Lee Smith is a solid pro who has established himself as a quality blocker during his eight-year career. But when the Bills added him last week, it felt a little strange that they would commit roughly $3 million a year for a blocking tight end when they already added Tyler Kroft, who performed well in that role in Cincinnati.
That was the first hunch that maybe the Bills have more in store for Kroft than we initially thought. Then came this excerpt from Jay Skurski's article on Smith's return to Buffalo:
Smith is one of five tight ends acquired by the Bills this offseason, joining fellow free-agent addition Tyler Kroft, draft picks Dawson Knox (third round) and Tommy Sweeney (seventh round) and rookie tryout player Moral Stephens. They are joined by holdover Jason Croom on the 90-man roster.
“Tyler's the bell cow, Croom's coming along and we've got a great young room,” Smith said. “I'll just go in there and do what I've been good at for a long time, and give these guys everything I have. To pinpoint my role, that's not my job. My job is just to come to work every day and do what they ask me to do. Whatever they feel like my role needs to be or whenever they feel like I need to be on the field, then that will be that.”
It's interesting to me that Smith used the phrase "bell cow" to describe Kroft. A newly acquired player doesn't usually go around commenting about someone else's role without having very good intel. It's also clear that Smith sees Kroft's role as more expansive than his own.
With these ideas in mind, it felt worth looking more into Kroft's background as a pass catcher. He is thought of as a blocking tight end because in Cincinnati he played behind Tyler Eifert, who was their main receiving target from the tight end position when healthy. According to numbers from Pro Football Focus, Kroft has participated in 998 snaps as a blocker in his career compared to 677 snaps as a route-runner, and 400 of those 677 came in 2017 when Eifert was limited to two games.
PFF hasn't graded Kroft particularly well in the passing game, but he has history as a pass-catcher. According to Kroft's draft profile, he played wide receiver during his senior year of high school. He had as many receptions in his final two years at Rutgers (67) as he does in his four-year NFL career. NFL.com gave him a 5th-round draft projection but said his NFL comparison was – get this – Travis Kelce.
That was written in 2015, before Kelce transformed into the superstar he is today, but maybe that's the point: Perhaps Kroft has more untapped potential, too, and just needs the right opportunity to flourish.
That's not to say Kroft will put up anywhere near the numbers we expect from Kelce this season. But there's reason to believe we're underestimating the role Kroft will have for the Bills in 2019.
Bills plan ceremony for Pancho Billa at home opener: The Bills will celebrate the life of Ezra Castro during their home opener on Sept. 22. That sounds perfect to Veronica Borjon, Castro's partner, who said the home opener every year "was his baby, his getaway."
Adam Zyglis on Pancho Billa: Adam is one of the best cartoonists alive and he knocked this one out of the park. The others in the cartoon are Tim Russert and Ralph Wilson, but those are the only spoilers I'll give. Click the link and see this one for yourself.
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Story topics: Tyler Kroft