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Broncos 2023 training camp preview: Tight ends

Previewing Greg Dulcich and the rest of the Broncos tight ends ahead of the start of training camp.

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The Denver Broncos tight end room is highlighted by second-year tight end Greg Dulcich who is expected to play the “Joker” role in Sean Payton’s offense. He showed promise last season and could be on the verge of a breakout season. After that, we have former Saints tight end, Adam Trautman, who they traded for during the draft and figures to have a large role on this team this upcoming season. Next, we have blocking specialist Chris Manhertz who figures to be a fixture on short yardage plays and inside the goal line. Rounding out the unit we have big Albert Okwuegbunam who is fighting for a roster spot, veteran Tommy Hudson and undrafted rookie, Nate Adkins.

Let us take a more in-depth look at the Broncos' tight ends as they head into the start of training camp in just a few short weeks.

Greg Dulcich - Tight End - 6-4, 245 pounds

The Broncos' third-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft had a slow start to his rookie year due to a nagging hamstring injury. However, once he got on the field, he quickly became a difference-maker in the Broncos offense. He showed off his elite athleticism, speed, explosiveness, and receiving ability. It was a promising start for the Broncos rookie, but we may see an even bigger jump in year two now that Sean Payton is running the team.

You have to be excited for Dulcich’s upside in Sean Payton’s offense. He is a large receiving threat that creates matchup problems for defenses and profiles as a red zone nightmare. You would have to assume that Payton will find ways to get him open or in favorable matchups in his offense and do it often. Add in how well he played last year despite all the dysfunction on offense and with that team, and you can see why I am expecting big things from Dulcich.

Payton seems to agree and praised the Broncos’ tight end recently after an OTA practice. He told reporters that Dulcich can run, has good ball skills, and used the term ‘joker’ when talking about him

“He’s got unique skill set, and he’s got traits in the passing game. We use the term ‘Joker’ where we can get matchups. The trick sometimes is trying to predict what you’re going to get defensively, if you’re either going to get a nickel package or a base package. But man, he can run, he’s got good ball skills and he had one of his better practices today.”

He continued by explaining what the ‘Joker’ is in his offense and mentioned players like Reggie Bush, Darren Sproles, and Alvin Kamara filling that role for him in the past.

The ‘Joker’ player for us is not a receiver. It’s either a running back or a tight end with exceptional ball skills and then you can work matchups. We’ve had that at the running back position. Reggie Bush was the ‘Joker,’ Darren Sproles and Alvin Kamara. Those were all unique players, not just in the running game, but they had passing game skill sets that allowed you to do multiple things, and I think Greg does to.”

So it will be interesting to see how Dulcich will be used in this offense moving forward. I expect him to be one of the training camp stars and hopefully, that carries over into the preseason and into the regular season.

Adam Trautman - Tight End - 6-5, 253 pounds

On day three of the 2023 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos made a trade with the New Orleans Saints where they acquired tight end Adam Trautman. The former third-round pick by the Saints in 2020 played two seasons for head coach Sean Payton with the Saints and now reunites with him with the Broncos.

In three seasons in New Orleans, Trautman totaled 60 receptions for 641 yards, and 4 touchdowns. His best season came in Sean Payton’s last season with the Saints when he totaled 27 receptions for 263 yards and 2 touchdowns.

His role with the Broncos will be an interesting one. He has a pass-catching upside but is known for his blocking ability. After the Saints drafted him back in 2020, Payton praised his blocking ability and used him in that role throughout his career. I would expect that to be the case in Denver and would not be surprised if he ended up at the top of the depth chart. Pass-catching tight end Greg Dulcich will play plenty of snaps but Trautman is the more complete player and can block. Plus, he knows the system and is clearly a player Payton trusts.

It is quite possible that Trautman may even lead the tight ends in snaps some weeks, especially if the Broncos are a run-heavy offense. Again, this is not a knock on Dulcich, I just think we will see both used a lot, but Trautman potentially being more some weeks because of his blocking ability. I am certainly interested to see how it shakes out.

