2016 Chargers positional outlook: Tight End

May 14, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers tight end Hunter Henry (86) runs after a catch during rookie mini camp at Charger Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
May 14, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers tight end Hunter Henry (86) runs after a catch during rookie mini camp at Charger Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports /

Though we are still several weeks away from training camp, where the real position battles will begin, I have started a new weekly series looking into each positional unit for the San Diego Chargers.

Rosters around the league are sitting right around 90 players right now and by the time the season starts, nearly half of those 90 will be looking for jobs elsewhere.

Here, we will delve into the San Diego Chargers roster position-by-position, laying the groundwork for what’s to come later this summer. We will talk about the players at each position and determine which ones will make the final 53-man roster. Once training camp starts, it may be necessary to revisit some of the positions and look back at the original predictions.

To this point, I have covered the running backs and safety spots. Today, we’ll take a closer look at the tight end position.

Last season, Chargers tight ends accounted for 103 receptions, however, two of the three tight ends the team used—Ladarius Green and John Phillips—are no longer with the team.

As a result, the Chargers used a high draft pick to bring in Hunter Henry from Arkansas. Though he has clearly been tabbed as the heir apparent to Antonio Gates, he figures to receive substantial playing time as a rookie.

The big question for the team will be how many tight ends to keep on the roster. Three is the likely number, but it shouldn’t be surprising to see them go with four. Let’s take a look at the team’s tight ends.

Locks to Make the Team

Nov 29, 2015; Jacksonville, FL, USA; San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates (center) looking on during pre-game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field. The Chargers won 31-25.at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Jim Steve-USA TODAY Sports

Antonio Gates: One of the best tight ends in NFL history, Antonio Gates will return for his fourteenth season with the franchise. Though his numbers were down last year due to a league-mandated suspension, Gates still caught five touchdown passes.

Look for him to be a factor in the red zone where he will still be one of the favorite targets of quarterback Philip Rivers. If he can catch eight touchdowns this season, he will surpass Tony Gonzalez as the NFL’s all-time leader for touchdown receptions by a tight end.

Nov 22, 2014; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks tight end Hunter Henry (84) runs after a catch in the first half against the Ole Miss Rebels at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Hunter Henry: Easily the best tight end in this year’s draft, the Chargers were able to get Hunter Henry in the second round.

He had 116 receptions in three seasons at Arkansas. With a solid pair of hands, he will snag just about anything thrown his way and he can stay on the field for all three downs as he is a terrific blocker. Don’t be at all surprised to see him get many more snaps than Gates does this year.

Next Level

Sean McGrath: Sean McGrath is an interesting player, despite the fact he hasn’t caught a single pass in San Diego.

In 2013, he played in all 16 games for the Kansas City Chiefs, catching 26 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns. However, he announced plans to retire the following year.

He came out of retirement shortly thereafter, trying to catch on with the Indianapolis Colts. After they cut him, San Diego decided to give him a shot.

At 6’5″, McGrath is a big target who can move with the ball in his hands. If he can return to his 2013 form, there is a spot on this team for him.

Dec 13, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets tight end Jeff Cumberland (85) reaches for a pass against the Tennessee Titans at MetLife Stadium. The Jets won, 30-8. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Cumberland: After spending six seasons with the New York Jets, Jeff Cumberland now comes over to the west coast of the country looking to prove he belongs.

In New York, Cumberland played in 61 games over the last four seasons and has 86 career receptions with 10 touchdowns. Though he was often overlooked during his time with the Jets, he was a player that would come up with timely catches for the team.

Even if the Chargers decide to keep just three tight ends, he could receive one of those spots. It will be tough to let him go as he is a solid, trusted veteran.

Wild Card

Aug 28, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; San Francisco 49ers tight end Asante Cleveland (45) scores a touchdown past Houston Texans defensive back Eddie Pleasant (35) during the first half at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Asante Cleveland: Though he has little regular-season playing experience and only one career reception, Asante Cleveland is coming off a season spent with the New England Patriots, a team that uses its tight ends as well as any team in the league.

Did Cleveland gain any knowledge during that time that he can bring to San Diego? After Cleveland was released by the Patriots, the Chargers were quick to jump on him, bringing him in just three days later.

Cleveland is a big, 6’5″ target as well, and he could find a role on this team if he can outplay guys like Cumberland and McGrath during training camp and preseason.

Won’t Make Final Roster

Aug 29, 2015; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Atlanta Falcons cornerbacksTravis Howard (33) and Kevin White (27) combine to stop Miami Dolphins tight end Tim Semisch (82) during the second half of an NFL preseason football game at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Tim Semisch: At 6’8″, Tim Semisch is a huge target, but he just doesn’t have the set of skills it will take to earn a roster spot over veterans like Cumberland. He would need to have a massive training camp in order for the coaching staff to consider him for the 53-man roster, but at this particular point in time, it seems unlikely that he’ll even survive the first round of roster cuts.

Sep 26, 2015; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Bulls tight end Matt Weiser (89) runs the ball in for a touchdown after a catch during the first half against the Nevada Wolf Pack at University of Buffalo Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Weiser: Undrafted out of Buffalo, Matt Weiser caught 92 passes during his college career, including 63 during the 2015 season. Only two tight ends in all of college football caught more passes last season.

Still, Weiser will be fighting an uphill battle in order to make the team. His odds of doing so are not very good, however, he should be considered a solid prospect to land on the team’s practice squad.

In terms of listing each tight end in order of their chances of making the team, I would rank them in this order.

  1. Hunter Henry
  2. Antonio Gates
  3. Jeff Cumberland
  4. Sean McGrath
  5. Asante Cleveland
  6. Matt Weiser
  7. Tim Semisch

Will that order change for the season starts? We’ll have to wait and see.