In the Giants final—given, mostly meaningless—preseason matchup with the Patriots, the team’s tight ends… three catches for 38 yards, and one of those catches went for 33 yards. So, yes, not much production.
And outside some big plays sprinkled in, we haven’t seen too much production from the tight end position this season for the Giants. Yes, it’s the preseason. And sure, it seems like Giants fans haven’t seen any preseason production from their tight ends probably since the Jeremy Shockey era.
But here we are—four preseason games have passed and no tight end has really stood out—and there isn’t a clear-cut favorite to start at tight end this season. There are concerns with Larry Donnell fading down the stretch last season, and Daniel Fells has never topped 400 yards in a season in his first six seasons.
So, who’s the best option at tight end this year? In my eyes, it’s still Larry Donnell, and I have three reasons why listed here:
Donnell Has Played One More Year with Eli
We could examine this from purely a production standpoint: Donnell’s played four less years in the NFL than Fell, and his 66 career catches are already more than half of Fells’ 108. And Donnell’s 63 catches and 623 yards last season are single-season highs that Fells has hardly come close to matching.
Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
There’s a little more we could consider though. The thing I look at—Donnell’s played two full seasons with the Giants while Fells was just around in 2014. Sure, you could say they changed offensive schemes in 2014, so that first year Donnell played for the Giants would offset. But consider—Jake Ballard broke out with the Giants in 2011 and was on the team in 2010. Kevin Gilbride was the offensive coordinator both years, but in 2011, the team threw for nearly 1,000 yards more than in 2010—so their offensive started to tread toward a pass-happy scheme.
Even though the scheme changed, Eli had built some chemistry with Ballard and it seemed that extra year developing a rapport with Ballard proved to be an important one. It could have the same effect on Donnell in his third season.
Fells is a Better Blocker, but Giants let Their Blockers Develop
The Giants tight end position has been something of a revolving door since Jeremy Shockey was shipped
Aug 22, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants tight end Larry Donnell (84) takes down New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
off—Kevin Boss to Jake Ballard to Martellus Bennett and then last year, Donnell. Shockey was a mauling blocker, but the other guys… really other than Bennett they’ve all had their work cut out for them. It’s why Boss and Ballard didn’t play as much early on—not only were they raw pass-catching talents, but they needed to develop their blocking.
Donnell is kind of in the same boat. Not only is he an on-the-rise pass-catcher, but his blocking needs improving. It’s a department where he struggled last year—so much so that he lost playing time to Fells down the stretch.
Fells is a very good blocker and he’s prolonged his career because of it. But the Giants proved with Boss and Ballard that they are willing to wait for their tight ends to improve their blocking as the season progresses. The only thing working against Donnell is he regressed at the end of last year. But should he improve at the line of scrimmage, I think he’ll run away with the job.
Donnell is Just Getting His Legs Under Him
It’s easy to forget Donnell had been dealing with an injury since the beginning of June. He was in a
Nov 16, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants tight end Larry Donnell (84) can not make a touchdown catch during the third quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
walking boot until late July, and didn’t recover from his Achilles’ tendinitis until mid-August—an injury that lingers and could have done so into late-August (*hint hint* keep an eye on that during the regular season). It’s a bothersome injury that could hamper guys and slow them down, so Donnell really needed and still needs to put in some work to get back to full strength, even if he and the Giants still say he is recovered from the injury.
We know Donnell isn’t the fleetest of foot, to put it lightly… but when he gets going he is elusive and can move. We haven’t seen much of that this offseason, and I think that’s primarily due to his bummed left Achilles.
If he can get that heel healthy, he could be a full-go come the regular season and the Giants’ top weapon at the tight end position.