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AFC South Skill Position Rankings: Tight End

NFL: Indianapolis Colts OTA Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The drought is upon us. We have reached the point in the year when the NFL news cycle grinds to a painfully dull trickle and we are left in the pitiable situation in which we wait excitedly for training camp. It will get so bad that we’ll long for a preseason game before it is all said and done.

So, in the interest of feeding my appetite for football, I decided to take a look at the skill positions around the AFC South heading into the 2021 NFL season. Today we’re taking a look at the tight end position.

While I’ve had a really good sense of the clear leader with both of the previous skill positions, tight end is a lot tougher competition to gauge. First, there isn’t an elite talent at tight end in the AFC South. Several teams have seen talented starters walk in the offseason. What is left are a handful of good to mediocre veterans and a lot of hope that young players can step up.

1.) Indianapolis Colts

NFL: AFC Wild Card Round-Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Colts barely get the nod for the top spot in this category almost purely on Jack Doyle’s blocking ability. The guy is slow, his production in the passing game has dwindled, and he has had a harder time staying healthy in recent years, but he is still a clinical blocker. In a weak tight end division, that goes a long way. He may not be what he once was, but Doyle still should have a solid season to give.

Mo-Alie Cox remains the most exciting tight end on the roster, and indeed in the division. He has star potential, and with so much ability, it is arguable that he was underutilized in 2020. A well-rounded player who can go up and get a ball, MAC should be a part of the team’s game plan in a big way in 2021.

Rookie Kylen Granson looks to be a great fit in the Colts offense, ready to find a role as a receiving tight end who can make plays with the ball in his hands. Frank Reich should be able to maximize his impact, but as a rookie, it is unlikely that his role will be huge.

This isn’t a deep unit, so health will play a factor. If Doyle or MAC are hurt, it could put a lot of pressure on Granson to step into a bigger role, as well as asking more from their receivers.

2.) Houston Texans

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Colts tight end room isn’t particularly stunning, and the list from here gets bleaker still. The Texans don’t have an embarrassment of riches at tight end, but they have enough to snag the second spot on this list. Jordan Akins had the best 2020 season of the tight ends in the AFC South, and he’ll need to perform well again to help out an offense that is going to be hurting for targets.

Behind Akins are Pharoah Brown and Ryan Izzo, neither of whom have shouldered the role of a full-time starter to this point in their careers. They’ll no doubt be hoping for a big jump in play quality for second year player Kahale Warring, who came into the league as a raw prospect and has a lot of physical ability, if he can put it all together.

3.) Tennessee Titans

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The Titans lost their most productive and best tight end, Jonnu Smith, in free agency, and they haven’t made moves to find a serious replacement for him. Anthony Firkser is still there, and though he plays an important role on the offense, with the loss of Corey Davis and Smith, there’s a lot of burden to bear and he isn’t exactly the guy you’d pick to step into that role.

Beyond Firkser you’ve got Geoff Swaim, Jared Pinkney, and Tommy Hudson. If you don’t know those names, you aren’t alone. The Titans don’t have a lot going on in their tight end room, and that won’t make life easier for new OC Todd Downing. It is certainly possible that they’ll look to add another body to the mix at tight end before the start of the season.

4.) Jacksonville Jaguars

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

I went back and forth about which of these teams deserved the bottom spot, because honestly they are all pretty rough. The Jaguars have the least proven group of the bunch though, so they get the last spot. James O’Shaughnessy is the top guy of the group, with the rest of the unit running mostly on hopes and dreams.

Rookie Luke Farrell and Tim Tebow are the guys they really hope can provide something, but asking for big production from a rookie tight end is a big ask, and Tebow is a 33-year-old minor league baseball player who most recently played quarterback at the NFL level way back in 2012. Maybe the Jags will get lucky and one or both of those guys will blow up, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

The good news for them is that the team won’t need to lean on their tight end room like the Titans or Texans will. They have a pretty talented receiver group, and that likely gave them a comfort level with this room that led to their putting it on the back burner. It remains a point of need, and the weakest tight end room in the AFC South.