The tight end position in football is one of the most unattractive and unrecognized positions in the game. Up until recently, tight ends were primarily used as an extra blocker to aid in a team’s rushing attack. This was true until players like Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten, and Antonio Gates revolutionized the position, making it normal for tight ends to excel as blockers and pass catchers.
With Mike Martz as their head coach, the San Diego Fleet offense should see solid involvement from the tight end position. The Fleet currently have five tight ends on their roster, but that number should shrink to around two, or potentially three, when the final 50-man roster is announced.
From a talent perspective, the Fleet do have a solid group of tight ends on their roster. When signing players, Martz went with an emphasis on pass catching when selecting which tight ends he wanted on his roster.
Former San Diego State Aztec Gavin Escobar should be viewed as the favorite to land the starting job out of training camp for the Fleet. Escobar, a second-round pick by the Dallas Cowboys in 2013, is 27 years old and is the most established tight end on this roster. In his three-year career with the Aztecs, Escobar caught 122 passes for 1,646 yards and 17 touchdowns in a run-heavy offense. He was a two-time All-MWC first-team selection and was also selected to the All-MWC second-team his freshman season.
As a rookie, Escobar was expected to operate in a two tight end set with Hall of Famer Jason Witten, but never fulfilled that role. He operated as Witten’s primary backup for all of his tenure with the Cowboys and was ultimately released by the team in 2016. Escobar has bounced around the league since being released by the Cowboys, but has not played in an NFL game since 2016. In his NFL career, Escobar caught 30 passes for 333 yards and eight touchdowns, all of which came with the Dallas Cowboys.
Playing to potentially earn a contract with an NFL team again, Escobar could become a favorite target of quarterback Josh Johnson. Quarterbacks typically enjoy throwing to a reliable pass-catching tight end because of their solid frame and ability to act as both a short-yardage and goal-line threat. He is the best and most established pass catcher of all the tight ends on this roster and should be considered the favorite to be the opening day starter for the Fleet.
As for who is going to operate as Escobar’s primary backup, take your pick. Former Kansas tight end Ben Johnson could be the favorite, but there will be competition for the second spot on the depth chart.
Johnson spent three years with the Jayhawks, catching 53 passes for 590 yards and two touchdowns. The 24-year-old Johnson is an interesting prospect as his massive frame and athleticism give him the tools to be a successful tight end with the Fleet. He signed with the Los Angeles Chargers after going undrafted, but was released by the team prior to the 2018 NFL season.
Standing at 6’5″, Johnson has the prototypical frame of an elite blocking tight end that could also operate as a goal-line threat. He only caught two touchdowns at Kansas, but was a part of a team that won only three games during his tenure and was one of the worst passing offenses in college football. His 33″ vertical and 4.8 40-yard dash time show Johnson is a solid athlete that has potential to operate as an average to above-average receiving option for the Fleet.
The only other real competition for Johnson, from a pass-catching standpoint, is former Fresno State tight end, Aaron Peck. The 24-year-old Peck put up similar numbers to Gavin Escobar in college, as he reeled in 92 passes for 1,206 yards and six touchdowns. Peck signed with the Green Bay Packers after going undrafted in the 2017 NFL draft, but was waived on September 2nd, 2018. He was not given an opportunity to sign with another NFL team and signed with the San Diego Fleet in August of 2018.
Despite being listed as a tight end on the Fleet’s roster, Peck is undersized to play the position. He only stands at 6’2″ and should be primarily viewed as a wide receiver despite being listed as a tight end. Peck is a decent athlete that will operate strictly as a pass catcher and brings no upside as a blocker at all.
Marcus Baugh, a former Ohio State Buckeye, is an intriguing prospect that is unlikely to make this roster. While his college numbers are not necessarily bad (he caught 55 passes for 607 yards and eight touchdowns), the scouting reports on Baugh are conflicting. Some believe that he has some upside because of his frame and athleticism, while others view Baugh as a lousy run blocker and an incapable pass catcher at the next level.
Despite viewing the potential in Baugh, I tend to agree with the scouts who are not high on him. Baugh posted a double-digit drop rate in his final two seasons at Ohio State, a discouraging number for a player attempting to carve a role as a pass catcher. He does not run routes well at all and struggles to gain separation when going against defenders. Unless he becomes a tremendous blocker, Baugh does not have the skill set to be anything but a below average pass catcher, and should find himself off this roster when the time comes.
Darryl Richardson, a former San Diego State Aztec, has the least impressive track record of all these tight ends. Richardson only caught two passes in his three-year career with the Aztecs and was used primarily as a blocker. He improved tremendously as a blocker in college and could potentially be the best blocking tight end on this roster. Richardson does not bring much upside as a pass catcher, but if Martz decides to keep a blocking tight end on the roster, he may find a way to sneak onto the Fleet’s final 50-man.
When it comes to predicting which tight ends make the final roster, there are several things to keep in mind. There is a possibility that Mike Martz may only want to keep two tight ends in order to make space for an extra player at a different position. If that is the case, Gavin Escobar and Ben Johnson likely make the roster. Escobar would act as the primary pass catcher and the team would focus on improving Johnson’s blocking ability while also potentially using him in two tight end sets with Escobar.
If the Fleet elects to hold onto three tight ends, however, the situation changes. Escobar will find his way onto the roster regardless, but I firmly believe that he is the only lock at the position. Either one of Ben Johnson or Aaron Peck would be kept, probably Johnson, and I would have to imagine that the third tight end would have to be a strong blocking tight end, meaning that Darryl Richardson likely finds himself on the roster as well.
With all these different scenarios, it will be interesting to see what the final depth chart looks like at the position for the Fleet.