2015 NFL Free Agency: What Does Charles Clay Bring to Buffalo Bills Offense?

A week into the 2015 NFL Free Agency period, the Buffalo Bills made it clear that they wanted to acquire Charles Clay, a talented tight end who’s rights were owned by the Miami Dolphins after they placed the transition tag on him. On Tuesday night, Vic Carucci of The Buffalo News reported that the Bills signed Clay to a 5-year, $38 million offer sheet that the Dolphins have five days to match.

The Bills have been looking to bring the “H-Back” element to their offense even before the hiring of Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman, adding lower-level players such as Evan Rodriguez, Dorin Dickerson, Dominique Jones, Chris Gragg, and Marquies Gray, so the full-court press Buffalo is putting on Clay this offseason shouldn’t be too surprising.

Greg Roman’s offense features a variety of “heavy” formations with multiple tight ends that will motion into the backfield, the slot or along the line of scrimmage. In this run-heavy offense, a tight end that’s capable of not only “fitting” the H-Back role, but excelling in it is a must. This is why Charles Clay, a relatively unknown player to casual fans has become one of the most discussed players available on the free agent market.

A fourth-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, Clay slowly worked his way into a starting role with the Dolphins. In his first two seasons, Clay caught 34 passes for 445 yards and five touchdowns, playing roughly 35-percent of the Dolphins’ offensive snaps, primarily as a fullback in running situations. Over the course of the last two years, Clay worked his way into a larger role within Miami’s offense.  Appearing in about 80-percent of Miami’s offensive snaps, Clay hauled in 127 passes (186 targets) for 1,364 yards and nine touchdowns, seeing time all over the field- at fullback, wide receiver, tight end, H-Back, etc.

Speed/ Athleticism

Due to a 4.69 40-time at the combine, Charles Clay may not be viewed as a great athlete by some, but when looking at the full picture, his measurable are fairly impressive. His 4.15 20-yard shuttle time (measures agility, change-of-direction ability) is in the 91st percentile of tight ends since 1999 and would’ve been tops among tight ends at the 2015 Combine. His 118” broad jump and 4.69 40-time both place him in the 74th percentile of tight ends and would’ve both ranked 3rd at the combine.

Clay is a smooth athlete that can run a variety of routes. From wheels, go’s, corners, posts and hitches, Clay shows fluidity, agility and the ability to make a defender miss.

In the following clip, Clay’s vertical speed and smoothness is put on display. Running a deep post from the backside of the formation, Clay gets over the top of Chicago’s linebackers with ease, allowing Ryan Tannehill to connect with him for a large gain.

Clay’s athletic ability isn’t only seen before he gets the ball, either. In the past two seasons, Clay has forced 28 missed tackles, using his shiftiness and physicality to either shake defenders or crush through them. Furthermore, he’s averaged 4.9 yards-after-catch over the past two seasons, with 46.4% of his yards coming after the catch.

Here against the Chargers, Clay finds himself wide open in the middle of the field. He makes the catch, jukes out the safety and picks up a handful of yards-after-the-catch.

Route Running

The Dolphins used Charles Clay at a variety of positions that required him to operate in a wide range of route concepts. In the following clip against the Buffalo Bills, Clay shows his ability to quickly get out of his break and turn inside on the slant route. Although he wasn’t targeted, he got Da’Norris Searcy turned around and could’ve made a play.

Here against the Minnesota Vikings, Clay shows that he understands leverage when running routes. He fakes to the outside, forcing Captain Munnerlyn to open his hips, before cutting downfield and making a nice grab for a 41-yard gain.

Blocking

The primary reason the Bills are so aggressively pursuing Charles Clay is the versatility that he brings to the run game. Miami would often put him in motion, use him as a lead blocker, or block down the edge from the in-line tight end position.

Colin Kaepernick exploded as a dual-threat quarterback under Greg Roman in San Francisco by utilizing the read-option. In Miami, Charles Clay was extremely effective when used as a blocker for Ryan Tannehill when running similar schemes.

The Verdict

The Bills have made bold moves over the past several months in order to acquire the ideal talent necessary to operate an offense under Rex Ryan and Greg Roman’s “Ground and Pound” philosophy. Charles Clay is not only the prototypical H-Back that’s featured heavily in the scheme they’ll run, but is instantly be the most talented tight end the Bills have had in years. With receiving weapons such as Sammy Watkins, Percy Harvin and Robert Woods, the addition of Clay brings a new, dynamic element to the offense that would force opposing defenses to respect all three levels of the field.