According to dictionary.com, the tight end position is defined as follows — an offensive player positioned at one extremity of the line directly beside a tackle, used as both a blocker and a pass receiver.
That’s essentially very true, except for one word.
The word both should be used cautiously in that definition.
Often times, at practically every level of football, tight ends excel at one or the other — receiving or blocking.
Sure, many tight ends get by with succeeding at one or the other and then doing “just enough” with the second main requirement of the position.
However, those who excel at both (there’s that word again) blocking and receiving are truly a rarity, even at the NFL level.
Unfortunately for Buffalo fans, the Bills have struggled to find a player with such combined skills at the position since longtime player Pete Metzelaars left the team after 10 seasons in 1995. And, despite being one of, if not, the best tight end in franchise history, even Metzelaars was viewed as a better blocker than a receiver by most critics.
The team signed an overachieving, do-it-all tight end in Charles Clay last offseason, but an injury-riddled season saw the 6’3”, 255-pound Arkansas native produce just 51 receptions for 528 yards and three touchdowns in 2015, which is a bit off from his career-year in 2013 where he posted 69 catches for 759 yards and six touchdowns with the Miami Dolphins.
Buffalo will be counting on the 27-year-old to get close to those career-year numbers this upcoming season, but the team will also be looking for another player to step up and complement Clay in Greg Roman’s offense in 2016.
The Bills signed Jim Dray this offseason, and still have former draft picks Chris Gragg and Nick O’Leary sitting on the roster.
However, one player making his presence known in the competition for the second tight end position behind Charles Clay has been third-year player Blake Annen.
Part Two of Building the Herd’s “Under the Radar” series will take a look at what the 6’4”, 247-pounder could bring to Buffalo this season.
A native of Ohio, Blake Annen is seemingly a case of potential over production at this current juncture of his career.
When Buffalo signed the former Cincinnati Bearcat to its practice squad last December, it marked Annen’s fifth NFL stop since entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2014 with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Since then, he’s also spent time with the Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers and now the Bills.
Once declared Ohio’s top tight end coming out of high school in 2008 after posting 30 catches for 800 yards and 12 touchdowns in his career at Upper Arlington, the now 25-year-old was recruited to play at Cincinnati where he backed up current Kansas City Chiefs star Travis Kelce for three seasons.
Although Annen produced far less than Kelce (45 receptions, 722 yards, 8 touchdowns in 2012) did in his final collegiate season at Cincinnati, the Upper Arlington product left his mark on the Bearcat offense in his senior year.
Annen helped Cincinnati’s offense lead the American Athletic Conference in rushing in 2013 while also managing to pull in a career-high 16 receptions for 183 yards and two touchdowns that season, which included a three-catch, 59-yard and one-touchdown performance against UCONN. The Bearcats finished the season 9-4.
Those numbers aren’t eye-popping by any means, but it was good enough to earn him First-Team All-Conference honors that season along with current Cincinnati (go figure) Bengal and former Rutgers tight end Tyler Kroft.
Despite that fact, Annen didn’t hear his name called during the 2014 NFL Draft.
However, as previously stated, it’s not Annen’s production that has kept him floating around the NFL to this point.
It’s his potential, particularly his athletic potential.
Following the 2013 collegiate season, Buffalo’s current tight end hit it out of the park with his pre-draft workouts as he posted a blazing 4.41 40-time along with a 4.30 20-yard shuttle, a 7.19 3-cone drill, a 10-foot broad jump, a 34-inch vertical and 25 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.
Considering Annen stands at 6’4” and weighs nearly 250 pounds, most if not all of those numbers are above-average for the tight end position and indicate that the former Upper Arlington standout is an exceptional athlete, even by NFL standards.
The third-year veteran has just five regular season NFL games under his belt, all of which came with the Chicago Bears in 2014, but Annen seems poised to finally crack an NFL roster on a more long-term basis heading into 2016.
Garnering plenty of attention from coaches and fellow teammates, the Bills may have found the young tight end at a time when he’s seemingly putting it all together in terms of matching up his athletic ability with on-field performance.
Bills tight ends coach Tony Sparano Jr. has apparently liked what he’s seen so far.
“He’s a very gifted athlete. His speed (and) his athleticism are there for all to see. But, the fact that he’s able to pair that with his work ethic and with being as coachable as he is and being a student of the game that he is, is why I’m a big believer in his ability and his potential,” Sparano Jr. said in a recent interview with buffalobills.com.
“He’s very, very sharp. You tell Blake something one time, (and) he generally picks it up very quickly and then he’s able to implement it as part of his game.
“He does a terrific job of taking coaching points from the classroom and from individual drills, and then putting it to life out there on the field.”
Those are some pretty nice words coming from Annen’s positional coach, and if he can continue to improve daily throughout training camp and the preseason, then it sounds as if the former top high school tight end in Ohio could sneak his way onto Buffalo’s 53-man roster in September.
He’ll need to outshine the likes of Chris Gragg and Nick O’Leary in order to secure that roster spot, but considering Gragg and O’Leary have just 288 career receiving yards between the two of them, it might not be too tall of a task for Annen to overcome.
There’s no denying he has the size and athletic ability to play the position, but he’ll need to use both of those attributes to his advantage this summer in order to show Rex Ryan, Greg Roman and Doug Whaley he’s worthy of sticking around.
There’s that word again — both.
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