2010 was greeted by me with high expectations regarding the tight end position. Kevin Boss was entering his 4th year in the league having already proven himself as a solid if not spectacular tight end. Coupled with second year Travis Beckham the Giants would seem to have had an ideal combination of athlete at the position.
Kevin Boss, the fearless leviathan capable and willing to go over the middle complemented by Beckham, a more athletic H-Back type receiver presenting match up problems for the opponent. I was convinced that the tight end position would reclaim it’s previous importance in the Giant’s offensive schemes harkening back to the salad days of Jeremy Shockey, Howard Cross, Mark Bavaro, Zeke Mowatt and of course Bob Tucker. We could even go further back in time to illustrate the rich history of Giant tight ends and reference Red Badgro or Ray Flaherty, both Hall of Famers.
But a funny thing happened on the way to what was hoped to be a stellar year for the tight end position. In the first game against Carolina Kevin Boss was victimized by a ferocious hit resulting in a concussion. He sat out the next game and never seemed quite as sure handed or even as precise in his route running as before the hit.
At first glance I was prepared to excoriate Boss and his confederates for a lack of production from this vital position. Having grown up in the 70’s with miserable Giant teams at least I was treated to great play from the tight end position. Starting with Bob Tucker, moving on to Bavaro through Jeremy Shockey the Giants always seemed to develop great tight ends. And who doesn’t enjoy a mutated offensive guard with Shrek-like looks reaching out to grab a pass. With hands as large as pillows and equally soft, securing the ball and subsequently rambling down the field leaving in his wake broken players straining to read the license plate of the commuter bus that just ran them over. Few plays are as memorable or iconic in Giant’s lore as Mark Bavaro taking on the San Francisco 49ers team in the second half of a game where the Giants were down by 21. His play so energized the team that the Giants ultimately won that game. More recently (2008) the 45 yard catch and run by a rookie named Kevin Boss on the biggest stage in football resulting in the Giants victory over the Patriots.
Observing Boss throughout the season it felt as if he had a very sub-par year. There were drops that we were not accustomed to seeing particularly in third down situations. At least 2 of his drops resulted in interceptions contributing to Eli’s record setting turnovers.
But the numbers suggest otherwise. Yes, Boss had 6 drops tying him for 14th in the league. (Hakeem Nick’s also had 6) However notables such as Miles Austin (who led the league with 10), Brent Celek (8) and Tony Gonzalez (7) outpaced Boss in that most ignoble category. We were so conditioned to observing Boss catch everything thrown at him that it was incongruous that he should ever drop a ball no matter 6 of them. Yet over the 13 games he started and 15 games he played, that breaks down to .4 drops per game. Not too bad particularly taking into account the other players that dropped more.
An important and to the Giants vital job description regarding their tight ends is the ability to block. One need not look at film to appreciate Boss’ impact at the point of attack. The Giants rushed for almost 2200 yards and were sacked only 16 times. Enough said regarding Boss’ blocking acumen.
At first blush I assumed that Kevin’s play was far beneath his previous 2 years (he played very little in 2007). Knowing that Boss is a free agent this year I was reviewing the free agent list for 2011 and noticed that Owen Daniels of the Houston Texans might be available. Prior to his injury he was rated as one of the top TE’s in the league and by all reports he is once again physically sound. Should we entertain then idea of letting Boss walk and replacing him with Daniels? I have my opinion and will answer that question later.
Are you one that embraces consistency? If so this should be of interest to you. In reviewing the numbers for Boss despite my perception of decreased efficiency he actually enjoyed a year not unlike the previous 2. Averaging almost 40 catches, more than 500 yards and 5 touchdowns his production was right on par. In fact his yard per catch was actually up a tick in 2010. He contributes more than 36 yards per game which is about 10% of the offensive production. Add to that the somewhat limited although important production of Travis Beckham (2 TD’s) and the catches by Bear Pascoe and the tight end position for the Giants ranks in the top 10 in all of football. Not too shabby when you factor in Kevin Gilbride’s lack of emphasis regarding the tight end position.
With the unfortunate injuries to the outside receivers, I fully expected Boss’ numbers to increase. This is perhaps where the perception that he had an off year was born. He really didn’t fill the void as well as I would have hoped. When he was called upon late in the season he either failed to get separation from his defender or dropped the ball. This could be of concern going forward but I think it is more an anomoly rather than an indicator that his skills are diminishing. To support my confidence is the fact that a previously under reported hip injury was recently surgically repaired. This injury, in addition to the concussion were contributing if not primary factors to some of his deficiencies.
So what do we expect for 2011? First thing is to re-sign Kevin Boss. I presented the question earlier regarding Boss’ tenure. Owen Daniels is an attractive alternative but comes up short when you factor all the variables including durability, size, consistency, blocking, etc. Boss’ value to the Giant’s is far greater than any available replacement and I would submit he is better off staying with the Giants than moving on to another team. I have heard the rumblings that Boss’ best years are behind him but that is rubbish. He has plenty in the proverbial tank. The one area he must improve upon is to become a more reliable safety net for Eli ala Dallas Clark or Jason Witten. Once he develops the ability to improvise not only will his number increase exponentially but Eli’s interception rate will go down.
Did we see enough from Bear Pascoe and Travis Beckham to warrant another year from this triumvirate? As the Giants have other areas of need, i.e linebacker, secondary, offensive line I would leave these three in place. All will be coming into their primes with another year of experience under their belts. I will go out on a limb and predict that 2011 will be a breakout year for Kevin Boss marking his first Pro Bowl appearance. (with the usual caveat: barring injury and assuming he re-signs with the Giants) Travis Beckham has all the tools to be a terrific complement to Boss particularly on third down passes and Bear Pascoe can spell Boss, specifically on first and second downs. One can never have too much depth in the treacherous NFL but the Giants are in good shape for 2011 at the tight end position.