Monday, February 11, 2008

Reserve tight ends, get 'em while they're healthy! Part the third (and final)

Mike Seidman
2007 stats: None
Combine numbers: 6044, 261, 4.80 in 2003
Who's he: Just like Ben Utecht and Bryan Fletcher, Westlake, Calif., native Seidman was a three-sport star in high school. He went to nearby UCLA where he was a year behind Fletcher, but starting playing on offense almost immediately. After Fletcher left, Seidman exploded as an offensive force, catching 41-631-5 as a senior. He was first-team All-Pac-10, UCLA Offensive MVP and a finalist for the John Mackey award. In 46 games (14 starts), he caught 61-989-6. Although he was productive, concerns about his lack of deep speed and explosiveness led to him being drafted in the third round of the 2003 draft by the Carolina Panthers. As rookie, he started five games, but was mainly used as a blocker until a torn ACL felled him in game 12. Seidman came back in 2004, started six games and was finally given a chance to catch the ball. He caught 13-123-3 — including a spectacular falling-down endzone catch against the Bucs — and a two-point convert. He found himself fighting for a spot on the left side of the depth chart in 2005, playing mainly as a blocker, and tore his ACL again in 2006. After the Panthers released him in 2007, the Colts took a flier on him, but he suffered yet another knee injury in camp, and was placed on injured reserve. In his NFL career, Seidman has played 43 of 80 possible regular-season games (starting 15), catching 18-158-2 and returning four kicks for 44 yards.
As a player: Unlike Clark, Utecht and Fletcher — who are really just big wideouts in tight end drag (1) — Seidman is an old-skool complete tight end. And a good one. When he came out of UCLA in 2003, the top tight ends in the draft were Clark, Jason Witten, Bennie Joppru (2) and Seidman, with much of the media placing Seidman at or near the top of the stack. There's little wonder why. While his receiving production stacked up well against the others', Seidman looked like John Hannah or Anthony Muñoz (3) compared to others a blocker. A smart and aware receiver who will adjust to poor throws and catch the ball in stride, Seidman runs good routes, but lacks the explosive burst to lose defenders and doesn't have deep speed. Actually, all of the verbs in the last few sentences should be in past tense. Seidman was all those things, but three season-ending knee injuries in five years have likely robbed him of much of his former ability.

Analysis: I think everyone but Seidman's mom realizes he's probably done. Colts fans can safely assume he's not going to be back next year. With the Colts almost certain to retain Clark at a great cost, keeping both Utecht and Fletcher might be a bit difficult.(4) While the Colts don't like to devote too much money under the cap at any one position, they do like to keep their offensive components (5) together and to keep as many reliable targets for Manning as possible. Should they only be able to afford one, the decision would be difficult. While some would argue, Utecht is clearly a better player. Not only does he block better — he was, after all the Colts' starting tight end last season while Fletcher normally played H-back or in the slot — but he's also a better receiver. He caught 83.78 percent of passes thrown his way last year (Fletcher caught 59.26 percent), he averaged 11.74 yards per catch (7.94 for Fletcher, despite usually running longer routes) and 5.58 yards after the catch (2.67 for Fletcher). The equalizer in this equation, though, is that Utecht is far more prone to injury than Fletcher and the chances of the Colts signing one just to lose their investment to injury is much greater with Utecht. More likely, however, is that the Colts keep both on one-year tenders — much like they did guards Ryan Lilja and Jake Scott last year when both of them were restricted free agents — and defer the decision on which to keep another year. Because of Fletcher's limitations as a blocker and Utecht's history of injury, neither is likely to get a huge outside offer, forcing the Colts to match (6). But even if both remain Colts for 2008, expect the team to draft a tight end with some receiving ability to undergo a one-year indoctrination. A smart kid with big mitts like Pittsburgh's Darrell Strong — who could be a second-day pick — could easily succeed in Indy. What? No mention of Roy Hall? I'll save that for a later post.

1. I know I go on and on about this, but I really think people have the wrong idea here. To set things straight — Clark is not the Colts' starting tight end, Utecht is. Clark may be the tight end again the future, but he isn't now. Don't believe me? Check out Football Outsiders, a scouting service that examines every single NFL play in depth. They list Clark as a wide receiver because he played the overwhelming majority of his snaps either at slot or split wide. He's been playing as much tight end these days as Marvin does. By the way, Football Outsiders gave Utecht a 30.4 DVOA (a measure of how much better over the average tight end he was on a play-by-play basis), and Fletcher a -7.4 — that means Utecht was way better and Fletcher was a tad worse than the average Joe at the position in 2007.
2. Poor Joppru. Kid had all the talent in the world, but injuries have limited him to 19 of 80 possible regular-season games and a grand total of zero catches. You think Seidman had it bad? At least he scored a couple of NFL touchdowns.
3. Am I dating myself? Anyone out there remember those guys? Man, Hannah could hurt you.
4. Further complicating things is the fact that with Reggie Wayne, Harrison and Anthony Gonzalez on hand, the Colts will most likely expect Clark to play tight end more often. That will leave fewer snaps for Utecht and Fletcher to share.
5. They tend to be a bit more relaxed with defensive players, especially linebackers— as the Washington-Peterson-Thornton-June-Gardner-Keiaho shuffle indicates.
6. The Colts have some advantages in free agency. Not only do players, especially those on offense, want to play in Indy, but there's a feeling around the league that ex-Colts tend to do poorly once they leave Indy.

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