Training Camp Battles: Niles Paul vs Vernon Davis

With the start of the 2016 Redskins Training Camp just around the corner, we here at Redskins Capital Connection are casting our eyes forward at the pivotal battles that will be taking place in Richmond. Whether it’s a battle for a starting role, or just a battle for a roster spot, Training Camp always involves story lines that capture the attention of Redskins fans everywhere as they pay close attention to which players will be making the biggest impacts in the burgundy and gold this upcoming season. This series will look at the two players battling, as well as the ‘wildcard’ third player who has the most potential to swoop in with an unlikely win. 

The Tight End position appears to be an area of relative wealth and depth for the Washington Redskins in 2016. Firmly atop the depth chart is Jordan Reed, who well and truly broke out onto the national stage last year and solidified himself as one of the most dangerous receiving weapons at his position in the entire league.

All that said; there’s more to the Tight End position on this team than the sublime talent in the receiving game that Reed brings to the table. Much more. It is, in fact, one of the more fascinating position groups to project and evaluate as we head into Training Camp this season.

The Battle for the number two Tight End position

Sitting behind Jordan Reed on the depth chart are some mercurially talented –yet oddly diverse– Tight Ends with no apparent clear pecking order yet established. It would appear to be largely a two-horse race between Niles Paul, the Redskins veteran who missed the entire regular season in 2015 after badly fracturing and dislocating his ankle in the first preseason game, and Vernon Davis, the two-time Pro Bowl Tight End who led the entire NFL in receiving touchdowns in 2009, and who joined the Redskins via free agency from Denver this past spring.

During Training Camp one short year ago, Redskins Head Coach Jay Gruden surprised many by naming Paul, and not Reed, ahead of the first official depth chart released by the team in the lead up to the preseason. Given that Reed had begun to show flashes of his brilliance the season prior, naturally some found this move odd. Gruden explained it, stating:

“I think Niles Paul is probably a little bit more of a complete [Tight End] when you are talking about blocking also – when you are talking about your base offense where you go one Fullback, one Running Back and one Tight End where the running game and pass blocking is very important for that guy. Niles has emerged as the starter.”

In short, Gruden saw Paul as a more well-rounded and versatile option at the position, echoing a recurring theme on the Redskins team where the ability to perform strongly at multiple roles often outshines the ability to perform exceptionally at one. As he specifically outlined, Coach Gruden put an enormous value on Paul’s proficiency as a blocker in the run game -an area where Reed has struggled. In 2015, Reed gave up 13 penalties, 12 of which were accepted for a total of 104 yards. Almost all of these came when Reed was given some form of blocking assignment.

Niles Paul drops the hammer on a Redskins punt as the gunner

It’s not just the run block skills that may help give Paul an advantage this season either; he has proven himself to be a consistent contributor, and even a leader, on special teams as well. Although his days as an outside gunner are probably over, Special Teams Coach Ben Kotwica sang Paul’s praises frequently on the practice field at Training Camp last year. Given that the team released LB Adam Hayward on Friday, another noted Special Teams leader, this can only bode well for Paul’s chances as well.

All of this isn’t to sell short Paul’s talents as a receiver, either. And although he may not be an elite weapon like Reed (few are, to be fair), he posted a respectable 39 receptions for 507 yards in 2014; the first year he was really involved in the game plan.

Considering that he was named the starter over Reed last year, that he is a veteran on the team and a locker-room leader, a special teams standout, and a versatile contributor, it stands to reason that Niles Paul would be the Tight End who sees the most playing time behind Jordan Reed this year.

And yet…

Vernon Davis brings a different set of talents to the Redskins this season, fresh off of his Super Bowl victory with the Denver Broncos. At age 32, this is almost certainly Davis’ last ride in the big show, but the veteran believes he still has plenty to offer. Some saw his lack of production in the passing game in Denver as confirmation that he was on the decline, but Davis explained that as the difficulties in being traded mid-season and being asked to learn a vastly different playbook in a short amount of time.

Vernon Davis (bottom of screen) sets and maintains a strong downfield block leading to a 34 yard rush in the Super Bowl

Although he wasn’t a huge factor in the pass game for Denver in his short stint there, he quickly established himself as a run blocker, and it is precisely his elite run block skills that the Redskins coaches will be hoping to utilize in 2016 as the team continues to develop a run game that had it’s fair share of struggles last season.

Working in Davis favor is the fact that he’s also the largest of the three Tight Ends that the Redskins are likely to carry on their roster in 2016; Reed is 6’2, Paul is 6’1, and yet Davis plays to every inch of his 6’3, 246lb frame. At his peak, Davis had an innate ability to outbody defending Linebackers, Safeties or Corners, and if he can come close to recapturing some of the explosiveness, he will form an intimidating duo with Jordan Reed.

The Wildcard

Similar to the Left Guard post from earlier this week, it seems that the Tight End who will be the biggest contributor behind Jordan Reed this year will be one of the aforementioned Paul or Davis. The wildcard in this discussion, however, is Derek Carrier.

At 26 years of age, Carrier brings raw physicality to the position. He posted an unofficial 4.40 40 yard dash time (and an official 4.50 at his pro day), and his agility in drills such as the three-cone and 20 yard shuttle were impressive to boot. Carrier has yet to translate that physical prowess to the field consistently as an NFL-level Tight End, and to make the task more difficult for him, he’s recovering from a serious knee injury suffered late last season and isn’t anticipated to be fully healthy by the start of Training Camp. What does work in his favor though is the fact that Redskins General Manager Scot McCloughan has huge wraps on him, and that has to count for something

The Predicted Battle Winner

With Jordan Reed taking the majority of the attention given to the Tight End position (and deservedly so), it will be fascinating to watch how his team mates behind him perform at camp this year. You have two quality options in Paul and Carrier returning from serious injury, and then you have a veteran free agent in Davis still coming to grips with the playbook.

When all is said and done, it is likely that there will be a fairly even spread of work shared between Paul and Davis if both enter the season healthy and in good form, so the ‘winner’ of this battle may be a ceremonial victory at best. Regardless, we are predicting that it will be Niles Paul returning to stake his claim as one of the two top Tight Ends on the Redskins roster again in 2016.




Powered by Facebook Comments

The Washington Wrap

To Top