The Seahawks' tight end position seemed pretty set coming out of the Draft. Seattle had incumbent starter Zach Miller still under contract following a monster two Playoff performances, second-TE-slash-quality-Miller-backup Anthony McCoy going into his contract year with things to prove and money to make, and third-TE-slash-developmental-freak-athlete Luke Willson to back them both up and learn the professional ropes. Of course, McCoy soon tore his achilles tendon and was placed on the injured reserve, bumping Willson up from a developmental project to a probable core player in year one.
McCoy played in 466 offensive snaps in 2012 (46% of Seattle's total offensive snaps) and while the Hawks may vary their use of two tight end sets going forward, it's likely the rookie will see a big chunk of action as the probable number two tight end. Of course, there's always the chance that 2nd year TE Sean McGrath will leapfrog the rookie Willson on the depth chart, or one of Darren Fells, Cooper Helfet, or Victor Marshall may surprise.
Here's the group:
# Name - POS - Height - Weight - Age
88 Fells, Darren TE 6-7 - 281 - 27
48 Helfet, Cooper TE 6-4 - 240 - 24
87 Marshall, Victor TE 6-4 - 225 - 25
84 McGrath, Sean TE 6-5 - 247 - 25
86 Miller, Zach TE 6-5 - 255 - 27
82 Willson, Luke TE 6-5 - 252 - 23
Luke Wilson, 6-5 - 252
Seattle has been seemingly searching for an athletic, 'move' type of tight end to use in conjunction with the versatile and fundamental Zach Miller in their frequent two tight end sets. They tried to re-sign John Carlson but the Vikings offered him an ungodly amount of money so that idea went out the window. They traded for Kellen Winslow Jr but he rebuffed their contract renegotiation overtures. Seattle said "fine, whatever," cut him, and picked up Evan Moore, but Moore just never caught on with the offense and had a few drops before he was released as well. McCoy served as the move guy in 2012 and played fairly well in that role, but as we saw time and again, his open-field elusiveness as a ball-carrier is awful, and his downfield speed, while decent, left something to be desired.
Enter Luke Willson. Willson ran a 4.51 40 at 255 pounds at his pro day and from all reports at rookie camps and full-team mini-camps, that speed shows up on the field as well. Assuming that Zach Miller is healthy, Willson seems to fit the role as a moveable chess piece that won't be asked to block a whole lot in-line and instead will be used to motion around the formation, exploit match-ups and beat linebackers up the seam. It should be noted, of course, that Willson was the Miller-type player for Rice in 2012, staying in-line to block while Niners' future draft pick Vance McDonald ran all over the formation, catching passes and having more fun.
So, I'd guess that Willson is probably Miller's primary backup at the 'Y' spot too, regardless, but that's a big question mark.
Sean McGrath, 6-5 - 247
I don't know a ton about Sean McGrath's blocking potential, so projecting Willson as the primary backup is just a guess. McGrath really is the x-factor in this whole TE competition, and since I can't go back at this point and watch preseason games from last year, I don't have a whole lot to go off of for what type of player he is. I had a vision in my head of the former Henderson State tight end/longsnapper-turned-Seahawks-backup as a lumbering, fundamentally sound and thoroughly unexciting athlete, but his athleticism scores were actually really, really good, on second glance.
His agility numbers are actually pretty off the charts despite his rather pedestrian 4.78 40 (slightly slower than Anthony McCoy and Zach Miller): he ran the short shuttle in 4.16 seconds, an elite number for a tight end of 250+ pounds (would have been first among all tight ends in 2013 and 3rd in 2012), which shows a nice lateral explosiveness factor, and he registered a 35.5" vert, another good number. His three-cone time was an impressive 6.99 seconds. A sub-7.0 3-cone would have been 2nd best in 2013 at the Combine, among TEs, and would have been top-4 in 2012, his draft year. It would seem I wholly underestimated McGrath's physical-freak-of-nature factor. Intriguing, especially considering he's been getting a lot of buzz in OTAs and Mini-Camps.
Here's what Derek Stephens had to say after observing a few of Seattle's mandatory Mini-camps earlier this summer:
Sean McGrath looks a lot quicker than he did last year. He's not as sluggish off the ball or out of breaks, and appears to have been working on his route-running. He has always come off as pretty sure-handed, but his feet were suspect in my mind. Yesterday, I saw a difference there. I think McGrath is the clear-cut favorite for the 3rd TE spot, with a chance to play a lot as the 2nd TE, platooning with Willson as he learns the ropes.
McGrath, particularly considering there aren't a ton of spots to be 'won' on the offense, is one guy who could really surprise as a 'breakout' player in 2013. Or he might be a backup. Or he might be cut.
Cooper Helfet, 6-4 - 240
Helfet is another move-type tight end out of Duke. He's been on and off the practice squad the last year and will look to push Darren Fells and Sean McGrath for a roster spot, presumably. Helfet's athleticism numbers are also very good - he ran the 40 in 4.71 seconds and the short shuttle in 4.22 seconds at 6'4, 240 pounds. His 6.84 3-cone is absurdly fast, and is buoyed by his very respectable 24 reps on bench. The dude is an athlete. Seattle likes this.
In college, he was more of a receiver type than a real, in-line tight end, so his specialty will likely be as that 'joker' tight end type, and not so much as a potential backup to Zach Miller. Seattle tends to like guys for what they can do over what they can't do, and if Helfet can run better routes and catch the ball more consistently than McGrath or Darren Fells, he might just earn himself a roster spot over them.
Derek had this to say about Helfet, from Seattle's mandatory Mini-camp:
Cooper Helfet is the quickest of the tight ends, by first-look. He looks more like an H-back in terms of how he's built (lower to the ground), and comes out of his breaks with more suddenness than anyone else in the group. We saw some nice things out of him last year, so it will be interesting to see how much action he gets this year, with what appears to be a pretty open competition again with Sean McGrath for that 3rd TE spot.
Darren Fells, 6-7 - 281
Here's the consensus from the people I know that have watched Fells in practices: physically speaking, looks the part. Is a huge target at 6'7 and long arms, and has through the roof potential. Problem is, he drops passes. Let's see how he plays in training camp because if he shows consistency catching the ball (he is, afterall, playing ball for the first time in years after playing pro basketball in Europe), he might be an option for that 3rd TE. I see him more as a practice squad type though, which would give him a year to catch up to the game.
Victor Marshall 6-4 - 225
I don't know anything about Marshall other than he was an accomplished sprinter in high school. I'm guessing Seattle likes his size/speed ratio and want to see if he can play football too. He's a project type - likely upside is the practice squad, but we'll see.