 1 0 0
Career   110 204 2317 21.1 11.4 48 5.9 115 24 2 1

 

Daniel Graham joined the Broncos as an unrestricted free agent on March 9, 2007. He grew up in Denver, attending Thomas Jefferson High School and completed his education at the University of Colorado. A nine-year veteran tight end, Daniel enters his 4th year with the Broncos after spending his first five seasons in New England, where he earned 2 Super Bowl rings (2003 and 2004). He has established himself as one of the NFL’s best blocking tight ends. Those two assets have earned him the respect of his teammates. Graham was named the Patriots offensive team captain for the 2006 season and has also served as an offensive co-captain for all three seasons he's been a Bronco.

Graham is a Pro Bowl caliber player who has 11 games of playoff experience (6 starts), including three AFC Championship Games and two Super Bowls.

He has started 45-of-47 games he's played in a Broncos uniform, totaling 84 catches for 924 yards (11.0 avg.) with seven touchdowns while blocking for an offense that ranked fourth in the NFL (1st in AFC) in yards per rush (4.5) during that period.

Daniel played in all 16 games (14 starts) for the Broncos and tied for third on the club with two receiving scores, became one of just three tight ends (Tony Gonzalez/Todd Heap) to post at least one touchdown reception in each of the last eight seasons.

Averaging 23 Reception, 277 yds. and 3 TD's a year and would love to get the ball more often. With Tony Scheffler's departure, perhaps Graham will get more looks in the red-zone. And even though he turns 32 in November, there is no doubt that he is the incumbent and current starting tight end for the Denver Broncos.

Daniel Graham at Minicamp talking about this season compared to last season:

"It's a lot better out there. The young guys are coming along, you know. Some guys feel more comfortable in the whole system and what coach is trying to do with this camp.

It's a lot more comfortable feeling. Guys understand more than we did last year. We are comfortable on both offense and defense. You know, we are just having a lot of fun out here right now."

 

  #81 Richard Quinn (6-4, 255)

Richard Quinn developed into one of the best blockers in the nation at the tight end position during his three seasons playing for the University of North Carolina. The Broncos started looking toward the future when they selected him in the 2nd round (64th overall) of the 2009 NFL Draft. Expected to be utilized in the 2 tight end set and groomed as Daniel Graham's eventual successor, Richard appeared in 15 games his first year. He made his regular-season NFL debut in Week 1 at Cincinnati and his lone missed game was when he was listed Inactive vs. Pittsburgh in Week 9. Quinn deflected a pass to break up a fake punt attempt at Kansas City in Week 13. Contributed two tackles and a 19-yard kickoff return while playing special teams.

Richard is a naturally large man with a powerful upper and lower body (225 Bench: 24 Times). He is an outstanding blocker who is stout at the point of attack and gets a good push in the run game. Quinn has the tools to be a solid possession receiver (Vertical Jump: 32.5"). He lacks great timed speed (40 Time: 4.88), so he won't get much separation in his routes. He's not a vertical threat who will stretch the field and is raw as a pass route runner.

Injury history: he missed his entire 2006 College Football season after fracturing his right shoulder blade in August 2006.

In his 2nd year, the Broncos will expect Quinn to show improvement as a receiver and be an impact player in the running game. He should see more playing time in short yardage situations and when the Broncos enter their opponents’ red-zone.

 

  #86 Marquez Branson  (6-3, 248)

Marquez Branson was an undrafted College Free Agent the Broncos signed in 2009 after playing College ball at Central Arkansas. He was one of the last cuts in the pre-season after making an impression in Training Camp. The Broncos re-signed him and he was placed on the practice squad last year .

Emmett Smith did a Tales from the SunnySide article on Marquez back in January.

He isn't the best of blockers, although he's been steadily improving in that area (is any of this starting to sound familiar?). However - while this player, who was the Senior Bowl quarterback Nathan Brown's favorite target at Central Arkansas in 2008, he has the frame to add an estimated 10 to 15 pounds of muscle without sacrificing speed. That's good, because his Combine average was only about 4.7 (He did a run a few timed 4.55's between preparations, Combine and Pro Day). Branson has an arm span of 34.25 inches and a hand span of 10 inches, which gives him an edge in a lot of situations. He lead the All-Southland Conference First Team with an impressive 16.4 yards per catch at Central Arkansas, after doing two years at East Mississippi Community College and he managed 18 TDs in his last two years. Oh, and he managed a 35 inch vertical leap at Combine, third in that year at TE.

Spending the season on the practice squad, Marquez soaked up all he could while serving on the scout team. Learning techniques and doing his part to help the defense prepare for each week's opponent, he did a fair job imitating the likes of Antonio Gates and Jason Witten.

