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Grading the Colts roster ahead of 2020 NFL Draft and free agency: Tight End

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

A long off-season is upon us and while Chris Ballard and the Colts front office has plenty of time to work on rounding out the 2020 roster, Stampede Blue would like to take a pretty in-depth look at each position group and assign them letter grades.

The purpose of this exercise is to identify where the team stands at each position, based upon who is currently under contract. Re-signing in-house free agents could have a big impact on numerous grades but until that happens, we know what we know.

With that in mind, let’s dive in and discuss ways the team might move forward and share thoughts about what course of action makes the most sense.

Tight End: B-

With Eric Ebron possibly hitting free agency, the Colts have only Jack Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox as options at tight end. While the team can certainly survive with Doyle as the primary option, it would be ideal to add more of a receiving threat through the draft or free agency. Frank Reich has a long history of getting the position involved in his offense and has no one that resembles a Zach Ertz, Antonio Gates or Hunter Henry on the current roster.

Under Contract: Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox, Billy Brown, Ian Bunting, Xavier Grimble

Possible Free Agent Options: Eric Ebron, Hunter Henry, Austin Hooper

Draft Prospects: Brycen Hopkins, Jared Pinkney, Hunter Bryant, Albert Okwuedgbunam, Jacob Breeland

Secondary Need

Expanding on Frank Reich’s history, we should start back to his early NFL coaching career in Indianapolis. He served in a variety of positional roles from 2006 - 2011 and had the following tight end groups on the team in that span:

2006-2007 Dallas Clark, Ben Utecht, Bryan Fletcher
2008-2010 Dallas Clark, Jacob Tamme, Tom Santi, Gijon Robinson
2011 Dallas Clark, Jacob Tamme

The Colts and Peyton Manning regularly utilized tight ends to stretch the seams against zone coverage. Both Dallas Clark and Jacob Tamme had long NFL careers, with Clark finishing as one of the best tight ends in franchise history. Outside of Reich’s final year in Indianapolis, there were always three tight ends who played a meaningful role in the offense.

Riech’s time in San Diego enjoyed a tight end pairing of Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green. Gates is one of the most prolific players at the position in NFL history. Green had a promising start to his career derailed after he signed a healthy contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2016, the year Frank Reich was fired by the Chargers. In that same year, San Diego drafted Hunter Henry in the second round.

In Philadelphia, Reich served as offensive coordinator for a roster that included tight ends Zach Ertz, Trey Burton and Brent Celek. Ertz is one of the most prolific receiving tight ends playing today. Burton was incredibly strong behind him and eventually signed a big contract to play with the Chicago Bears. Celek enjoyed an 11-year NFL career, all in Philadelphia where he served in the blue collar role that Jack Doyle currently plays for the Colts roster.

As a head coach, Reich inherited Jack Doyle but his addition to the staff coincided with an effort to sign free agent Eric Ebron to round out the position. Meaning that the only other time in Reich’s coaching history that he has had a thinner group at the tight end position is his final year in Indianapolis, which happened to be the “suck for Luck” year with Peyton Manning on the sideline.

While the Colts can get by with a tight end room that includes a healthy Jack Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox, Reich will likely ask for more talent at the position. Given that Ballard has already gone to bat in free agency to bring in Ebron, and that his history in NFL front offices also include a role in drafting Travis Kelce in Kansas City, and acquiring Martellus Bennett in Chicago, it would be particularly surprising if he doesn’t address the position in some way.