Ten Worst Moves of 2011: #7 - Tight end letdown

(Note: This is the fourth part in an Epic a mini ten-part series on the Worst Moves of 2011; we'll also be doing a ten-part mini on the Ten Best Moves of 2011.  If you want to see #10: Trading Jabar Gaffney, click here; #9: The Duke Takes on Twitter, click here; #8: Fox "screws" Tebow, click here.)

It's hard to fault the Broncos for the way they handled their tight ends in 2011. In theory, the plan they had was sound enough. First, they avoided paying a $1 million roster bonus by letting hometown favorite Daniel Graham go before the season began.  Then they signed serviceable veterans Daniel Fells and Dante Rosario to one-year deals. This would allow the Broncos a year to bring along and develop the raw but deadly pass-catching talents of Julius Thomas and Virgil Green.

It's this context in which the Broncos should be judged. Obviously, the Broncos made the playoffs.  So the natural instinct is to say "scoreboard" and be done with it. When you're conducting a year-end review, however, you've got to apply a different standard--a standard that draws heavily from the reality of what actually happened.  Call it hindsight bias (which it is); call it unfair (certainly); call it impatient (yeah, I want my sugar now).  Just recognize that the Broncos didn't get what they wanted from the tight end position last year.

That makes it our seventh-worst move of 2011.

I hate it when a plan doesn't come together.  Part of the reason, of course, was the mid-course correction the Broncos made which has received more than its fair share of publicity. There's no need to rehash the quarterback position when talking about tight ends. Still, we ought to put a few things on the table:

  1. Had the Broncos realized they would be running a zone-read and option, I doubt they would have let Daniel Graham go, despite the roster bonus.  Graham was the most powerful blocker of any tight end the Broncos had.  He would have made the Broncos' already deadly running game even more potent.
  2. Both Fells and Rosario were below average in blocking and catching.  Outside two amazing catches that Fells made on bad Tebow throws late in games, he never really emerged as the dual threat he wanted to become.  Rosario fared slightly better when the ball was thrown his way, but his blocking was hardly forceful.  Again, one could decide to blame the change in offensive philosophy in the middle of the season, but it's not as if Fells and Rosario were tearing things up when the Broncos started 1-4.  In fact, one could argue that Fells and Rosario played worse during that stretch.
  3. Julius Thomas was overhyped by many (including me) as the next Antonio Gates. It was an unfair comparison, although the local media certainly ogled and awed at the ease with which Thomas was beating the Broncos' defensive backs and making play after play in seven-on-seven drills.  When game time came, however, Thomas could barely stay on the field due to his poor blocking abilities and chronic injuries.  Can he stay on the field and improve his run blocking this year?  That's a big question.
  4. Virgil Green was a seventh-round draft pick due to injury so it's hard to be too picky.  He played in 276 snaps (mostly as a run blocker), so it's best not to be too hasty in calling Green a bust.  Yes, Virgil's talent level was more in line with a third-round pick, but that's beside the point.  He fell, the Broncos plucked him in the seventh, so that's how he has to be judged.
Several mock drafts have the Broncos selecting another tight end with their first pick in this year's draft. They might just do it. Orson Charles (6-3, 242, Georgia), Coby Fleener (6-6, 245, Stanford), and Dwayne Allen (6-4, 255, Clemson) are all potential targets; all figure to go somewhere near where the Broncos are picking at twenty-five. Fleener, in particular, would be enticing to John Elway, who has more than a passing knowledge of Stanford's offense.

Does it make sense? Only if the Broncos want to keep pace with the rest of the league.

I’m glad we had this talk.  Now, vaya con Dios, Brah.

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