He was an undrafted rookie in 2017 and toiled on Buffalo's practice squad for the entire season. In 2018, Jason Croom made Buffalo's 53-man roster and made steady progress through his first year as an NFL tight end. Though the competition around Croom as his position has unquestionably been upgraded, here are three reasons why the second-year tight end's game should provide noticeable improvement.
1. Time on the job
Croom was a neophyte at the tight end position as an undrafted rookie. In college, at Tennessee, Croom converted from wide receiver to tight end for his senior year, but served mostly as a passing option detached from the formation.
When he got to the Bills, Croom's blocking technique was raw at best. The multitude of assignments at tight end far surpassed anything he had to digest in college.
But Croom just got to work on improving his game, mastering his assignments and adding lean muscle to his frame. That coupled with some quality development help from tight ends coach Rob Boras, put Croom in position to challenge for a spot on the 53-man roster in 2018.
After making the roster coming out of training camp last summer, Croom appeared in 15 games and though he was still the understudy to veteran Charles Clay, his time on the field provided him with valuable experience.
This spring, Croom looked very comfortable running routes, executing blocking assignments and making game-changing type plays until a hamstring injury cost him the last three weeks of the spring practices.
Expected to be fully cleared for training camp, Croom should be able to pick up where he left off when he left off. And with Tyler Kroft's status up in the air with a broken foot, Croom figures to assume the number one role at tight end until someone proves they deserve it over him.
2. Scheme familiarity
Buffalo's offensive scheme changed from 2017 to 2018 with Brian Daboll replacing Rick Dennison as coordinator. It forced Croom and everyone else on offense to learn a brand-new system.
Much like he did as a rookie, Croom put in the time to master his assignments and execute on a consistent basis. Now in 2019, the tight end has a firm grasp of Daboll's system and is the only tight end on the roster besides Keith Towbridge with more than a year's worth of experience executing the scheme.
That scheme familiarity had Croom playing confidently during the spring practices, and it should give him an edge as he competes with rookie upstarts Dawson Knox and Tommy Sweeney.
3. Chemistry with the QB
If there's one thing that was clear about Croom's 2018 season, it was that he was just hitting his stride as the season came to a close. Buffalo's offensive staff gave the young tight end more playing time over the last month and a half of the season and Croom ran with it.
More importantly he became a trusted target for Josh Allen in the passing game. Croom was far from a major playmaker, but he flashed in five of the team's last six games of the campaign.
Croom had just 22 receptions on the season, but nine of them came in the last five games he appeared, including a season-high four reception performance for 55 yards against New England.
Down the stretch he and Allen had a budding chemistry brewing in the passing game and Croom was providing at least one chunk play per week late in the year.
Over the team's last three games, Croom turned in at least one reception of 20 yards or more in each of those contests, demonstrating his 'stretch the seam' ability.
His athleticism combined with Allen's ability to hit him anywhere on the field could make for a dangerous combination this fall, especially knowing there will be other pass catching threats that figure to draw a good deal of the attention.