Up next in our series is a look at the Giants tight end situation.
2015 in Review: Of all the positional units on the Giants, the tight ends will probably cause the biggest stir among fans, some of whom will be hoping for general manager Jerry Reese and company to add a proven veteran via free agency—as one reader put it, “We have to draft or sign a real talent.”
On the other hand, others might just be willing to roll the dice with what the team already has.
Put us in the latter category. We thought Will Tye, out of tiny Stony Brook, was hands down the team’s undrafted free agent steal of the year last year.
We also have long been intrigued by what Matt LaCosse brings to the table and we can see a battle between Jerome Cunningham and Larry Donnell shaping up for the third tight end spot on the roster.
Those four players combined for 82 catches for 568 yards and five touchdowns last year. While not gaudy numbers, with another year of seasoning under their respective belts, we’re optimistic that the tight ends group is going to contribute a lot more in 2016, perhaps in some new ways.
Donnell is an exclusive rights free agent and a player we would be stunned to see not back here for training camp at the very least. However, we believe that Donnell’s days as a starter could be over.
For starters, we agree with the reader who observed, “I thought Donnell is too clumsy and had ball control issues” when it came to both blocking and receiving.
Part of the battle with blocking is that you have to want it.
While Donnell did make some improvement in his blocking prior to having a season-ending neck injury, we just didn’t get a sense that he had a taste for doing the dirty work in the trenches that is part of his job description.
The other thing we kept noticing about Donnell was his tendency to block high, which created that “clumsy” appearance we often saw from him. Donnell stands 6-6 and all too often instead of bending at the knees, he would bend at the waist which of course created the lack of balance that made him a liability in the running game.
As a receiver, Donnell has been underwhelming, not just this year, but throughout his career. For starters, he doesn’t respond to the jam well at all, something that you knew was coming after he had that huge career game against Washington in 2014.
Overall, Donnell has logged eight touchdowns with six dropped balls, four fumbles, and has been on the receiving end of four interceptions, per Pro Football Focus. His yards after the catch average is 3.3—poor to say the least. And his tendency to land head-first after being tacked because he has yet to learn how to make himself smaller upon impact remains a concern (and is why we suspect he suffered the neck injury that he did).
The bottom line? We’d be stunned if Donnell is the starting tight end next year.
Tye, who stepped in as the starter after Donnell went down, turned out to be a very pleasant surprise.
While still a work in progress, each week Tye seemed to show improvement in both his blocking and with his contributions to the passing game.
At 6-2, Tye isn’t the ideal height for a tight end, but he’s not afraid to get physical out there. He also used his hands well to fight off jam, getting open against some decent competition.
Tye was also the only Giants tight end who could pick up decent yardage after the catch, averaging 4.9 YAC, the second-best figure behind Daniel Fells, per Pro Football Focus.
With all due respect to those readers who chimed in that the Giants need “NFL starters” at the position, remember that even the great tight ends in the league had to start somewhere. Tye’s arrow is only going to continue to go up if he stays healthy and continues to take to coaching.
Right now the third tight end spot is projected to come down to Cunningham or LaCosse. Let’s look at Cunningham first.
The biggest red flag that came from Cunningham’s game in 2015 is an apparent lack of attention to details.
Consider that after looking so good in the preseason, Cunningham made the 53-man roster, but then was cut, this reportedly due to an inability to grasp what was being taught in the classroom and apply it on the field.
At 250 pounds, Cunningham is the lightest of the Giants tight ends. Where he came up short though, at least in 2015, was in his ability to run precise routes. Targeted 15 times in the passing game, he caught eight balls for 59 yards, a dismal 7.4 yards per reception.
With better route running and more attention to detail, especially when reading a defense, Cunningham should be light years ahead of where he was as a rookie; the question is if he’s willing to make that commitment or is he simply content to be on an NFL roster?
Since he walked in the door last May as an undrafted free agent, LaCosse has been an intriguing player in our mind.
First, let’s answer the obvious question—why didn’t the Giants hang onto LaCosse, who suffered a hamstring strain and was waived/injured.
Quite simply with the pressure to turn the program around on heavier than ever, we believe that the Giants had a lower tolerance level for injuries for the majority of their players, especially those who weren’t proven.
Still, we were glad to see LaCosse, who made a stop at the Jets along the way, find his way back to the Giants later in the season because of his versatility.
LaCosse, who was a blocking tight end at Illinois, can also play H-back and some fullback. In our piece about the running backs, we said we wouldn’t be surprised if the Giants ultimately eliminate having a pure fullback in the offense and instead use a tight end in that spot instead.
At 6-5, 261 pounds, we agree with the poll participant that who wrote, “LaCosse has the measurables to be a good 2nd tight end.”
Daniel Fells, the likeable 32-year old veteran journeyman, saw his season and, most likely, his career, end thanks to a MRSA infection requiring multiple surgeries to his foot.
Even if this grave misfortune hadn’t struck him, Fells, in all likelihood, would not have been back with the Giants in 2016.