This upcoming 2014 NFL season is an extremely important one for the Buffalo Bills. Training camp is underway and the feelings of optimism, excitement and eagerness surrounding a new year of football are flowing. Following Ralph Wilson’s death, questions surrounding the team’s future have been non-stop. The Bills’ roster finally has come together with enough talent to make quite a few analysts believe that the team could finally get over the hump into the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
While the talent and potential of the players on the roster exists, a large number of unheralded sophomore and third-year players will be taking on large roles for the team.
In the coming days, I’ll be taking a look at a few young players that could see a bigger role than most expect with the 2014 Buffalo Bills, if they can make a name for themselves throughout training camp.
TE Chris Gragg
The Buffalo Bills used their seventh round draft pick of the 2013 NFL Draft to select Chris Gragg, a hybrid tight end/H-Back/wide receiver out of Arkansas. Gragg, who stands 6’3” and weighs in at 245 pounds had a rocky collegiate career with the Razorbacks, suffering two significant injuries—a dislocated ankle that led to a redshirt in his 2009 freshman season, and a knee injury during his senior season that likely contributed to his drop in the draft.
Despite an up-and-down four years at Arkansas, Gragg finished his career with 72 receptions for 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns, serving as more of an oversized wide receiver than a true tight end.
Gragg has great speed (4.50 40-yard dash) and had the fastest three-cone time among tight ends at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine. Despite being listed as a tight end on the Bills’ depth chart, Gragg is more of a big wide receiver than a true in-line tight end.
According to RotoViz, Chris Gragg had the best “Physical Score” of all the 2012 wide receivers, based on measurables. They stated:
If you want to think about Gragg’s mix of size and athleticism in a very simple way, you could say that he’s about as fast as the average wide receiver and he’s about 40 pounds heavier.
To compare Gragg to the receivers on production measures is probably a little more difficult as he only played in four games. But in those four games he compiled 27% of Arkansas’ passing yardage and 42% of their touchdowns. Those numbers compare favorably with tight ends or wide receivers.
The best asset of Gragg’s game is his straight-line speed, as he’s able to get a quick release off the snap and blow past linebackers on vertical seam or wheel routes.
However, his lack of ability to quickly change directions will limit his route tree when compared to his primary training camp competition- Tony Moeaki.
Gragg an ugly route runner. Keep him vertical https://t.co/LGkQlQcUKi
— Rob Quinn (@RQUINN619) July 17, 2014
One major aspect of Gragg’s game that has gone overlooked by most people due to his speed, is his willingness to block. In the Bills’ offense that used a tight end in the slot on just 36-of-596 pass routes (6%), the ability—or at least the willingness—to block is an absolute must.
Chris Gragg is an extremely intriguing prospect that projects well to a variety of roles. He’s exactly what you look for in an H-Back, as he’s got the prototypical build of an athlete that can line up in the backfield, along the line of scrimmage as a tight end, or flexed out in the slot as a wide receiver.
In Werner Hesser’s piece about Joe Gibbs’ offense, who used Kellen Winslow as one of the first “joker” or “move” tight ends, defined the role of an H-Back, stating:
“was get a mobile big man, put him in motion behind the line and call him an H-back. He could get a running start on his block, he could fake the block and be a receiver, or he could be a decoy who took a linebacker or safety with him while the play went the other way.”
Working against him in training camp will be his limited experience both professionally and collegiality, as he played just one season as a full-time starter at Arkansas and saw just 52 snaps as a rookie.
It definitely won’t be easy for Gragg to earn a spot on the final 53-man depth chart, but with Scott Chandler being the only tight end I see that has a guaranteed role, there’s a chance that the second-year player could turn some heads at St. John Fisher College this summer.