Buffalo Bills: Lee Smith

Bills Bubble Watch: Lee Smith

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
2:00
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(Continuing a month-long series analyzing Buffalo Bills players who are on the roster bubble and where they potentially fit in 2014.)

Name: Lee Smith

Position: Tight end

Age: 26

2013 stats: 16 games (14 starts), five catches, 78 yards

Chance of making 53-man roster: 80 percent

Why he should make it: Smith started 14 games last season but that's somewhat deceiving, as he only played in 37 percent of offensive snaps, compared to 79 percent for Scott Chandler. Smith is the Bills' best blocking tight end and should continue in that role this season. His roster spot may have been more in jeopardy if the Bills had drafted a tight end, but he remains the Bills' best option to create space for Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller in the running game.

Why he shouldn't make it: The Bills may have a tough time keeping four tight ends on their roster especially if they keep four running backs, a fullback, and six wide receivers. We'd say that Smith being left out of the tight end group is the least likely scenario. Yet it's a possibility worth considering. The Bills have two more athletic players in Tony Moeaki and Chris Gragg. The ultimate goal of offensive coordinator Nate Hackett is to push the tempo and use speed on offense to his advantage. That isn't Smith's game. If the Bills lean towards more of a no-huddle, passing-focused attack more than a ground-and-pound approach, then Smith's role -- and lock on a roster spot -- could be diminished.

Closest competition: Moeaki, Gragg, T.J. Graham

Counting the Bills: Tight ends

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
5:00
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Continuing a series analyzing the economics of the Buffalo Bills roster, position by position:

Position: Tight end

Total cap value: $5,124,444
Compared to NFL average: 25.4 percent less
NFL positional rank: 22nd

Portion of Bills' total cap number: 3.7 percent

2014 cap numbers:
Scott Chandler: $1.9 million (20th on Bills, tied for 25th among NFL tight ends)
Tony Moeaki: $1.381 million (Bills: 25th; NFL: 41st)
Lee Smith: $688,401 (Bills: 38th; NFL: 62nd)
Mike Caussin: $645,000 (Bills: tied for 42nd; NFL: tied for 70th)
Chris Gragg: $509,793 (Bills: 56th; NFL: 104th)

Average per year:
Chandler: $2.375 million (21st on Bills, 23rd among NFL tight ends)
Moeaki: $1 million (Bills: tied for 31st; NFL: tied for 48th)
Caussin: $645,000 (Bills: tied for 41st; NFL: tied for 72nd)
Smith: $574,571 (Bills: 49th; NFL: 91st)
Gragg: $554,793 (Bills: 54th; NFL: 101st)

Most overpaid: None. The Bills brought back Chandler at a bargain, compared to his previous contract. His cap hit (25th among NFL tight ends) puts him theoretically into the bottom third of NFL starting tight ends, which is how I would evaluate him. On the surface, Moeaki's contract is a little rich for a player who didn't sign with the team until December of last season. However, the Bills split his $500,000 roster bonus in half: Moeaki received $250,000 in March and he will receive the rest in installments for each game he is active. That protects the Bills in case Moeaki is injured again or can't regain his pre-injury form.

Most underpaid: None. The Bills aren't spending much on tight ends this season. An argument can be made that they should have pursued free-agent options outside of Chandler, but it's also important to remember that free agency falls two months before the draft. Top rookie tight ends like Eric Ebron and Austin Seferian-Jenkins were on the Bills' radar and would have slid right into the top role if drafted, partly negating any free-agent signing. I think the Bills would have liked to improve their tight end position this offseason but it ultimately didn't work out. Chandler, Moeaki, and Smith aren't a star-studded group but they could get the job done this season.

Bills draft preview: Tight end

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
8:00
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As we step away on vacation, we'll provide a position-by-position preview of next month's draft from a Buffalo Bills perspective:

Position: Tight end

Current personnel: Scott Chandler (signed through 2015), Lee Smith (2014), Tony Moeaki (2014), Chris Gragg (2016), Mike Caussin (2014)

Draft need: High

State of the position: This is a position with some pieces in place for this season but little long-term certainty. Chandler returning on a deal worth less than his previous contract is telling; while he put up career numbers last season, he is a player with limited athletic ability and is probably best suited as a No. 2 tight end in a good offense. He shouldn't affect the Bills' draft plans at tight end.

