Grading the Redskins: Tight ends

Grading the Redskins: Tight ends
January 17, 2013, 7:00 am
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Over the next two weeks, Redskins reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will grade each position group’s performance in 2012 and evaluate the group’s outlook for 2013.Previously, we looked at offensive tackles and the interior offensive line. Today, it’s tight ends.

Position: Tight ends

Grade: B

2012 starters: Fred Davis (seven starts) and Logan Paulsen (nine)

Key reserves: Niles Paul and Chris Cooley

Key free agents: Davis, Paulsen (restricted) and Cooley

Rewind: Any discussion of the Redskins’ tight end situation begins and ends with the health of Fred Davis, whose 2012 campaign was cut short Oct. 21 in New York. While running a pass route against the Giants, the 27-year-old suffered a ruptured left Achilles’ tendon and was lost for the season.

Prior to the injury, Davis finally was on target to fulfill the enormous potential he possesses, having hauled in 24 balls for 325 yards in the seven games. He had also made significant strides in run blocking, pass protection and preparation. When Davis went down, he was the team’s leading receiver and, despite missing the final 10-plus games, finished as the fifth leading receiver.

The Redskins’ offense initially seemed less explosive minus its freakishly athletic 6 foot 4, 247-pound downfield weapon, but the unit eventually adapted and ended up ranked fourth in scoring. Still, there’s no doubt that they are a more dangerous and versatile group with Davis on the field.

With Davis sidelined, Mike Shanahan turned to Logan Paulsen and signed former fan-favorite Chris Cooley, who had been released in training camp. Cooley joined Niles Paul as a reserve.

Paulsen proved adequate, but he lacks the speed and athleticism to make people forget about Davis. In 10 contests (including the Giants’ game) after replacing Davis, Paulsen grabbed 25 passes for 308 yards and one touchdown (or just about what Davis produced in six games).

Paul, meantime, finished with eight receptions for 152 yards and a score, but made more of an impact as a kickoff returner after replacing Brandon Banks.

Although Cooley returned to much fanfare, he was not used much, making one catch for eight yards on only three targets.

Fast forward: Despite a four-game suspension at the end 2011 and his current injury, Davis remains a very desirable player. The Redskins used the franchise tag on him last offseason ($5.45 million) because management wanted to evaluate his off the field behavior following a four-game ban for failing multiple drug tests.

It’s possible the team could franchise him again – at $6.54 million, a CBA-mandated raise of 120-percent – but such a decision would hinge on a variety of issues, including his recovery from the Achilles’ injury. It’s also important to note that the Redskins’ offseason plans will once again be hampered by an $18 million cap penalty. 

Davis told on Nov. 2 that he expected to resume physical activity in mid-December and hoped to be on the field in time for OTAs in May, saying, “I definitely have seen [Ravens’ defensive end Terrell] Suggs. I went to the same doctor and we had about the same tear.”

If Davis’ recovery doesn’t stay on track, or if the team is hesitant about committing to him financially, it’s possible Coach Mike Shanahan will choose to move in a different direction.

Paulsen, meantime, enters the offseason as a restricted free agent having completed a three-year $1.23 million contract. At 25, the gritty end figures to be a priority for a team that needs quality depth at the position.

Although Paul’s impact in the passing game was muted, the 23-year-old showed potential as a kick returner in the second half of the season. His average was not impressive (21.8 per) but he broke off a few long returns at critical moments.

As for Cooley, he remains popular with fans and maintains lives locally, but it would be tough to fathom the 30-year-old returning in 2013 to be a seldom-used third stringer.