Chris Manhertz - Tight End - 6-6, 235 pounds

During free agency, the Broncos went out and signed blocking specialist tight end Chris Manhertz to a two-year deal. He is considered one of the better blocking tight ends in the league and will now too look to open up running lanes and help protect Russell Wilson with the Broncos.

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His role with the team is going to be simple, he is going to be a blocking specialist. I believe he will be the third tight end on the depth chart, but we will see him come in during some two tight end sets, short-yardage, to help with pass blocking and just where ever Sean Payton wants to use him.

The Broncos and Sean Payton put an emphasis on adding hard-nosed football players who can be maulers in the run game and just improve the blocking as a whole. Well, Manhertz was among the signings the Broncos made on the first day of free agency and I expect him to play an important role with this team.

Albert Okwuegbunam - Tight End - 6-5, 258 pounds

If we turn the clocks back to one year ago, Albert O. was viewed as a breakout star in the making. He was coming off a promising season and watched as the team traded away Noah Fant which opened up the starting role for him. As we know, that breakout did not happen and Okwuegbunam found himself in the coach's dog house. A month into the season, he found himself going from a starter to a weekly gameday inactive. Now, with Greg Dulcich appearing to be on the verge of a breakout year and two other tight ends added this season, Albert O. is fighting for his roster life.

Now, with Sean Payton running the team, he could see something in the big 6’5 tight end who has 4.5 speed and could be a receiving weapon on offense. However, Albert O. needs to play his way into a roster spot this summer. It is unlikely that he will surpass the tight ends ahead of him on the depth chart, but he needs to show the coaches that he is a player they cannot part ways with.

What hurts him is that he is not a blocker and is simply a receiving tight end. Payton clearly prefers tight ends who can block and being the fourth tight end at best on the team, you likely need to do more than just catch passes. So, it will be interesting to see how it plays out here. I would not be shocked if the Broncos tried shopping him around during the cut period to see if they can get any value in return.

Tommy Hudson - Tight End - 6-5, 255 pounds

In late May, the Broncos signed former Titans tight end Tommy Hudson to a one-year deal. He added some much-needed back-end depth to the unit and gives them a player with some experience as well as some depth.

He is a 6’3”, 255-pound tight end who has spent his entire NFL career with the Tennessee Titans. The former Arizona State tight end joined the Titans as an undrafted free agent in 2020 and has bounced on and off their active roster and practice squad. In October of the 2022 season, Hudson was waived off their injured reserve and has remained unsigned until now. Now, he joins the Broncos and adds some depth to their tight end room.

Since joining the league in 2020, Hudson played a total of five games, all of which came in 2021, and totaled 3 receptions for 31 yards.

Hudson has an outside shot at making the team if he can show the Broncos he can block, catch passes and probably most importantly, help out on special teams.

Nate Adkins - Tight End - 6-3, 252 pounds

The Broncos signed former South Carolina tight end Nate Adkins as an undrafted free agent at the conclusion of the 2023 NFL Draft. He faces long odds to make the 53-man roster but his positional versatility just may help him do that.

Earlier this offseason, head coach Sean Payton mentioned that we could see Nate Adkins not only play tight end but also some fullback.

“The first question we asked ourselves is, ‘Does he go with the tight end room, or does he go the running back room?’ He can go to either. He goes to the tight end room, but he would be an ‘F’ tight end that would be used at times in some roles like [FB Michael] Burton would be used in. He would be an ‘F’ candidate

This type of positional versatility is exactly what you want from a back-end-of-the-roster sort of player. He can play tight end, he can play some fullback, and likely have a key role on special teams. That is three roles potentially filled by one player. You want players like that on your roster and that is exactly what Adkins could potentially give you.

While I do not think Michael Burton’s roster spot is in danger, at all, I think there is a scenario where Adkins could take his roster spot. Ultimately, I think he will be a practice squad player you stash and use as depth if injuries happen during the season.