Last offseason, the Buffalo Bills made tight end Charles Clay one of the highest-paid players at his position when they agreed to five-year, $38 million deal with $24.5 million in guarantees. Clay doesn’t have the prototypical size that superstar tight ends such as Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, or Tyler Eifert, among others possess, but the athletic 6’3” 255-pounder is the ideal fit for offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s scheme and is poised for a big 2016 season even if his statistics from last year may not suggest that.
While much of the league has started to use tight ends essentially as oversized slot receivers, Greg Roman’s system asks a lot out of the tight end position, particularly in the run game, an area where today’s tight ends don’t get much credit.
Against the Patriots, Clay showed his ability as a blocker from the traditional tight end position. Left guard Richie Incognito pulls to the left as a lead blocker, while Clay seals the edge, clearing a wide lane that springs McCoy for a gain of 12.
In his first year with the Bills, Clay was used in a variety of roles, playing attached to the line of scrimmage as a traditional tight end the majority of the time, but regularly moved into the backfield as an H-Back, split off the formation as a wing and sometimes split out wide.
Clay didn’t put up the gaudy receiving numbers one would expect out of one of the five highest-paid players at his position, catching 51 passes for 528 yards and three touchdowns in 12 ½ games before being placed on Injured Reserve. However, he was targeted 77 times, or 16.9% of Buffalo’s passing attempts, the ninth-highest market share total among tight ends.
During the first six games of the season, we saw the impact Clay could have in the passing game, catching 31 passes on 45 targets for 324 yards and a score, but a combination of nagging knee and calf issues, the team’s run game beginning to click and Sammy Watkins emerging as a featured weapon, Clay’s raw production began to dip, although his overall play remained the same.
Entering his second season with the Bills, Charles Clay hasn’t seemed to generate much excitement among the fan-base, but all signs point to him making a much bigger impact than he did in his first, especially on the stat sheet.
Sammy Watkins suffered a foot injury that required surgery, and the timetable for his return is still up in the air. Additionally, a big talking point surrounding quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s looming free agency and potential contract extension has been regarding his ability to work the middle of the field and be more effective in third-down or red-zone situations.
According to Vic Carucci of The Buffalo News, Bills’ coaches believed Clay could have had more production had Tyrod looked for him, writing,
“In weekly film analysis during the season, the coaches saw numerous instances where Clay was open or in single coverage and Taylor didn’t look in his direction, even though Clay had a higher rate of receptions on his routes (15.4, per ESPN) than fellow tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Tyler Eifert. That’s something Roman and quarterbacks coach David Lee are setting out to change through offseason workouts and training camp.”
Charles Clay proved that he could threaten the seam in the quick game, on intermediate throws and deep passes as well, while showing the ability to create yards after the catch and run a lot of underneath crossing routes that many of the bigger tight ends don’t have the agility to.
In the following clip, Clay’s lined up at the bottom of the screen, split out as a wide receiver along the sideline and absolutely smokes the cornerback with a nice double move. He wasn’t targeted on the play, but it shows off his athleticism and route running ability.
He and Taylor worked out together over the offseason and noted that the two had developed chemistry and timing, telling John Murphy,
“He’s obviously taken more of a leadership role and you can tell some of the areas where some people were saying he needs to improve in this area. He worked on it a whole lot. His timing with throwing the ball has been tremendous. His ball placement, footwork, everything. He’s real disciplined with his eyes. Even the defense will tell you that he’s throwing the ball where a player can’t get to it. The only person that can make a play on the ball is an offensive player. He’s always put the work in, but you can get the sense that he’s a lot more comfortable.”
The Bills’ passing game wasn’t very complex last year as Greg Roman was working with a first-year starting quarterback along with all new faces, but stated that the team would be building upon that, particularly over the middle, where Charles Clay will usually be.
“I think we are just opening up, expanding our offense a little bit,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman told Ty Dunne of The Buffalo News. “I definitely think that is something we did not focus on as a staff last year. As for a critical look at ourselves I think we decided to open up things a little bit more in the middle of the field.”
Heading into the Buffalo Bills’ training camp, Tyrod Taylor, Stephon Gilmore, Sammy Watkins and Shaq Lawson are dominating the headlines, but don’t be surprised when Charles Clay becomes a regular talking point. The team is counting on Taylor to improve, and in order to do so, Clay needs to be more involved in the passing game.