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Broncos training camp position battles: Tight end

The tight end position is one of the largest enigmas on the team in my opinion. We break it down today.

When looking at this tight end group heading into training camp, only one thing is for certain; nothing is certain.

Now that uncertainty is not necessarily a negative thing, but it does bring a lot of questions with it, and has fans watching these guys very closely.

The biggest reason for the focus on the position group is our understanding, as fans, of how important this group is to the success of a Kubiak offense, of our offense. Heading into this season, there is a huge target vacuum that someone from this group will have to step up and fill.

Here’s some numbers for you. Owen Daniels was 3rd on the team last year with 77 targets. Last year, Denver targeted the TE position on 17% of throws. This is lower than what is typical for Kubiak’s offenses, with the average being around 23%. Virgil Green, the only player currently on the team who played a snap at TE last year, received 15 targets.

So, if we are more than likely going to see a more traditional Kubiak offense, we would expect the targets to TEs to increase. Which means that not only do we have to fill 77 targets that Owen Daniels had, but that number is likely to be even higher in 2016. And that’s not even counting all the run blocking they’ll be asked to do.

All this is great news if you are Virgil Green, Jeff Heuerman, Garrett Graham, Henry Krieger-Coble, and John Phillips. There’s a ton of opportunity out there for these guys.

Last year we kept 3 TEs on the final 53-man roster although the TE position was pretty fluid last year. This year I see us keeping 3-4. The only reason I don’t stick a stake in the ground with 4 is because Janovich might do some hybrid stuff similar to Kyle Juszczyk in Baltimore when Gary was there.

With that in mind, here is my prognostication on where the tight ends stand thus far in regard to making the team in 2016.

Locked In:

Virgil Green and Jeff Heuerman

Kubiak mentioned at his press conference a few months ago that they were expecting big things from Heuerman coming back from injury. Virgil Green is the vet of this group and likely the presumed “starter” assuming he recovers from finger surgery. I would look for these guys to get the bulk of the targets and snaps as well as be virtual locks for the final roster.

Again, questions marks aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but there is a lot of uncertainty even with these two guys on whether they can shoulder the load and be what we need them to be in this offense. If they can thrive though, they’ll make a great young pair that we will have around for the next few years.

Eric Goodman and Les Shapiro talked about the Tight End position on their show today, and interviewed Jeff Heuerman about his role going forward and how camp feels so far. Take a listen below starting at about the 2:45 mark.

Likely Candidates:

Garrett Graham and Henry Kreiger-Coble

I struggled with whether or not to put Kreiger-Coble here or not, but I think he has a decent shot to either be a 4th TE or even to beat out Graham for 3rd string TE. Another thing to keep in mind is that Owen Daniels is still on the market. If things get dire at TE and we need someone to step in, I could see us possibly giving him a call.

On The Bubble:

John Phillips and Marlon Brown

Now, I was decently familiar with Manasseh Garner before we waived him a few days ago, but with the recent signing of John Phillips, I can’t tell if he is just a camp body, or should be in the category above. He is a journeyman vet with more experience than most of the other guys, but I see him more as a camp presence, filler guy while Green recovers from injury.

Now before you think I’m crazy for putting Marlon Brown here.

I don’t know what kind of “work” he was doing if it was just one set of drills or if he was taking team reps with the TEs, but that is pretty interesting. At 6’5” he has the length and height you would want, but seems very light for the position at 214 lbs. We’ll keep monitoring this and see if we hear any more in the coming days.

Final Prediction:

I am going back and forth on this, but I think my final prediction is that we end up keeping 3 TEs on the roster again because of the talent at receiver as well as having Janovich. I see those 3 guys as being Green, Heuerman, Graham. With Krieger-Coble landing on the practice squad.

It will be interesting to watch over the next few weeks of camp as we haven’t heard so much as a peep about these guys from most of the folks covering camp. Hopefully they start flashing sooner rather than later (or never).

Sound off in the comments section and give us your predictions on who you believe the Broncos final group of tight ends will be!