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Who is Virgil Green?

Green

One of the ongoing storylines out of the NFL is the increasingly unlikely return of tight end Julius Thomas to Denver. With Demaryius Thomas also entering free agency, reports indicate the wide receiver is more likely to be given the franchise tag or signed to a long-term deal (either representing a large investment for the Broncos for the 2015 season). Consequently, and as a result of poor health and attitude also likely playing a role, the tight end appears headed out the door. Dynasty owners are programmed to immediately look for the implications on fantasy value, both for Thomas as well as the player next in line for opportunity. As the situation currently stands, that player is most likely Virgil Green.

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A former basketball and track standout (haven’t we heard this before regarding tight ends from the Broncos?), Green attended the University of Nevada (UNV) from 2007 through 2010. In 50 games with UNV, he caught 72 passes for 939 yards and eleven touchdowns. After playing primarily special teams as a freshman, he became a starter as a sophomore and developed a reputation for being a reliable leader despite less-than-stellar numbers on the stat sheet and was a favorite red zone target for quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

The 6’5”, 255-pound Green demonstrated the athleticism scouts raved about at the 2011 NFL Combine. He was third among tight ends with a 4.64-second 40-yard dash, tied for fifth with 23 bench press reps, match Rob Housler’s fourth-place 6.90-second 3-cone drill, finished second with a 11.63-second 60-yard shuttle, placed in the top ten in the 20-yard shuttle and was first by a wide margin with a 42.5-inch vertical jump (Jordan Cameron was second with 37.5-inches) and 10’10” broad jump (Lance Kendricks was second with 10’2”). In all, he placed in the top ten in all of these categories and separated himself from the field.

Weeks later, Green was selected as the tenth tight end off the board (including after Julius Thomas) with the first pick of the seventh round after Denver traded up with Green Bay. His draft spot was generally in line with pre-Combine projections, though his incredible performance had understandably raised expectations.

Beyond the impressive measurables, there is a lot to like about Green’s game. He accelerates well off the line and doesn’t slow down. Though on the smaller side for a tight end, his speed and athleticism create mismatches for defenses. Reliable hands, an ability to gain yards after the catch and (by all accounts) and excellent character with a high football IQ are all strong points for Green, as well as for the Broncos to retain him in free agency and increase his opportunities.

Limitations to his game center around a lack of strength. He is a below-average blocker, particularly on passing plays, which by itself restricts his upside as it will keep him off the field when the tight end’s assignment is exclusively to block. Green’s route-running still needs work as well, having faced weak competition in college and limited opportunities to refine the skill at the professional level.

Those limited opportunities have translated to equally limited statistics in Green’s four years with the Broncos. He has only 23 career receptions on 29 targets for 206 yards and a single touchdown, though this shows a strong efficiency for catching the passes thrown in his direction (including a perfect six receptions on six targets in 2014). His only career touchdown was scored this past December. Noteworthy is that he has played an important role on special teams, increasing his value to the team and likelihood that he is retained in free agency.

With Julius Thomas reportedly seeking Jimmy Graham money in free agency and the franchise tag going elsewhere, the number one tight end on the depth chart is no longer an obstacle. Veteran Jacob Tamme is also an unrestricted free agent. As a result, Denver only one player at the position heading into 2015 – third-year player Dominique Jones, who is signed through 2015. Tamme is expected back, though he and Jones are depth options with little upside in the passing game. Assuming Green returns, which is probable but not guaranteed, he faces little competition for targets at tight end.

Among the free agent options Denver has to replace Thomas are Cameron, Charles Clay, Niles Paul and Jermaine Gresham. With key players entering free agency on the offensive line, wide receiver and throughout the defense, tight end is far from the only position of need for Denver management. Therefore, it would be surprising for them to spend big money on a player like Cameron. Though each of the others listed here would represent a solid acquisition, Clay has dealt with injuries, Paul is a very poor blocker and Gresham has largely been considered a disappointment.

On the draft side of the equation, Denver has recently been rumored to have interest in using their first round pick on former Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams. Should that occur, it wouldn’t necessarily mean doom for Green’s prospects in the short term with Denver. Even the most promising rookie tight ends rarely make a strong impact early on (see Eric Ebron, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Jace Amaro from the 2014 class as prime examples). If the Broncos do take Williams, expect them to look for a one- to two-year veteran presence, so retaining a familiar face like Green would make a lot of sense.

The presence of new head coach Gary Kubiak ensures that the tight end will remain a focal point of the offense despite extensive turnover on the coaching staff. Though this will undoubtedly also fire up rumors of Kubiak favorite Owen Daniels to follow him to Denver, there is plenty of need on the depth chart and would likely come at the expense of Tamme rather than Green.

As a receiver, it is only the presence of Julius Thomas that has held Green back from a more prominent role on the offense. Green has the athleticism and talent to be an effective move tight end in the NFL, though perhaps with a limited ceiling unless he improves his blocking and route-running. At minimum, anticipate he will have an increased role with the Broncos or elsewhere should another team target his receiving skills in free agency.

Green may not have the upside of a TE1, but it is reasonable to foresee a few receptions per game as a reliable TE2 should the opportunity arise. Monitor Denver’s actions in free agency in early March, at tight end as well as with the caliber of players they are reviewing for other positions, to get clues as to whether Green may emerge as their top option at tight end. If this appears to be their direction, he’s a good player to target for depth before his price increases.

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Lance McGannon
7 years ago

In the TE-premium league I’m in Virgil Green, Crockett Gillmore, Rob Housler, Josh Hill, Dion Sims, Demetrius Harris, and Taylor Thompson are all available. How would you rank these young TEs? I already have Charles Clay and LaDarius Green on my roster.

Jaron
7 years ago

I’d rank them Green, Gillmore, Sims, Housler, Harris, Thompson. Most of that is based on how I currently perceive their opportunities, but it’s the order I’d prioritize those guys in TE-premium waivers.

Lance McGannon
7 years ago

Thanks Jaron! Just need to find roster space now!

Ariakis
7 years ago

I assume Willson among others is still a better flier for your TE2/3 stash?

Jaron
Reply to  Ariakis
7 years ago

Yes, though Zach Miller will be returning and the TE hasn’t been utilized heavily in Seattle, I like Willson’s talent and would have him up with Green in terms of waiver pickups.

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