22 - 3 reasons Charles Clay will excel in 2017

Posted Jul 6, 2017

Charles Clay's production in the passing game may not have fully met the expectations of Bills fans, but here's why 2017 should prove to be his most productive season in a Bills uniform.

Camp Countdown presented by M&T Bank will examine some of the more pressing issues facing the team on the field as they make their final preparations for the regular season. We also focus on a few different areas that impact the team off the field. We’ll address these subjects one at a time until training camp begins. Here now is the latest daily installment as we carefully probe for some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 27th and the Sept. 10th opener at New Era Field against the New York Jets.

Since Charles Clay was signed away from the division rival Dolphins two offseasons ago with a blockbuster offer sheet, it’s hasn’t been easy for him to prove to Bills fans he was worth the money. This despite the fact that he led the team in receptions last season, was second in receiving yards and tied for the club lead in receiving touchdowns.

Entering 2017 with a new offensive coordinator in Rick Dennison, the prospects for Clay to have an even more productive campaign this fall are encouraging. Here’s why.

Taylor’s improvement
A common complaint among Bills fans the past two seasons with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback, was his perceived inability to consistently find targets in the middle of the field. This was often where Charles Clay was running free and ready to make a play.

While there were times that Taylor just didn’t see an open Clay, Buffalo’s quarterback did appear to improve his field vision between the numbers toward the end of the 2016 season.

In Taylor’s last two starts, he targeted Clay 17 times, mostly in the middle of the field. Buffalo’s top tight end was extremely productive in those two games with 15 receptions for 157 yards and three touchdowns.

It would’ve been nice to witness further progress in the season finale, but Taylor was not given the start in Week 17 against the Jets.

Though it was only two games, it looked like Taylor’s passing exploits had taken a noticeable step forward, so there’s no reason to think the tandem can’t pick up where they left off.

Offensive scheme
The scheme change under new coordinator Rick Dennison will not ignore the tight end at all. Over the recent history of the scheme in Houston, Baltimore and Denver (in two separate stints) Dennison and play calling comrade Gary Kubiak had a lot of plays dialed up for the tight end.

In five of the last 10 seasons in which Dennison was either the coordinator or quarterbacks coach, the tight end on the roster finished either first or second in receptions and/or touchdown catches.

In Houston, for example, Owen Daniels led the Texans in receptions in 2011. His numbers increased in 2012 and he led the team in touchdown receptions. Then in 2013 when Garrett Graham became the top tight end, he led the team in touchdown catches.

Daniels followed Kubiak and Dennison to Baltimore and Denver and put up comparable figures in their scheme despite annual changes at quarterback. Receptions typically numbered between 50 and 65, and touchdowns were usually between three and six.

“I think Charles [Clay] has been a good player over the years and obviously he’s had some big years,” Dennison said. “I think he’ll be fine in this system and that will all work itself out. I don’t have any problem at all with how Charles is working and he’s studying and trying to get – he actually had a couple of great routes over the (practices), just things that we’ve done over the years that some of the guys that we’ve had [have done].”

Part of the reason there weren’t even more receptions for the tight end in the offensive scheme is because there is heavy use of the feature back as a receiving option. LeSean McCoy is expected to fall into such a category. Could it compromise Clay’s production? It’s possible, but the same season that Daniels had a team-leading 54 catches in 2011 for Houston, RB Arian Foster was second with 53.

Clay will have more than his share of opportunities to make plays.

On field chemistry
On an offense where some of the passing weapons will be brand new, it will be only natural for Tyrod Taylor to gravitate to the weapons he has the most history with on the field.

For Taylor that’s Clay. The two have appeared together in 25 of the last 32 games played by the Bills, more than any other receiving target currently on the roster including McCoy (24).

Until Taylor is able to establish more of an on-field rapport with the rest of Buffalo’s receiving corps, Clay will be a teammate Buffalo’s quarterback will be looking for and relying on to make plays. That should translate into even more opportunities than he had in 2016.