The same is true for Moeaki, who the Bills signed late last season. While they have high hopes that he can return to his old form, that's far from guaranteed. He's younger than Chandler, is more athletic, and has more upside, but still must show this preseason that he is worthy of a spot on the 46-man gameday roster. Adding a draft pick will make it more difficult to Moeaki to get playing time.

Smith is a blocking tight end who is relatively replaceable. Gragg is a developmental player who shouldn't factor into the Bills' draft plans. Overall, this is a position where the Bills could use a more dynamic, explosive player. Does it have to be a Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham for the offense to take a step forward? No, but Buffalo could still do much better than what it has.

Sweet spot: Early rounds.

Possible targets: Eric Ebron (North Carolina), Jace Amaro (Texas Tech), Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Washington), Troy Niklas (Notre Dame)
One of the more surprising developments in free agency for the Bills was the lack of a market for tight end Scott Chandler.

Chandler re-signed for less than his previous deal, despite coming off a career season in which he led the Bills in receptions and receiving yards.

Chandler
Moeaki
With Chandler back in the fold, the Bills have about $5 million in salary-cap commitments at the position, which is about 17 percent less than the NFL average. But will the Bills get the bang for their buck?

Much of that hinges on Tony Moeaki, who didn't play an offensive snap last season after being signed in December. If Moeaki can regain his form from before his most recent injury, the Bills will have some more punch at the position. If not, it's a bland group.

Asked about the tight end position by WGR 550 on March 14, general manager Doug Whaley didn't rule out adding to the position but expressed a comfort level with the current personnel.

"I like the skill sets that each of our tight ends bring that are on the roster. You have Lee Smith, whose primary role is a blocking tight end. You have Chris Gragg, which is the speed aspect that he brings to the table. Chandler brings the size, and then Moeaki, which you guys haven't seen but if you look in his past, he's a good combination guy with receiving skills and blocking," Whaley said. "We got the gamut covered, so we think we're pretty solid there, but again, that doesn't prohibit us from getting anybody else that we can think can upgrade."

The Bills did look elsewhere before bringing back Chandler. According to the Baltimore Sun, the Bills were interested in former Baltimore Ravens tight end Ed Dickson. At this point, though, it appears that the Bills aren't actively searching the free-agent market for another tight end.

Attention now turns to the draft. North Carolina's Eric Ebron, who is expected to be a first-round pick, said last week that he has a pre-draft visit scheduled with the Bills.

Each team is allowed 30 visits and in some cases they're simply to tie up loose ends with medical information. In Ebron's case, there could be legitimate interest from the Bills, as he is expected to be available when they pick at ninth overall.

Should the Bills draft Ebron, it changes the outlook of the position entering next season. The Bills would rely less on Moeaki's re-emergence, while Chandler would become more of a part-time player, allowing the Bills to play to his strengths. Smith and Gragg would battle for roster spots.

If the Bills don't select Ebron, there isn't another tight end who would be a fit at ninth overall. The more likely targets at that spot would be wide receiver or offensive tackle. Still, the Bills could pick up a tight end in the second or third round and he could still push Chandler for playing time.
Back in September, we broke down the Buffalo Bills' 53-man roster, position-by-position. Now that the Bills' season has ended, we'll review those grades:

Position: Tight end (preseason grades)

SNAP COUNTS
Scott Chandler -- 79.1 percent
Lee Smith -- 36.9 percent
Chris Gragg -- 4.4 percent
Tony Moeaki -- no snaps

DEPTH

Preseason take: Losing Chandler would deal a major blow to this position, although it may not be heavily utilized within offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett's system. Smith or Gragg would be in the bottom 10 percent of NFL starters at tight end. The Bills do possess players at this position who can contribute in different ways (Chandler as a receiver, Smith as a blocker, Gragg as a developmental player), but there are upgradeable pieces. Grade: C

Postseason review: Luckily for the Bills, Chandler proved durable, playing in all 16 games for the first time in his career. Therefore, Smith's snaps were probably right about as projected, while Gragg saw little playing time. That leaves open the question, though, of how the Bills' offense would've been affected by an injury to Chandler. Smith did little this season to show that he is worthy of the starting role if Chandler departs through free agency this offseason. Moeaki, not having played a single snap, is a complete unknown. This grade was just about right.

