Rosters have taken shape around the NFL with the height of free agency in the rearview, along with the 2023 NFL Draft. From re-signings to undrafted free agent pickups, each organization is striving to make a mark in 2023. A new year begins, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have put the past behind and are embracing the future. Excitement builds for the Bucs' revamped offense under the direction of new Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales. Each Bucs position group will be evaluated during the offseason workout program as turnover shifts the depth chart. Next up in the series, let's take a look at the tight end position.
After the departure of Rob Gronkowski and O.J. Howard last offseason, the Buccaneers prioritized the position in the 2022 NFL Draft, selecting Washington's Cade Otton in the fourth round and Minnesota's Ko Kieft in the sixth round. Both made significant contributions during their respective rookie campaigns with Tampa Bay. Otton was utilized as a prototypical hybrid 'Y' tight end and Kieft primarily served as a blocker inline.
Otton, who earned the starting role last season, concluded his rookie year with 391 receiving yards on 42 receptions (led all rookie tight ends), a 9.3 average per catch and two touchdowns, including the game-winning score against the L.A. Rams. Otton quickly gained the trust of reverse-aging Tom Brady by showcasing his ability to sustain his blocks, sink when breaking on routes and finding soft spots versus zone coverage. He was a threat underneath and out of the flat, elevating the Bucs' offense down the stretch. Otton took hard hits down the seam in traffic and produced 19 first downs, consistently moving the chains for the Buccaneers. Kieft used his blocking prowess at the line of scrimmage to create in the run/pass game, providing opportunities for teammates. Kieft finished the season with 80 yards on seven receptions and a touchdown. He made an impact on special teams' coverage, accumulating a team-high 11 tackles (seven solo) on special teams.
In January, the Bucs continued to bolster the tight end room and signed former Green Bay Packers tight end Dominique Dafney to a reserve/futures deal. Dafney (6-3, 235) most recently spent a week on the Indianapolis Colts' practice squad in December and was previously on the Denver Broncos' practice squad for a month earlier in the season. He went to training camp this past summer with the Green Bay Packers but was waived in August with an injury settlement. Dafney went undrafted in 2020 and did not immediately sign with any team. He originally entered the league as a rookie free agent with the Colts in August but was waived on the final roster cuts. Dafney then signed to the Packers' practice squad and later got promoted to the active roster, seeing action in five games with two starts and catching two passes for 26 yards and a touchdown. He played another 10 games, with two starts, for the Packers in 2021 and added two more receptions for 34 yards.
Additionally, the Bucs signed David Wells to the team's practice squad in September of 2022 after releasing JJ Howland. Wells originally entered the league as a college free agent with the Dallas Cowboys in 2018. He has since spent time with the Kansas City Chiefs (2018-19), New England Patriots (2020-21), Atlanta Falcons (2021), Indianapolis Colts (2021) and Arizona Cardinals (2021-22) prior to signing with the Titans this past training camp. Wells has appeared in three career games, with one start, all for the Arizona Cardinals in 2021. The California native was a two-time All-Mountain West selection at San Diego State (2013-17).
After the Bucs opted to not re-sign veteran Cam Brate or Kyle Rudolph, the club once again looked to the draft to reload. Tampa Bay selected Purdue's Payne Durham in the fifth round (pick 171 overall). The Bucs traded up from 175 to 171 in order to acquire Durham, giving the Rams' their seventh-round pick (252) and 175th overall pick. Durham served as a 'Y' tight end in the Boilermakers' spread offense, dividing his snaps between the slot and inline. In 2022, Durham accumulated 56 receptions for 560 yards and eight touchdowns. He has a large catch radius and is adept at catching outside of his frame. Durham presents another large target for the man who wins the signal-caller duties under center. Behind Otton and Kieft, Durham, Wells and Dafney will fight to make their presence felt on the practice field at the AdventHealth Training Center.
Position Group: Tight End
- Dominique Dafney
- Payne Durham
- Ko Kieft
- Cade Otton
- David Wells