On the roster: Luke Stocker, Tom Crabtree, Danny Noble, Nate Byham, Zach Miller, Evan Landi
This may be the weakest spot on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' roster. As is the case at many positions, the Bucs lack quality depth. But the tight end position has a unique feature this year: it also lacks top-end quality. The Buccaneers don't necessarily place a large emphasis on the tight end as a pass-catcher, but they still use him and he's essential in their running game. With Dallas Clark leaving, the Bucs have signed Crabtree as a replacement.
Who will be the starter?
Last season, Luke Stocker was the starter. This season, Luke Stocker will also be the starter barring the unexpected emergence of a training camp player. Stocker has a problem, though: he's an adequate blocker, and an adequate receiver, but he's not much more than that. The Buccaneers have better blockers on the roster and they have better receivers on the roster, but Stocker's the only one who has the physical skill to be both. The problem is that he hasn't been overwhelming as a blocker, and has 28 catches for 257 yards and a dismal 9.2 yards per catch on his career.
One upside for Stocker: he ballooned up to 275 lbs this year according to Mark Dominik, whereas he was listed at 253 lbs before. Presumably all of it is muscle, and he'll be a better blocker. I can't imagine that size helping him as a pass catcher, though.
A few other players may beat him out as the starter, if they do well in training camp. Tom Crabtree doesn't have the physical stature to take on defensive ends, but Nate Byham is a devastating blocker who has offered little (but not nothing) as a receiver. That then makes him better than Stocker, really. Zach Miller was an okay player for the Jacksonville Jaguars for a few years, and he may be able to do something but probably lacks the size to take on defensive ends. The same is true for Evan Landi, unless he puts on a lot of weight in an NFL weight room.
Catches? Who needs catches?
The Buccaneers don't emphasize the tight end in their passing game, or they didn't last year at least, but they still use him. Dallas Clark still registered 47 catches last year and became a valuable producer of steady first downs late in the season. Clark almost without fail found himself in the slot on passing downs, and having a quality receiving tight end for that role can only help.
The Bucs appear to think that Tom Crabtree can be that guy in a bit of an H-back role. Crabtree was a core special teams player, a quality blocker on the move without the size to take on defensive linemen, and the speed to do some damage as a receiver. He registered 8 catches for 203 yards and three touchdowns last season, but really hasn't been a factor in Green Bay, in part because of the presence of Jermichael Finley and D.J. Williams.
Crabtree, obviously, is no sure thing -- but he has some of the physical traits to allow him to be a productive receiver. He isn't huge, but he has speed and agility and has flashed some skills. Of course, the fact that the Packers weren't even willing to match the Bucs' rather pitiful two-year $1.6 million contract may say something about his abilities, too. Fun fact: Crabtree has the biggest cap hit and average per year salary of all tight ends on the Bucs' roster.
Two players may get that passing role, too. Stocker isn't much of a threat, though he may develop into a decent pass-catcher who can force some first downs with his size. Danny Noble, Zach Miller and Evan Landi are more likely to do some damage, though. Miller produced two 200+ yard seasons with the Jaguars and their stable of regular-people-pretending-to-be-quarterbacks a few years ago. Evan Landi, meanwhile, put up over 800 yards in his college career with worse quarterback play than even the Jaguars. Finally, Danny Noble has the physical traits to be an intriguing player, but has to really develop his skills to make an impact after spending his first year mostly on the inactive list.
Projected roster: Luke Stocker, Tom Crabtree, Nate Byham, Evan Landi
Check out the other installments in our training camp preview section.