RELIABILITY

Preseason take: Chandler underwent ACL surgery in January, so his ability to return for the start of training camp was impressive. It doesn't appear the injury will hold him back. Still, if the Bills need to start Smith or Gragg in any games this season, it would be a major question mark. Grade: C+

Postseason review: This grade could have been higher, as Chandler came back from his ACL injury and played in every game, providing stability to an offense that desperately needed it. But when he was on the field, how reliable was Chandler? He led the team with 53 receptions but also had issues with dropped passes, especially at critical points.

Offensive snaps: Spiller plays 40 percent

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
10:45
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- A look at snaps played by Buffalo Bills' skill-position players in Sunday's win against the New York Jets, while analyzing how the totals reflect the way players were utilized (totals provided by the NFL):

QB EJ Manuel -- 67 of 67
WR T.J. Graham -- 63 of 67
WR Marquise Goodwin -- 57 of 67
TE Lee Smith -- 50 of 67
TE Scott Chandler -- 42 of 67
RB Fred Jackson -- 36 of 67
RB C.J. Spiller -- 27 of 67
FB Frank Summers -- 25 of 67
WR Chris Hogan -- 19 of 67
TE Chris Gragg -- 9 of 67
RB Tashard Choice -- 4 of 67
WR Marcus Easley -- 3 of 67

ANALYSIS: This is the second consecutive week the Bills played 67 snaps. In the first three quarters Sunday, they scored 34 points. A week earlier, they managed just three points through three quarters. ... Smith saw more action than Chandler for the first time this season, a reflection of an overall "heavier" look on offense that saw Summers, a blocking fullback, play 37 percent of snaps. ... Spiller played 40 percent of offensive snaps, the most playing time he's seen since Weeks 1 and 2, when he played in 59 percent. While his workload still isn't where most expected it to be, his production -- 13 carries for six yards -- likely played into his reduced role Sunday. ... Hogan stepped into a role as the slot receiver in Stevie Johnson's absence, but his playing time was still relatively limited. The Bills leaned mostly on Graham (94 percent) and Goodwin (85 percent), who each scored on long touchdowns.

Would Bills consider Fred Davis trade?

October, 22, 2013
10/22/13
11:35
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The NFL's trade deadline arrives next Tuesday, and the Washington Post reports that the Washington Redskins are open to trading tight end Fred Davis.

Davis
Bills fans might remember Davis from a free-agent visit this offseason. The team announced in March that head coach Doug Marrone hosted Davis at the Bills' facility, but Davis ultimately re-signed with the Redskins.

Davis is coming off an Achilles' injury that limited him to seven games last season. He's played just four games this season, making three catches for 25 yards. He was inactive Sunday, with the Redskins leaning more on Jordan Reed at tight end.

Writes ESPN.com Redskins reporter John Keim:
Davis has been his own worst enemy when it comes to his career, first with the drug suspension. Can't blame him for the injury. But if he had the same work ethic as [Logan] Paulsen and Reed, then Davis would not be in the spot he is now. Yes, his ankle is still bothering him but that provides an excuse as much as anything. Also, Davis will continue to be inactive (unless all four tight ends are active) because of his inability to play special teams. Paulsen and [Niles] Paul both play special teams. Davis does not. Unless something changes, he'll enter free agency coming off another season that leads to more questions than answers about his game. Having said all that, if his legs are healthy, Davis can still play. It's also not as if Davis has somehow changed his habits this year. It's just that the Redskins just found better alternatives.

At this point, with the Redskins essentially casting Davis aside, it seems reasonable that he could be had for a conditional late-round pick.

Davis' stock has slipped since his career season in 2011, when he caught 59 passes for 796 yards and three touchdowns.

For the Bills, it's unlikely Davis would replace Scott Chandler in the starting lineup. He would simply provide another option at the position. Chandler, who is also coming off an Achilles' injury, ranks 19th among NFL tight ends, with 22 receptions for 269 yards and two touchdowns.

