The Impact of Charles Clay’s Injury

Sunday was a brutal day in the NFL, with serious injury befalling several marquee players. The 2017 season is already over for stars Odell Beckham and Texans duo J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus, while lesser lights Dwayne Harris and Chris Conley also saw their campaigns end early. Another serious-looking injury has also robbed the Bills (and fans of tight end streaming) of Charles Clay.

The knee injury suffered by Charles Clay in the first quarter of the team’s loss to the Bengals led to his having a scope today and will sideline Clay for multiple weeks. Clay has a history of knee issues dating back to at least the 2014 season, but the hit he took looked like one that could have done damage to even the healthiest of knees. Clay cannot seriously claim to own anything approaching this lofty state (nor can I, come to think of it).

It wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to suggest that the former Dolphins TE was the most consistent piece of a fairly low key offensive unit. The image below shows quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s adjusted yards per attempt this season of the player he has targeted at least 10 times.

tyrod

Jordan Matthews may be providing more yards per target, but with only 13 targets he was hardly providing Taylor with much of a safety blanket. Being the focal point of the Bills offense is all very well and good, but was Clay really producing much to get fantasy players excited? The RotoViz Screener app offers the following players as comps for the 2017 season.

clay

In short, Clay was having a bloody good season. His loss will be keenly felt by the Bills.

So who will step in? Nick O’Leary played on 84.3 percent of the team’s snaps on Sunday, way above his previous high of 55.8 percent back in Week 1. He also saw career highs in targets (six), catches (five), and yards (54). A sixth-round pick out of Florida State, O’Leary didn’t exactly offer an exciting range of outcomes as a prospect, which we can see from the Box Score Scout app.

o'leary

I suppose Dwayne Allen isn’t the worst comp in the world, but it is still hard to get too excited about O’Leary in the weeks ahead. He caught 10 passes over his first two seasons and the next reception in 2017 will probably give a new career high in yards.1

An intriguing option on the Bills roster is former QB, Logan Thomas. He saw the first two targets of his career on Sunday, reeling in one of them for three yards. As he came into the league as a signal caller, the Box Score Scout gives us comps who are also QBs. But if we look at the Combine Measurables Tree used by Kevin Cole in his article regarding the combine drills that matter for TEs, there is some cause for intrigue.

combine

 

Thomas ran a 4.58 forty and posted a 118-inch broad jump and 35.5-inch vertical. We are missing a bench score, but otherwise these data points stand up against Cole’s best data nodes. PlayerProfiler.com has Thomas’s best comparable player as Austin Seferian-Jenkins. While this is exciting to consider, we also have to remember that Thomas has been a TE for about five minutes. It would be the stuff of fantasy to expect him to immediately inherit all the targets that Clay has vacated.

Clay’s absence is likely to hit the Bills offense hard. While a combination of O’Leary and Thomas may be able to go some way toward substituting the production, neither are really fantasy-viable options. The big winner could be LeSean McCoy. Already seeing 24 percent of the looks, he could become an absolute target monster. This should bolster his appeal after four games in a row in which he has failed to surpass 76 yards or 3.8 yards per attempt. But from all of us who rely on weekly starts from our TEs, get well soon Charles Clay.

  1. He sits at 107 after Week 5, seven away from his 2016 total of 114.  (back)