Parsing the AFC East's tight ends

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The tight ends in the AFC East -- including the Jets' Dustin Keller, the Patriots' Ben Watson and the Dolphins' Anthony Fasano -- are mostly afterthoughts in the passing game.Note: Thursday and Friday, Scouts Inc.’s Matt Williamson is reviewing key aspects of AFC East teams. Thursday, he reviewed and ranked the division’s secondaries from best to worst. Today, he is examining the lack of prominence of the AFC East's tight ends.

The tight end position really seems to be an afterthought in this division.

One reason is three out of the four AFC East defenses play a 3-4 scheme, with the Buffalo Bills going that direction in 2010 to make it four out of four. Why should that matter?

The 3-4 emphasizes speedy outside linebackers, so these offenses feel the need to keep their tight ends in to block on pass plays. Along those lines, this is also quite possibly the most physical division in the league. In order to be physical on offense, a team needs a strong, inline blocking tight end to help the running game.

While the Bills and the Miami Dolphins have not used prime resources at this position, the same cannot be said for the New England Patriots and New York Jets. Each team has used first-round draft choices on tight ends: The Patriots selected Benjamin Watson, now a pending unrestricted free agent, in the 2004 draft; and the Jets picked Dustin Keller in 2008.

Keller is the wild card of the lot. The Jets have been able to use Keller as a pass-catching weapon. They can do this because their offensive line is strong and the Jets also have a good blocking tight end in Ben Hartsock. Although Keller is inconsistent, he has a chance to be an asset to quarterback Mark Sanchez's development. Keller can attack a defense from many different spots in the formation, giving him the opportunity to match up against linebacker coverage. Keller could break out in 2010.

The Pats and Watson are in a state of flux. Many believe that he will not return to New England. If that is true, the Patriots next option is Chris Baker, who is ordinary in all facets. Watson is very athletic, but he’s too much of a liability as a blocker, particularly in this division. Considering the uncertain state of the Patriots’ wide receiver position, upgrading at tight end would make a lot of sense for New England.

In Miami, I can live with Anthony Fasano. Of course he isn’t real flashy, but he does sure fit the Bill Parcells mold at the position. He is smart, tough, a hammer in the run game and has been productive near the goal line. The problem here is that Miami is just so weak at wide receiver that Fasano’s lack of big-play ability is exposed. But this is a solid football player. Backup Joey Haynos gets a lot of playing time, but his role as a blocker is pretty clear. He isn’t going to cause any mismatches in the passing game.

Buffalo gets so little out of their tight ends. The threesome of Derek Schouman, Derek Fine and Shawn Nelson were among the worst in the league, and Fine recently was released. The fact that the Bills offensive tackle position is simply horrendous doesn’t help the tight ends’ pass-catching potential. With the possible exception of Nelson, calling the Bills’ tight end corp underwhelming would be a massive compliment.