Beyond Chandler, the Bills have Lee Smith, a blocking tight end with two receptions this season, and their seventh-round pick, Chris Gragg. The addition of Davis would likely push Gragg, who has played just six offensive snaps this season, to the practice squad.

Although it's a considerable long-shot, the other wrinkle to consider here is safety Jairus Byrd. Although they're not actively shopping him, the Bills have said they'll listen to any offers on Byrd. The Redskins need a safety.

While the Redskins would clearly need to give up more than Davis (i.e. a mid-round draft pick or higher) to get Byrd, it would be a swap of two players who have expiring contracts, creating an impetus for both sides to make a deal.

Offensive snaps: Heavier look in Miami

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
10:00
AM ET
MIAMI -- A look at snaps played by Buffalo Bills skill-position players in Sunday's win over the Miami Dolphins, while analyzing how the totals reflect the way players were utilized (totals provided by the NFL):

QB Thad Lewis -- 67 of 67
WR Robert Woods -- 63 of 67
WR Steve Johnson -- 60 of 67
TE Scott Chandler -- 59 of 67
RB Fred Jackson -- 39 of 67
WR T.J. Graham -- 34 of 67
TE Lee Smith -- 32 of 67
RB C.J. Spiller -- 14 of 67
RB Tashard Choice -- 12 of 67
FB Frank Summers -- 11 of 67
TE Chris Gragg -- 6 of 67
WR Marquise Goodwin -- 5 of 67
WR Chris Hogan -- 0 of 67
WR Marcus Easley -- 0 of 67

ANALYSIS: The Bills opted for a more of a tight end-based approach, leading to Smith, the No. 2 tight end seeing almost equal time to Graham, the No. 3 receiver. Smith made his second catch of the season on Sunday. Gragg, a seventh-round draft pick in April, also got his first offensive action with the Bills. ... Spiller played just 21 percent of offensive plays, and while his toughness to play on an injured ankle is admirable, the Bills aren't getting much from him. He finished with 11 yards on six carries, a 1.8-yard average that was part of the Bills' overall struggles on first and second down. ... One week after hauling in a 40-yard touchdown pass, Goodwin was on the field for just five snaps, while Hogan, who received significant playing time in Johnson's absence, was strictly a special-teams contributor Sunday. There's likely nothing more to read into here than the Bills deciding to go heavier with their offensive personnel against Miami.

Offensive snaps: Woods on top, again

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
10:07
AM ET
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- A look at snaps played by Buffalo Bills skill-position players in Sunday's win over the Baltimore Ravens, while analyzing how the totals reflect the way players were utilized (totals provided by the NFL):

QB EJ Manuel -- 84 of 84
WR Robert Woods -- 80 of 84
WR Steve Johnson -- 69 of 84
TE Lee Smith -- 67 of 84
TE Scott Chandler -- 52 of 84
FB Frank Summers -- 42 of 84
RB Fred Jackson -- 41 of 84
RB C.J. Spiller -- 31 of 84
WR T.J. Graham -- 22 of 84
RB Tashard Choice -- 12 of 84
WR Chris Hogan -- 3 of 84
WR Marcus Easley -- 1 of 84
TE Chris Gragg -- 0 of 84

ANALYSIS: Woods played more snaps than Johnson for the second straight week. The rookie was on the field for every offensive snap last week against the Jets and played 95 percent of snaps on Sunday. Unlike last week, when he snagged only two of his 10 targets, Woods led the team with four catches (on eight targets) for 80 yards and a touchdown. Johnson had one catch (on six targets) for minus-1 yard. ... Lee Smith and Frank Summers both set season-highs for snaps, part of a heavier offensive look from the Bills. Smith earning more time than Chandler may have been a product of his blocking ability, with Buffalo accounting for the Ravens' explosive edge rushers. ... Choice's 12 snaps were also a season high, as he stepped in for Jackson and Spiller following their injuries in the second half. ... Right guard Kraig Urbik was replaced by Sam Young for four snaps after injuring his knee, the same amount of plays he missed against the Jets.

