Everyone knew that when Peyton Freaking Manning decided to spend his last seasons in Denver, the blocking scheme was going to be a big priority. Manning’s lightning assessments of the defense and his quick release makes that job easier for the O-line, but the Broncos also took a step towards improving his safety and his target environment by luring to the team former two-time All-Mountain West Conference selection from Colorado State University, tight end Joel Dreessen.
Pro Football Focus has made positive mentions of Dreessen a few times since the end of the season. Since some of the information is in their premium section, I thought I’d cover it for you. In short, Dreessen was the #10 TE in the league in terms of pass blocking snaps for the three seasons prior to joining Denver (2009-2011). On 260 pass protection snaps over those three years, he gave up only eight total pressures for a 97.31 Pass Blocking Efficiency, good for fifth among all TEs.
That gives you an idea of why Denver was quick to snatch him up from Houston when he became available. During 2012, Dreessen only allowed a single pass pressure. But that’s only one part of the story.
Dreessen is a good blocker. He pass blocked on 134 snaps with a rating of +6.4, while being on the field as a receiver for 333 snaps (on which he was targeted 57 times with 41 receptions). His run blocking only drew a -0.8 rating.
Denver frequently uses him as an in-line blocker or lined up as a blocking WR for just that reason - he’s highly versatile and can keep the defenses guessing. Moving to the 2012 run lane stats, PFF lists Denver’s TE blocking as resulting in a very respectable 5.0 yards per attempt. Although PFF only gave the TEs a -1.9 run blocking grade, that’s lower than Dreessen’s own -0.8.
Virgil Green may turn out to be as good a blocker or better over time, but when Dreessen’s in the game, the opposition can’t know how he’s going to be used - is it a running or passing down? Green was nearly an exclusive blocker in 2012, although on his six targets last season, he had five completions, and averaged 12.6 YPR. He could easily increase his reps catching the ball in 2013, but the defenses often key on him being a blocker.
What does this say about Denver’s interest in the TE crop for this year? Julius Thomas is still in the learning stage (and the team expected that, so it’s of less concern than many fans expect. If he doesn’t step up substantially this year, it’s a different story). Jacob Tamme’s total was 52 catches, third on the team; Dreessen managed 41 catches for fifth on the squad. Green seems to be an up-and-coming young guy. They might add someone, but I don’t see a priority there.
It might surprise you to know that last season, Dreessen was in the game for 947 total snaps, while Tamme, the #1 receiving TE, was in for only 568 (both include the playoff game, when Dreessen pulled in 6 of 7 targets). Within those 947 snaps, Joel was targeted 57 times for 41 receptions (a 73.4 percentage). He had five touchdowns but just three drops. He also put together 8.7 yards per reception (356 total yards, regular season) with 3.6 yards, on average, coming after the catch.
I should note that different coaches use their TEs very differently, although we’re in a cycle of the TEs becoming extra receivers as much as blockers (or more). If you recall, Josh McDaniels, for example, didn’t like to use his TEs as receivers that often, although at one point he was experimenting with using three TEs at a time on the field. Other teams quickly knew that seeing it likely meant a running play towards the blocking strength side of the field - McDaniels usually used his TEs to block for the run, far more often than not. I found it interesting that Bill Belichick moved to multiple receiving TEs while McDaniels was with other teams. Dreessen allows Denver to put two receiving TEs on the field with regularity.
Like most blockers, Dreessen has tended to get somewhat less attention than Tamme but he’s been a key player for Denver. Dreessen had 48 targets in the 0-9 yard area and hauled in 38 of them for 244 yards, with 116 of those yards coming after the catch. Tamme also had 38 reception in that zone (for 295 yards). Tamme had more receptions on longer routes, including 13 receptions for 222 yards in the 10-19 yard zone, while Dreessen did more blocking and had only four receptions for 61 yards in that zone.
The sample size here is miniscule, but all such patterns, small or large, are included in the defensive player’s ‘book’ on their opponents, so I include it as well. It’s not talked about a lot, but every player is responsible for putting together a book of information on the player(s) they’ll be going up against, taken from film and from other players who’ve shared that assignment. Secrets and tells don’t last long in the NFL.
Joel’s a better blocker than Tamme, just as Tamme’s a stronger receiver. That isn’t a criticism of either - just a comparison of two different players at the same position yet with very different responsibilities. Dreessen’s strong, runs good routes, and generally has nice hands. Last year he was working with a new QB, so I look for him to be even more productive receiving in the future, even though he’s an excellent blocker.
Dreessen was only targeted three times in the 20+ yard range, but he caught all three for a total of 72 yards, including one touchdown. It’s a tiny sample size as well, but seeing it does keep teams from sleeping on him if he takes off upfield: that means the defense has to account for that depth from him. He’s talented over the middle when you need short yardage, running up the seam, or the skinny post, and he runs good, tight routes. His skill in blocking has helped firm up the Denver game.
All in all, Joel Dreessen was one of the unknowns (to Denver fans, at least) going into last year, and he’s turned into yet another player who stepped up and made the season the fine experience that Bronco fans were thrilled to enjoy. At 30 years of age, he may start slowing soon, but he didn’t last season. In line or split out, in a wing position or as one of four receivers on a play, Dreessen has been consistently good. He was the kind of player acquisition that made 13-4 possible last season. I look forward to watching him again in 2013.
On a different note, I found out recently that a lot of folks have never heard of Leonard Cohen. There are people like musicians Billy Joel in New York, and Steve Goodman and John Prine in Chicago, as well as writers like John D. MacDonald in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Studs Terkel and Mike Ryoko in Chicago, and Cohen in NY, that are so ingrained into the culture of the city that you’re missing something if you’ve never had the chance to have heard or heard of them.
Like musicians Eric Clapton and Sting, they transcend simplistic categorization - the musicians among them are just rare and gleaming blocks in the Tower of Song: