The great thing about the NFL is that there are so many positions that every year, there is almost always at least one player who has a breakout year on every team, no matter how good or bad the team is. This is one part in a 32 part segment detailing one potential breakout player (rookies don’t count) for the 2013 NFL season on each NFL team. For the New York Giants, that player is tight end Brandon Myers.
The Raiders had one of the least talented rosters in the NFL last season thanks to a decade of poor drafting and recent salary cap hell. One of several positions without a clear proven starter for the Raiders last year was tight end. When 4th year tight end Brandon Myers, a 2009 6th round pick, won the starting job, he was described as a decent blocker and little else and for good reason.
He had just 32 career catches in his 3 year career so far, including just 7 in 5 starts in place of an injured Kevin Boss the year before. He wasn’t a premium draft pick, going in the 6th round and he didn’t have special athleticism. After not being invited to The Combine, he ran a 4.79 40 at 6-3 250 at his Pro Day in 2009, with a 31 inch vertical and 17 reps of 225.
However, Myers really surprised as a pass catcher, catching 79 passes for 804 yards and 4 touchdowns, leading the team in receiving ahead of bigger names like Darrius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore. He did this on just 101 targets, a very impressive 78% catch rate, and he was sure handed, dropping just 6 passes. He ranked 8thamong eligible tight ends in terms of yards per route run.
While he managed just 10.2 yards per catch, and 3.6 yards after catch per catch, both towards the bottom of the league, he did break 8 tackles and, because of his high catch rate, the Raiders actually averaged a very impressive 8.0 YPA throwing to Myers last year, over a full yard over the 6.8 YPA Raider quarterbacks averaged on the season. Overall, Raider quarterbacks had a 100.7 QB rating when throwing to Myers, well above their overall 82.5 rating.
Surprisingly, the one area Myers really struggled with his blocking, both pass and run blocking, which was supposed to be the only thing he was good at. No tight end graded out worse as a run blocker on ProFootballFocus than Myers, which actually led to him being the 2nd worst rated overall tight end, despite his great play in the passing game. However, it was revealed after the season he played most of last year with a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder, which really effected his blocking. With an off-season to heal, he should do a better job of blocking in 2013.
Myers hit the open market this off-season and did not command a big deal, signing for just 2.25 million over 1 year in New York with the Giants. One of the things that is noteworthy is that Giants tight end coach the legendary Mike Pope requires his tight ends to be great blockers to get on the field so the fact that they signed him and are listing him as a starter is a good sign for his ability to bounce back as a blocker.
One other thing about New York and tight ends that is noteworthy is that Giants tight ends always seem to be productive in the passing game, regardless of who they are. Mike Pope is a big part of the reason for this, as is the offensive system and Eli Manning’s tendency to throw to the tight end. The Giants took Jeremy Shockey in the 1st round in 2002 and turned him into one of the league’s best tight ends.
Injuries didn’t allow him to play a full 16 game set in 6 seasons with the Giants, but he averaged 70 catches for 796 yards and 5 touchdowns per 16 games, back before the days of tight ends really putting up huge numbers. For his efforts, he was named to the Pro-Bowl 4 times in 6 seasons. However, when he got hurt down the stretch in their eventual Super Bowl winning 2007 season, a no name rookie named Kevin Boss took over and did well enough for the Giants to win without Shockey.
Boss ended up driving Shockey out of town that off-season, as the Giants got a 2nd and 5th round pick for him from the Saints, a good haul. The Saints, however, would not get what they paid for, as Shockey last just 3 years in New Orleans, averaging 59 catches for 615 yards and 3 touchdowns per 16 games despite Drew Brees throwing him the ball. He spent a final nondescript season in Carolina in 2011 before being forced to retire (technically he hasn’t retired, but if you’ve been out of the league for at least a year, you’re essentially retired) at age 31, due to lack of interest in his services around the league.
Boss, meanwhile, did a solid job filling in for Shockey, averaging 39 catches for 527 yards and 6 touchdowns per 16 games in 3 years as a starter, despite being just a 5th round pick in 2007. He earned himself a multiyear deal in Oakland and lasted just one year before getting cut. He then went to Kansas City, where the same thing happened and now he remains a free agent at just age 29, after 31 catches in the last 2 years combined.
Boss was replaced by Jake Ballard, a similar player, a blocker first that put up surprising pass catching numbers in 2011, catching 38 passes for 604 yards and 4 touchdowns. After he tore his ACL in the Giants’ Super Bowl victory, the Giants waived him and replaced him with Martellus Bennett. Bennett was a former 2nd round pick of the Cowboys, but largely a blocker first who had caught just 85 passes for 848 yards and 4 touchdowns in 4 seasons. Bennett nearly matched those numbers in his one year in New York, catching 55 passes for 626 yards and 5 touchdowns, before signing a multiyear deal with the Bears, only to be replaced by Myers on the cheap.
Myers now comes to New York as the most NFL proven tight end they’ve brought to the team in at least over a decade and he should be able to continue to get his in the passing game as the 3rd option after Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Assuming he also bounces back as a blocker, by the end of the season, we may be able to call Myers one of the most complete all-around tight ends in the NFL. Not bad for a 6th round pick with limited athleticism.