Buffalo Bills 2020 Vision: A Tyler Kroft Retrospective

WOW, what a game that was! The Bills pulled victory from the jaws of defeat after losing a 25-point lead. I’m sure we all assumed that Stefon Diggs would be limited and the supporting cast would have to pick up the slack, but I didn’t think they would be able to spread the ball around that much. I have to give props to Cole Beasley, Gabriel Davis, Devin Singletary, and 1-snap wonder Lee Smith for stepping up when they were called upon. However, there was one player, beyond Josh Allen, who ultimately decided that game: Tyler Kroft. The 6th-year tight end performed admirably in place of Dawson Knox, catching four out of five targets for 24 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner with 15 seconds left.

Many, including myself, had little expectations for Kroft entering this season because of his underwhelming 2019 season (6 catches, 71 yards, and 1 touchdown on 14 targets in 11 games). His first year in Buffalo was so bad he had to restructure his contract in the offseason, voiding the third year of his deal and making 2020 a “prove it” year. In fact, I gave him a lukewarm endorsement in my first article:

From “Buffalo Bills 2020 53-Man Roster Projection”. (Courtesy of Buffalo Fanatics)

After seeing Kroft’s performance this past Sunday, I think he deserves the “2020 Vision” treatment. So, in this installment, I will examine his complex relationship with Buffalo and predict his career potential.

2017: Ending the Drought

Kroft got his first opportunity when he replaced Tyler Eifert two games into the 2017 season. He would go on to record the 4th most catches (42), 3rd most receiving yards (404), and 2nd most touchdowns (7) on the team. Heading into Week 17, the Bills needed a win and a Baltimore loss to end the drought. They beat the Dolphins and headed into the visitor’s locker room to watch the end of the Ravens-Bengals game. We all know how this game ended. Tyler Boyd and Andy Dalton received all the credit for ending the Bills drought on that 49-yard pass, but you may not know that Tyler Kroft tallied 53 yards on six catches and scored Cincinnati’s first two touchdowns in that game.

Tyler Kroft (#81) catches the first of two touchdowns against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 17 of the 2017 Season. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

2018 would be less productive for Kroft, as he landed on injured reserve after five games. After the season, he would leave Cincinnati as a free agent to join the team he helped send to the playoffs.

2019: One Big Catch

The Buffalo Bills signed Kroft to a 3-year, $18.75 million contract in March 2019. The expectation that he would be the starting tight end. That plan was derailed in July when he landed on the physically unable to perform list with a foot injury. He would miss the first five games and lose the starting job to rookie Dawson Knox. Kroft would make no notable contributions until Week 15 when he would catch the game-winning touchdown in Pittsburgh. That score would clinch Buffalo’s second playoff berth in three years.

Kroft celebrates his game-winning touchdown against the Steelers in Week 15 of the 2019 Season. (Barry Reeger/PennLive Patriot-News)

To quote a popular adage, “once is an accident, twice is coincidence, three times is a pattern”. Tyler Kroft has shown Bills fans time and again that he can make plays in crucial situations.

Career Potential

The Buffalo Bills do not have a rich history of pass catching tight ends; they have never had a Tony Gonzalez or Rob Gronkowski. However, they have had some quality role players at the position over the past 30 years. When I see Tyler Kroft on the field making plays, I think about one of Lee Smith’s former teammates.

Ceiling: Scott Chandler

Scott Chandler (#84) scores the first of two touchdowns against Washington in Week 8 of the 2011 Season. (AP Photo/David Duprey)

Chandler had a big frame (6’7”, 270 lbs.), a motor, and solid hands, making him a defensive mismatch on the field and a valuable red zone target. He became one of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s go-to receivers, tallying 960 yards and 12 touchdowns in two seasons with the bearded one. While his touchdown total declined in his final two seasons, Chandler remained an effective offensive contributor, catching 100 passes for 1,152 yards from the likes of E.J. Manuel, Thad Lewis, Jeff Tuel, and Kyle Orton.

Floor: Jay Riemersma

Jay Riemersma (#85) is tackled after catching a pass against Washington. (John McDonnell/Washington Post)

I was born in 1996, so I am too young to remember Riemersma’s tenure. However, after reading the ancient scrolls, I can see that he was a solid tight end in Buffalo, tallying 204 catches, 2,304 yards, and 20 touchdowns in six seasons.

If Tyler Kroft can retain the starting job, he could become a weekly contributor on offense, like Chandler and Riemersma. As we saw against the Rams, Kroft can use his sturdy 6’6”, 252 lb. frame to make big plays all over the field. Additionally, like Chandler and Riemersma, he has also overcome his share of adversity to come back stronger and work harder. Tyler Kroft may not be the tight end Bills Mafia wants, but he could be the one we deserve. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Author Notes

* All player, team, and game stats provided by Pro Football Reference.

* Contract details provided by Spotrac.

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