Today we’ll take an exclusive look at the all the tight ends on the current roster and assess the likelihood of who will and won’t make the final 53. As it stands, the Buccaneers are currently carrying six tight ends going into training camp. My guess is four will make it to Week 1. Lets run through the competition.
Tight End Depth Chart:
O.J. Howard (1st String)
– O.J Howard should be in consideration for top three tight end in the NFL. The 6’6 250lbs Howard ran a mind numbing 4.51 in the 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine. Imagine the physicality of Tony Gonzalez combined with the great open space running of 49er great, Vernon Davis. Yes, he’s that scary. And that was evident from day one as Howard quickly evolved into a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Even new offensive coordinator, Byron Leftwich, had to sit back and process exactly what he was seeing on the field out of the talented University of Alabama product:
“It’s hard to be around guys who can do what O.J. can do,” Leftwich said earlier this month. “There’s not a lot of those human beings walking around on Earth. Trust me, because everybody’s looking for the next O.J. Howard. He’s a young guy in this process, but, man, what he can do. Being that big, being able to run, it’s a matchup nightmare for defenses.”
That should sum up just about what to expect out of Howard this season. He’s not a talent. He’s a generational talent. In his young career so far, the veratile tight end has posted 60 receptions for 997 yards and 11 touchdowns in only 24 games due to injury. That equates to an absurd 16.6 yard per catch average. The last guy to put up at least 16.6 YPC on at 60 career receptions? Rich Caster. Not familiar? Yeah, thats because he retired in 1982. It hasn’t been done in nearly 40 year. Howard should put the league on notice this year.
Cameron Brate (2nd String)
– Don’t let the O.J. Howard hype allow you to forget that before him was a man named Cameron Brate. Yeah, the same Cameron Brate who went undrafted out of Harvard and made a name for himself as one of the most reliable red-zone targets for the Buccaneers in the past 4 years (Brate only tallied one catch his rookie season).
On his career, Brate has accounted for 159 receptions for 1,845 yards and 23 total touchdowns. Regardless of a down year in 2018 due to the continued emergence of O.J. Howard and a nagging hip injury, Cameron Brate is a name that WILL show up on opposing scouting reports this year. Don’t let the reduced role fool you. Bruce Arians runs a 12-personnel two-tight end format which will put two starting tight ends on the field for a large part of the game. That’s not a luxury most NFL teams have. Brate has the title of second string, but could easily fill the number one role if Howard were to ever go down with an injury.
Jordan Leggett (3rd String)
– This player in particular has me really excited to see what he can do in Arians offense and also in the future. Built similarly to Howard (6’5, 258lbs), Leggett became a commodity after the new head coach of the Jets, Adam Gase, shockingly decided to release him.
Tampa Bay wasn’t the only team after Leggett’s services. In fact, the Steelers, Bills, Packers and the Titans all put a claim on the tight end which showed just how much teams around the league believed in his potential.
Antony Auclair (4th String)
– Antony Auclair is no doubt the feel good story on this roster. The French-Canadian played collegiately at Universite Laval and was an undrafted rookie for the Buccaneers in 2017. He was also the only UDFA to make the team that year. Although he was raw in terms of pass-catching, Auclair showed the coaching staff enough as a blocker to secure a spot on the final 53. For his career, the Canadian native has registered 73 yards on nine receptions in limited action.
Not great numbers. However, he has improved as of late. Drastically. So much so that there has been some speculation as to whether the Buccaneers will move on from injured Cameron Brate as well as his $7 million cap number. Now, for me, that would not be a smart move considering Auclair’s lack of experience and the unknown of what he can produce over a 16 game season. But it’s clearly apparent that Bruce Arians and the coaching staff believe in him and his abilities.
Donnie Ernsberger (Cut/Practice Squad)
– Ernsberger comes into the 2019 training camp with one year of practice squad under his belt. Donnie played collegiate football at Western Michigan where during his senior season he racked up 34 catches for 394 yards and four touchdowns, earning him second team All-MAC. Ernsberger will likely be a camp body playing primarily with the scout team against the starters. Likely will not make this roster.
Tanner Hudson (Cut)
– Hudson is also another player who managed to snag a spot on the Buccaneers practice squad last year. Playing out of Southern Arkansas, Tanner has yet to record any catches, however, he will have a chance to compete with Ernsberger for a practice squad spot. All in all, not likely to make this roster.
– It should come as no surprise, but there should be no worry regarding the tight end position in the upcoming year. The talent is so deep on the roster that I believe Auclair will once again only be used in seldom emergency situations for the Buccaneers. And that speaks volumes because he has the size and the talent to be a serviceable tight end on other NFL teams.