Camp Battles: Denver TE
Youngster Scheffler, veteran Graham itching for looks
When the Broncos outspent the Seahawks in March to acquire tight end Daniel Graham, it stirred up some heavy debate in the Mile High region. The five-year, $30 million deal given to Graham -- $15 million of which was guaranteed -- showed the team's long-term commitment. But what did the deal mean for promising second-year stud Tony Scheffler?
The Broncos will use Graham and Scheffler to help young quarterback Jay Cutler develop, but only one player will walk out of camp with the starting job, and only that player will offer fantasy owners significant value in 2007.
Why Scheffler will keep the job: Last season did not exactly start off with a bang for Scheffler. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound rookie caught just two passes in the Broncos' first six games. But during the year's final month and a half, with Cutler behind center, Scheffler took flight. He snagged three passes for 66 yards and two scores against San Diego, and had touchdowns in each of the Broncos' final two games. The chemistry he had built with Cutler had Denver fans believing the two could serve as the building blocks for the team's future. But two things occurred this offseason to derail those plans. First, the team signed Graham. Then Scheffler broke his foot during the team's May passing camp. He had immediate surgery to insert a screw in his foot. Doctors have assured him that he'll be ready in time for camp, but he should be fully mobile by mid-August, plenty of time for the start of the season.
Why Graham will win it: An outstanding blocker for the Patriots, Graham has been the prototypical gritty tight end during his five years in the league. Denver likes the prospect of pairing him with the team's other blocking tight end, Stephen Alexander, to bolster the rushing attack. But as much as the coaching staff likes his bulk, the Broncos believe he may have been underutilized as a receiver in New England. He did catch 120 passes, including 17 touchdowns, in Bill Belichick's equal opportunity passing attack. Graham is healthier and more experienced than Scheffler, and probably more versatile (Scheffler is not known for his blocking). For these reasons fans should expect the team to peg him as the No. 1 tight end, with Scheffler coming in on obvious passing downs. Another reason Graham will walk away with the job: that $15 million guarantee. Scheffler is still making the nickel salary all second-round picks are stuck with. The Broncos' financial commitment to Graham makes it difficult to believe they will leave him on the bench on first down.
Who fantasy owners should pull for: Scheffler
A much better receiver with big-play (and big-game) ability, Scheffler can make a difference for fantasy owners, whereas Graham can only be a serviceable backup. Graham has never collected more than 409 yards in a season, and his seven TDs in 2004 were an exception to what have been average scoring totals. Even if fans believe what the Broncos believe -- that Graham has room for growth -- it is difficult to believe he has enough room to approach the kind of numbers fantasy owners are looking for. Scheffler, on the other hand, has the tools to become a top-10 fantasy tight end -- and it could happen this season if he wins out in Denver.
Mike Beacom is the senior editor of Pro Fantasy Sports.