Can Bills tight end Tommy Sweeney step up in Dawson Knox's absence?

The Bills will need to lean more heavily on TE Tommy Sweeney, who has four catches for 4 yards and one touchdown in 2020. AP Photo/Mark Zaleski

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – The Buffalo Bills came into the season with big questions at tight end, and Dawson Knox was the answer through the first six games of the season.

Knox is tied with C.J. Uzomah of the Cincinnati Bengals for the most touchdown receptions by a tight end this season (five) and leads the Bills in receiving scores. Knox earned the trust of quarterback Josh Allen and has the highest catch percentage (77.8%) among Bills players with at least 10 targets this year.

But the Bills are going to have to find another answer at tight end after Knox suffered a fracture in his right hand during the Week 6 loss to the Tennessee Titans. He's expected to miss some time.

“Don't know much more at this point, other than we'll just monitor it, see where it goes here,” coach Sean McDermott said of Knox's injury going into the team’s week off. Knox's absence will test the team’s limited depth at tight end -- primarily with backup Tommy Sweeney.

Sweeney, a 2019 seventh-round pick out of Boston College, caught his first career touchdown pass following Knox’s departure from the game. Primarily a blocking tight end, Sweeney has caught all four passes that have been targeted for him this season. The 26-year-old played six games his rookie year with eight receptions for 114 yards.

Buffalo has two more tight ends on the practice squad who could be called up -- undrafted free agent Quintin Morris and former Houston Texans third-round pick Kahale Warring.

Sweeney did not play in 2020 after starting the season on the physically unable to perform list with a foot injury. He was later diagnosed with myocarditis -- a heart condition and rare side effect of COVID-19 -- that caused him to miss the rest of the season. He is the only known NFL player to be diagnosed with myocarditis linked to COVID-19.

“[The] heart is obviously a pretty serious thing for us human beings. It’s alarming, it is a lot at once. Talking about that, talking about real life, season’s over, talking about the career,” Sweeney said. “... But we were optimistic throughout, which I think helps.”

After initially being placed on the COVID-19/reserve list in Week 7 of last season, Sweeney was not cleared to return to physical activity until the week after the team’s loss in the AFC Championship Game. Sweeney acknowledged the year away didn’t help his development but felt he was able to return without taking a step backward.

But Sweeney hasn't proved yet he can be a reliable receiver, and the Bills might need more help. With the trade deadline set for 4 p.m. ET on Nov. 2, there is a chance the Bills look to bolster their depth at the position, but the team didn't bring in any tight ends for a workout last week.

The Bills will catch a bit of a break with the next four games coming against teams with losing records: Dolphins (1-6), Jaguars (1-5), Jets (1-5) and Colts (3-4). Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll will likely adapt the game plan to not put too much responsibility on Sweeney as a receiver -- perhaps using more four-receiver sets. The Dolphins, however, have allowed the fourth-most yards per catch (13.23) to tight ends this season.

“It’s been a long journey for Tommy, getting off to a good start his first season. And then from there it's been an up-and-down journey, if you will,” McDermott said. “And he's done a tremendous job of being resilient, sticking to it and you get the payoff [with a TD vs. the Titans]. And he's got an opportunity in front of him potentially here as well.”