W2W4: Ravens at Bills

September, 27, 2013
9/27/13
3:00
PM ET
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Is this a must-win game for the Buffalo Bills?

It could be. Hosting the Baltimore Ravens in their third home game in four contests, the Bills are trying to avoid a 1-3 record, entering what could be a tough October. After Sunday's game, the Bills travel to Cleveland next Thursday before hosting the 2-1 Bengals, and then traveling to face the 3-0 Dolphins and 3-0 Saints.

[+] Enlarge C.J. Spiller
Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesThe Bills need for C.J. Spiller to keep the running game churning in order to help relieve some of the pressure on QB EJ Manuel.
But Buffalo can't afford to look past the Ravens. The defending Super Bowl champions lost several key players this offseason, but have bounced back, winning their past two games. This will be one of the Bills' toughest tests of the season.

Here's what to watch for:

1. Can Spiller get going? Bills CEO Russ Brandon told WGR 550 this week that the Bills "need" to get their running game cranking. That begins with C.J. Spiller, who gained just nine yards on 10 carries against the Jets. He is probable for Sunday's game and should play. If he can get into a rhythm, it will take pressure off rookie quarterback EJ Manuel. But it won't be easy: the Ravens allow just 74.7 rushing yards per game, fourth in the NFL, and have some big bodies in Haloti Ngata (340 pounds) and Arthur Jones (315 pounds) for the Bills' offensive line to move.

2. Do Bills help their tackles? The Ravens have a pair of the NFL's best pass-rushers in Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, who have combined for five sacks already this season. The Bills may opt to use their '12' package -- one running back and two tight ends -- more than usual on Sunday, allowing tight end Lee Smith to help out the offensive tackles with Suggs and Dumervil. So far this season, left tackle Cordy Glenn and right tackle Erik Pears have held up well, but an eight-sack performance by the Jets may be enough to give offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett pause about leaving his tackles without help on the edge.

3. Will Rice play? Ravens running back Ray Rice has been dealing with a hip injury that kept him out of last week's win against the Houston Texans. Rice said Friday he hopes to play, and if he does, Rice presents another challenge for the Bills. Their run defense ranks 31st in the NFL, allowing 155 yards per game. The positive for Buffalo is that their trio of defensive linemen who were dealing with injuries this week -- Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, and Mario Williams -- are all probable for Sunday. Their presence will help, but the Bills will need a complete defensive effort against the Ravens.

4. Will Hackett slow things down? One hot topic this week was the Bills' offensive pace, which is the fastest in the NFL, even ahead of Chip Kelly's attack in Philadelphia. The results haven't been there for Buffalo just yet, though. They are struggling to convert third downs, leaving their defense on the field for over 35 minutes a game, second-most in the NFL. It will be worth watching Sunday if Hackett dials things back, especially if the running game, led by Spiller and Fred Jackson, starts to gain some momentum. The better bet, though, is that Hackett will stick to his up-tempo philosophy.

Grading the Bills' 53: Tight ends

September, 6, 2013
9/06/13
7:00
AM ET
Now that the Buffalo Bills have set their 53-man roster, we'll break it down, position by position:

TIGHT END

Personnel: Scott Chandler, Lee Smith, Chris Gragg

Talent: C+. After bouncing around the Chargers, Giants, and Cowboys early in his career, Chandler has come on strong in the past two seasons, becoming a receiving threat for the Bills. For his size (6-foot-7, 260 pounds), Chandler has impressive athleticism and possesses some ability to pressure the defense up the seam. Gragg, a seventh-round pick, also offers some ability in the passing game, but he is raw. Smith is mostly a blocker with limited upside as a receiver.

Depth: C. Losing Chandler would deal a major blow to this position, although it may not be heavily utilized within offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett's system. Smith or Gragg would be in the bottom 10 percent of NFL starters at tight end. The Bills do possess players at this position who can contribute in different ways (Chandler as a receiver, Smith as a blocker, Gragg as a developmental player), but there are upgradeable pieces.

Reliability: C+. Chandler underwent ACL surgery in January, so his ability to return for the start of training camp was impressive. It doesn't appear the injury will hold him back. Still, if the Bills need to start Smith or Gragg in any games this season, it would be a major question mark.

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