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2014 NFL training camp: Arizona Cardinals tight ends improved and pretty set

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Previewing the next position group.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Training camp practices begin in one week! Today we will look at the tight end position as we continue our position-by-position series.

Let's look at who are the tight ends on the roster, who the locks are to make the team, the players likely to make it, the longshots (there aren't really any bubble players right now) and the most pertinent questions surrounding the position entering this season.

Who are the tight ends?

On the roster, the Cardinals currently have six players at tight end. They are:

Jake Ballard: a fourth-year player, a Cardinals late-season pickup in 2013, re-signed for one year this offseason

John Carlson: a seventh-year veteran, signed as a free agent this offseason by Arizona for two years

Darren Fells: a first-year player, added to the practice squad last season, former basketball player

Andre Hardy: a first-year player, a former basketball player, signed to a future contract this offseason

Rob Housler: a fourth-year player, a third round Cardinals pick in 2011

Troy Niklas: a rookie, second round Cardinals pick this year

Who are roster locks?

The truth is that, excluding Hardy and Fells, the group is a lock. However, I will allow for some wiggle room. John Carlson is a lock because he was a free agent target this past offseason and he has been absolutely fantastic this offseason, by all reports.

Second round pick Troy Niklas is also a lock. You don't draft second rounders to cut them before their first season.

Who else is likely to make the roster?

Jake Ballard and Rob Housler are pretty close to locks, but, hey, just go with it. Ballard is actually one of the two starters at the position right now. He was very reliable down the stretch in 2013 and has the size and skill Bruce Arians seeks at the position.

Housler has been very good in the offseason, but now that he is pushed down the depth chart, he has to work more. I think he will still be an important contributor, but he is not a lock as he enters the final year of his contract.

Who are the longshots?

The two former basketball players in Hardy and Fells have the toughest road to the roster. While one could land on the practice squad as Fells was last season, Arians said they were struggling a bit.

Questions entering camp:

How much will injuries play into the production of the tight ends? Carlson has been hurt. Ballard took a long time to get healthy. Rob Housler has gotten nicked up every year. Niklas went from recovering from hernia surgery to a broken hand.

How will it be until Niklas gets playing time? Will he miss any of training camp with his broken hand?

Does Arians finally have the tight end room he wants?

Can Rob Housler finally break out?

Can Fells or Hardy progress enough to surpass Housler and make it so he is let go?


Potentially, this could be a fantastic group. They are big and do what Arians wants. Will the position produce like it never has before?