Considered a "Receiving" tight end, Branson is 3 inches smaller than Tony Scheffler, the man he's replacing. That doesn't bother Marquez one bit.

"I'm pretty sure I can handle it. If I couldn't, I don't think I would be here getting the opportunity. I'm going to keep working my hardest and see what happens."

Marquez has added 7 lbs. of muscle with the ministrations of Strength and Conditioning coach Rich Tuten. This season, he will likely play an H-back role similar to what Clark and Chris Cooley play. He has also been practicing at fullback along with Spencer Larsen. Either way Branson has been addressing any deficiencies in his blocking ability and becoming versatile enough to earn a spot on the 53-man roster this year.

"I improved my blocking a whole lot. That was a lot of dedication just getting in the weight room. Passing and catching the ball is what I've done my whole life, so that comes kind of naturally to me. I'm just trying to work and improve the best I can."

Head Coach Josh McDaniels has high hopes for Branson in 2010:

"You didn't see him last year, but we have very high expectations for him," McDaniels said. "He's a guy that has matured and is doing great in our off-season program right now. He did a great job last year and we were fortunate to get him after the draft last year. There were some teams that were even interested in getting him off our practice squad as the season went on, and we were fortunate to keep him. We're excited about his progress.

Marquez Branson should make the real squad this season.

 
The Broncos didn't select any Tight Ends in the 2010 Draft, but they fortified the competition with two Undrafted College Free Agents, Nathan Overbay and Riar Greer.

  #86 Nathan Overbay (6-5, 270)

Nathan Overbay joined the Broncos as a college free agent on April 26, 2010 fresh out of Eastern Washington University. He played 43 career games for the Eagles, totaling 93 receptions for 1,189 yards (12.8 avg.) and 19 touchdowns. Nathan set an EWU record for tight ends as a senior in 2009 with 51 receptions for 588 yards (11.5 avg.) with 13 touchdowns, averaging a touchdown every 3.9 catches. He is the nephew of Toronto Blue Jays player Lyle Overbay. Nathan Majored in interdisciplinary studies at Eastern Washington. He was born on Jan. 4, 1987.

Overbay is a big passing target and at 270 lbs., he definitely has the bulk to be a force as a blocker. However, his combine metrics show why he went undrafted. His 40 Time of 4.72 - 4.85 while not stellar, isn't too shabby for as big as he is (Former Bronco Tony Scheffler was in the 4.5 - 4.55 range). He had a Vertical jump of 30.5" and Bench Pressed 225 lbs. 19 Times. According to nfldraftscout, Overbay will catch nearly everything thrown his way but he is very slow coming out of the 3-point stance. Perhaps a year working with Coach Tuten on strength and agility would be helpful for Nathan.


Asked  about his favorite aspect of football, Overbay replied:

"I just love the hitting and being part of a huge family with the players and coaches. I just love the game."

Overbay, was not Invited To The Combine, but here is a scouting report on him:

The Sporting News War Room

Overbay is a tall, long-armed target who possesses good size and carries his weight well. He showcases decent bend in his stance but struggles when asked to fire off the ball. He isn't sudden when asked to slip the bump, and it takes him a while to get into his routes. He's at his best when he's asked to stand up off the line. He isn't a gifted vertical athlete and lacks the speed to consistently get down the seam. But he possesses strider speed that allows him to pick up speed the farther downfield he goes when he tracks the ball. Nathan has good body control and coordination when asked to go up and get the ball. He's a natural plucker who catches the ball well in traffic and does a nice job maintaining concentration through the play. He isn't sudden as a route runner. He's more of a glider and doesn't exhibit much acceleration out of his breaks. But he has a feel for the pass game, finds soft spots in zone coverage and gives quarterbacks a big target to throw to. He isn't a physical run blocker and struggles to drive defenders off the ball. But he possesses a long set of arms and has the initial athleticism to get into defenders off the snap and seal them from the ball. He does a nice job of initially controlling blocks on contact but lacks the overall power to consistently lock out through the play. Overall, Overbay is a nice-looking tight end prospect who has the ability to catch the ball in traffic and earn a No. 2 or 3 roster spot for an NFL team.

Wes Bunting  scouting the East/West Shrine game

Speaking of productive first days for tight ends, Eastern Washington’s Nathan Overbay had a solid initial practice. Overbay is a big kid who displayed a good feel for coverage, hauling in three tough grabs in practice and being the most productive target in the West passing game. He isn’t an explosive downfield athlete, but he’s a smooth/coordinated route runner who adjusts well to the football and knows how to extend and pluck away from his frame.

Nathan Overbay seems destined to the Practice Squad for a year of seasoning if he can get the coaches to notice him in Training Camp.

