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Can Greg Dulcich be the answer at tight end for Sean Payton's Denver Broncos?

Henry Chisholm Avatar
January 25, 2024

Welcome to State of the Team, where we’ll take a look back at the 2023 Denver Broncos and take a peek at what could be in store in 2024.

Earlier this week, we looked at the Broncos’ running backs, which you can check out here…

Next up is the Broncos’ tight ends. Let’s dig in.

Broncos Tight Ends Under Contract

Greg Dulcich, 23 — Two years remaining on rookie contract. Only played 32 snaps in 2023 because of hamstring and foot injuries, after finishing second in receiving yards among rookie tight ends in 2022.

Chris Manhertz, 31 — Joined the Broncos on a two-year deal ahead of the 2023 season. Served as the Broncos’ blocking specialist. Caught two passes for 16 yards while playing the second-most snaps of any Broncos’ tight end.

Nate Adkins, 24 — Three years left on rookie contract. Made the Broncos’ roster as an undrafted free agent out of South Carolina. Appeared in 10 games. Served primarily as a blocking specialist. Caught four passes for 22 yards.

Lucas Krull, 25 — Two years of team control remaining. Joined the Broncos’ practice squad before the season. Split time between the practice squad and the active roster. Played the third-most snaps of any Broncos tight end. Caught eight passes for 95 yards and a touchdown.

Broncos Free Agent Tight Ends

Adam Trautman, 26 — Joined the Broncos via trade before the 2023 season with one year remaining on his contract. Started 12 games and led Broncos tight ends in snaps played, receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns.

Johnny Lumpkin, 26 — Joined the Broncos’ practice squad in the final week of the season. Big-bodied tight end who shut down rumors of a potential move to tackle. Capable athlete who hasn’t played in an NFL game.

2023 Grade: D

The Broncos’ tight ends weren’t just bad receivers in 2023. They were horrible. The Broncos’ tight ends finished dead last in the NFL in total receiving yards.

The Broncos built their tight ends room to be well-rounded. Chris Manhertz was the inline blocker. Nate Adkins was a blocker who could move around the formation. Greg Dulcich is a receiving tight end who would play primarily flexed into the slot. Adam Trautman could blend all of the above to keep defenses honest.

With Dulcich injured for most of the season, the Broncos’ plans fell apart.

Denver tried Trautman in the flex role. The results were weak.

They elevated Lucas Krull and gave him the flex reps. The results improved slightly, but not enough to provide a threat to defenses.

The Broncos never found a way to involve their tight ends from the inline position either. Seam routes didn’t work. Crossers didn’t work. Occasionally a tight end would leak out into the flat and become available for a modest gain.

From a blocking perspective, the Broncos’ tight ends were great. Manhertz showed why he’s one of the best blocking tight ends in the league. Adkins showed he’s capable to join that group.

But with nobody stretch the middle of the field, defenses loaded the box. I wonder if the running game would have benefitted more from having a receiving threat who kept defenses honest than it did with stellar blockers.

While each of the Broncos’ tight ends proved worthy of a role in the offense, the lack of a player who could fill the receiving role (arguably the most important role for a tight end in the modern NFL) dooms their grade.

The Big Question: Will the Broncos find a pass-catching tight end?

A healthy Greg Dulcich would alleviate concerns about the pass-catching ability of the Broncos’ tight ends, but he isn’t a perfect player.

So far, Dulcich hasn’t proven himself to be an option as a blocker. That’s why he was flexed into the slot or out wide on the majority of his snaps as a rookie. He spent even less time inline in 2023, although there was a very small sample size.

Maybe Dulcich will grow into an every-down option at tight end, but he hasn’t shown that capability yet.

The even bigger question is whether he will be able to stay on the field. Dulcich missed the first five games of his rookie season with a hamstring injury. He missed the final two games, too.

In 2023, he only saw the field in two games, thanks in part to two more hamstring injuries.

If Dulcich is healthy, he’s a weapon when flexed out. Defenses will struggle to decide which personnel to use, which is the exact bind that Sean Payton has created his name off of.

But even if he’s healthy, the Broncos will need to give significant reps to another inline tight end. Manhertz and Adkins are options, but neither figures to provide much pop as a receiver.

Lucas Krull is the X-factor, as he has the size to be a successful blocker and the Broncos see his strength as a receiver. But rolling the dice on an unproven player might leave the Broncos in the same situation they found themselves in this year.

Bringing back Trautman as an every-down option is the easy answer if the Broncos are willing to bet on Dulcich’s health.

The Broncos’ tight end room needs to be reshuffled. The pieces don’t add up the way Denver needs them to. With a lack of assets at their disposal, the Broncos might not be able to rebuild the position correctly this offseason.

Salary Cap Implications

The Broncos enter the offseason $30 million over the salary cap, which means they’ll have to make drastic moves to reduce their spending, but they won’t be able to save much at the tight end position.

Chris Manhertz is the only tight end the Broncos could move on from and save a substantial amount of money. If the veteran isn’t on the team at the start of the year, Denver will save a little more than $2 million. (Remember that some of that money would be used to add a player to the roster, so the final savings are half that amount at most.)

Manhertz played the 13th-most snaps of any Bronco last season, and the second-most snaps of any tight end behind Adam Trautman. If the Broncos move on from the veteran, it will be because they’d rather roll with the young guys, not for financial reasons.

Potential Additions

The most-likely addition is Adam Trautman, who is an unrestricted free agent. He probably won’t cost to much more than he did on his rookie deal.

If the Broncos decide to invest more into the position, they’ll have plenty of options.

Dalton Schultz, 27, is back on the market after taking a one-year deal last season. He put up 635 yards and five touchdowns for the Texans. Over the past four seasons, he’s averaged more than 650 yards and more than five touchdowns per season. He’s a solid blocker. A couple of postseason drops in the past two years have hurt his stock, but if those are a problem in Denver that would mean the Broncos made the playoffs for the first time in eight years.

Other veterans options include Hunter Henry, Gerald Everett, Austin Hooper and Mike Gesicki. None of them figure to break the bank.

The best storyline would be a return for Noah Fant, whom the Broncos traded to Seattle as part of the package for Russell Wilson. His two seasons in Seattle were the two least productive of his career, but that’s why he could be a cheap option to boost the receiving production.

The Broncos could also look to the draft, where numerous options exist.

The top draft option by a mile is Brock Bowers of Georgia. He was an immediate star for the Crimson Tide and has been a first-round lock for years. He might be the best player in the draft, but tight end isn’t a premium position so he may slide to the 12th pick.

The Broncos will add a tight end this offseason, but how much they’re willing to invest the question.

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