This is Part 4 of the Buffalo Bills training camp preview revisiting injuries from 2019 & the impact it may have on their performance and availability in 2020. Part 4 consists of the tight end room.
TE Jason Croom
Spent 2019 on IR with a right hamstring injury.
Croom has been an interesting case. He was too good to cut outright but not good enough to bring back up to the roster. He missed most of training camp due to a nagging hamstring injury. He ended up playing in only the 4th preseason game against the Vikings, grabbing 2 catches for 27 yards.
Surprisingly, he made the 53 man roster and then was immediately placed on IR which gave the team the ability to call him back up later if there were other injuries. Fortunately, the Bills were incredibly healthy last season and his services were not needed.
Reports later came out that he tore his hamstring during spring practices and just wasn’t able to fully get healthy, immediately re-injuring the hamstring again. It has been a year since Croom injured his hamstring and there haven’t been any reports stating that he isn’t healthy. There is a chance he could reinjure the area again, but the time off from football along with rest and proper rehab should reduce that. The only possibility of this becoming an issue again is if he hasn’t been keeping up with conditioning. Training camp will quickly reveal if Croom is 100% again.
TE Tyler Kroft
11 games, 3 starts, 14 targets, 6 receptions, 71 yards, 1 TD
Kroft did not have the season anyone envisioned for him coming from Cincinnati in the offseason. His production simply did not meet the contract he signed. He dealt with several injuries that really prevented him from contributing in a meaningful way.
Below is his injuries:
In 2018, he missed 11 total games dealing with a broken foot, likely a Jones fracture which required surgery. He managed to get through the offseason before getting to Phase 3 of OTA’s where he broke the same foot again on the first day. He eventually spent all of training camp on the PUP list before getting activated to the 53 man roster on cut down day as he continued to work back into shape.
As Kroft was rounding into form and preparing to play against his old team in Week 3, he sprained his left ankle during a routine practice. While the ankle sprain wasn’t much of an issue, it held him out an additional 2 weeks until he made his season debut against Miami in Week 7.
Kroft never got the reps needed with Josh Allen in order to be successful & allow him to become a weapon in the offense. While the foot fracture was a fluky thing, once the screw is removed following a re-fracture in a Jones fracture repair, the injury doesn’t appear to be recurrent. What this means is that he is unlikely to suffer another similar injury to the area.
TE Dawson Knox
15 games, 11 starts, 1 rushing attempt, 9 yards, 50 targets, 28 receptions, 388 yards, 2 TD’s
Knox quickly became a favored target in the offense despite coming out of Ole Miss with little production. During his rookie season, he nearly eclipsed the entirety of his college production. He managed to put together a solid season despite dealing with several injuries along the way, including one that cost him most of training camp. Knox was overall fairly available, only missing the final regular-season game against the Jets due to resting for the playoffs.
Knox suffered a hamstring injury early on in training camp during routine drills. This injury cost him the better part of a month, later returning to play in limited amounts against both the Lions and Vikings in the preseason, not getting any catches during this time. While it did appear that the hamstring was a Grade 1 due to some of the progress observed, a rush back to the field was not in the cards for Knox until he was 100% healthy.
He was dealing with some “knee soreness” prior to the second matchup against the Dolphins down in Miami. This injury did not hold him out from playing or appeared to affect him in any way. At the time, I had thought maybe he was hitting the proverbial “wall” due to the increased level of competition along with a longer season when compared to college football. The injury did not show up again later that season & appear to affect his play.
Like Croom, there is concern that Knox could re-injure his hamstring strain. There is reason to believe that Knox has taken extra steps to ensure that he comes to training camp in shape and will be more diligent in preparing his body to reduce his injury risk.
TE Tommy Sweeney
6 games, 1 start, 13 targets, 8 receptions, 114 yards
Sweeney was the less-heralded other tight end selected in the 2019 NFL Draft. He didn’t have the same impact that Knox has in his first year with the Bills, but Sweeney also did not have any known injuries. While he was inactive most weeks, he did appear in a handful of games early on as TE Tyler Kroft worked his way back into the lineup. Once Kroft returned, Sweeney was expendable and was not called upon until the regular-season finale against the Jets.
TE Lee Smith
16 games 5 starts, 5 targets, 4 receptions, 31 yards, 1 TD
Smith is about as durable as they come. He didn’t miss any games and also did not appear to suffer any known injuries. While he wasn’t very productive in the offense, he continued to excel as a blocking tight end and as a leader in the locker room. As Smith increases in age, he will eventually be phased out, but as long as he continues to be a leader and effective blocker, he will be hard to beat out for a spot on the team.
TE Nate Becker
Becker spent the 2019 training camp with the team after getting cut by Detroit prior to training camp. He did not survive training camp cuts and was later signed to the practice squad where he sat for the remainder of the season. He did not appear to suffer any known injuries. To read more on Becker’s previously known injury history, click here.
The tight end room is not an area where major injuries happen. A foot fracture, ankle sprain, and a pair of hamstrings make up the entirety of the injuries to the position. None of the injuries appear to be chronic or likely to recur in 2020. While Knox & Smith are locked to make the team next year, Sweeney still appears to be a strong shot to make the roster again. Croom better produce at a high level & show the team that he has something from 2018 to indicate to the team that he plans on sticking around.
Unless Becker somehow unseats Smith by dramatically improving his blocking skills, the lineup will likely be Knox, Smith, & Sweeney for 2020. The tight end position for the Buffalo Bills is not a sexy one at all, but it hopefully will become a position that grows in importance as Josh Allen improves his game.