  #83 Riar Geer (6-4, 250)

Riar Geer is a rookie tight end from the University of Colorado who joined the Broncos as a college free agent on April 26, 2010. In 46 career games (37 starts) for the Buffaloes, he totaled 87 receptions for 974 (11.2 avg.) yards and 11 touchdowns, ranking fourth, fifth and second, respectively, all-time among tight ends in Colorado history. Earned first-team All-Big 12 Conference honors from the Associated Press and The Sporting News as a senior in 2009 when he recorded 36 receptions for 402 (11.2 avg.) yards and four touchdowns. He is a local boy who played ball at Fruita-Monument High School in Fruita, Colo.

Playing in the Colorado offense, he is also accustomed to being used as a blocker.

Perusing the scouting reports on Riar, I found the usual double talk.

He was a Combine invite but didn't get drafted. Geer weighed in at 256 lbs. and coming off a knee injury, ran the 40 yd Dash in 5.00 seconds. His low time was 4.87. His 20 yd time was 2.86 and he ran a 4.28 in the 20 yard shuttle. He had a vertical Jump 33" and he did the 225 lb. Bench 13 times. His other measurables: 33" arm length, 10 1/8" hand, and a Broad jump of 8'10".

His slow 40 Time is understandable and Geer will likely have a better number with a healthy knee. The 13 Bench reps is startling though for a tight end, and Riar will need major improvement in that area if he is going to play in the Pros.

There are some injury concerns though. In 2009, he sat out of all contact drills during the spring while completing rehabilitation from winter shoulder surgery. However, that didn't prevent him from having his best year in college.

In 2008, his junior year, Riar missed the first two games after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in August, but played in the remaining 10 games of the season, including eight starts.
 
In 2007 he got off to a slow start after dinging a knee early on. Geer didn't return to his old self until late in the season. That affected his production for the year.

In 2006, as a Redshirt Freshman, Rian was the first tight end to lead the Buffaloes in receiving since Daniel Graham did so in 2001, and just the 10th to do so since 1963. In playing in all 12 games, including nine starts, he caught at least one pass in 10 games, with his top game in receptions and yards coming at Georgia, when he hauled in seven for 71 yards. It is important to note that he added about 12 pounds of muscle to his frame while redshirting.

Riar Geer is not much of a big-play threat and he doesn’t have the ideal size for a blocking tight end. Still he’s worth taking a closer look at because he’s tougher than his size suggests and he catches the ball well. His earlier (college) career had been marked by injuries and legal woes. But Geer rebounded to lead all Big 12 tight ends in his senior year.

Another report says:

Strengths: Geer is a Complete player who can both contribute in the passing game and as a blocker. He possesses Solid hands, decent quickness and is very tough to jam at the line. Riar is more of a possession receiver, but gets off the ball quickly and can be dangerous down the seam. Decent athlete who uses his body well to shield defenders from the ball. Turns and gets upfield quickly. Excellent blocker. Strong base, strong hands and overall core strength more reminiscent of an offensive lineman. Gets Good push in the run game and sticks to blocks. Almost an extra tackle in pass protection. Plays some H-back.

Weaknesses:
Riar lacks explosion and deep speed. He doesn't have the agility or leaping ability of the elite pass-catching TE's. Sometimes goes games without a catch. Despite his blocking prowess, is not the very large for the position.

Projection:
Mid-round pick with very low risk. Not flashy and may not start, but with the abundance of two and three man TE sets, he's almost a lock to play on Sundays.

Geer is being looked at as both a tight end and fullback by teams and could be picked in the later rounds. He is a good receiver and a decent blocker, but lacks the speed and athletic ability of some of the elite tight ends in the NFL. He projects as an H-back, FB, TE type player, which is probably where he'll play in the NFL.  

It will take a strong Training camp for Riar Geer to get an invitation to the Practice Squad. The injury bug has slowed his development and he may never have the strength to make it as a blocking tight end. He projects better to the Fullback position where speed isn't as much of a factor.

My Depth Chart

Though the Broncos used a 2nd round pick last year on Quinn, Daniel Graham will remain the starter. The team will keep three tight ends on the roster. Richard Quinn has the #2 spot locked up and really needs to emerge this year. He also has a role on the Special Teams Unit.  Marquez Branson is penciled in at 3rd string, will play Special Teams this year, and has been doubling up at Fullback. Overbay may challenge Branson, but he is probably destined to the Practice Squad. Geer will be fighting for a possible place on the Practice Squad. It will all depend on how the pieces fall and whether Josh McDaniels sees a need for the 3rd Tight End to have better receiving skills than blocking skills. Graham and Quinn have been dropping passes this spring, and Branson missed some OTA practices with an undisclosed injury. I will be keeping an eye on the battle for the 3rd Tight End between Marquez Branson and Nathan Overbay in Training Camp. And you never know when a Pre-season injury will factor in to the equation.

Go Broncos!

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