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Top Five 2016 NFL Draft Prospects- Tight End
These guys will be asked to be blockers in the run game and pass catchers for quarterbacks. Today I rank the top five tight end prospects for the upcoming NFL Draft.
1. Hunter Henry, Arkansas
Bio: In three years as Razorback, Hunter Henry proved himself to be a reliable pass target in a run oriented offense. He also was involved in one of the greatest plays in school history where during the Arkansas-Ole Miss he caught a pass on fourth and 25 then flipped back to running back Alex Collins who ran it for the first down. The play eventually set up the game winning touchdown and two-point conversion. After the season, Henry was named the John Mackey award winner as the nation's top tight end. He decided to forgo his final season and enter the draft.
Strengths: Flat footed beast as a run blocker and a big part of Arkansas' success in the running game. Strikes into the core of defenders with inside hands and blocks with a strong base. Able to turn outside linebackers and cornerbacks out of position and sustains his blocks as long as he can. Had no drops and 51 catches this season. Able to secure contested catches and hits won't scare him away from the catch. Able to work all three levels as a go to target and ideal safety blanket. Too skilled to be covered by most linebackers. Able to run a variety of routes and is always on the field.
Weaknesses: Occasionally gets a little grabby as a run blocker as he was penalized for three holding calls in 2015. A little too upright into his breaks with rounded turns over sharp cuts. Can be a little troubled when adjusting his routes to traffic.
Projected Round: 1-2
Possible landing spot: Pittsburgh Steelers
2. Austin Hooper, Stanford
Bio: After redshirting his first year at Stanford in 2013, Austin Hooper played in all 13 games as a redshirt freshman. In 2015, he was a finalist for the John Mackey award and was named to he All-PAC-12 team. He still had two years of eligibility but decided to enter the draft.
Strengths: Athletic and lanky frame with broad shoulders and long limbs that should be able to withstand another 10 to 15 pounds of muscle without loss of quickness. Surprisingly proficient run blocker given his age and build. Long arms and strong hands to latch on and sustain blocks. Accelerates smoothly and possesses good balance and agility to generate separation when running routes. Collects the ball easily outside of his frame. Determined runner after the catch lowering his shoulder and spinning through tacklers for additional yardage. Intriguing prospect whose best football is still ahead of him.
Weaknesses: May need a year in an NFL weight room before seeing significant time on the field. Accelerates smoothly, but doesn't possess ideal initial quickness, often being the last Stanford player off the line. Questionable straight line speed to challenge down the seam and is forced to swing his arms to maintain balance. Quite effective in a complementary role for the Cardinal but was never the featured target in the offense.
Projected Round: 2
Possible landing spot: Houston Texans
3. Nick Vannett, Ohio State
Bio: As a junior at Ohio State, Nick Vannett became a popular red zone target over then starter Jeff Heuerman. He finished his college career with 55 receptions for 585 receiving yards and six touchdowns.
Strengths: Every down NFL body type. Carries long limbs and big hands on a muscular, athletic frame. Comfortable hands in traffic and can make the heavily contested catch. Not afraid of taking a hit over the middle to secure the completion. Fluid mover and is flexible enough to run sharp angle routes. Has body control and catch radius to pluck high or low throws. Has size and ability to handle interior blocking assignments and will battle once he’s locked to a defender. Was trusted to help in pass protection. Lined up all across the field. Finds his place against zone and works himself into open, easy throws for quarterbacks on the run.
Weaknesses: Allows himself to be crowded on seam routes. Will need to improve handwork and leverage to create late separation for catches. Needs to be tougher at point of attack as a blocker. Didn’t always fire downhill into his one-on-one blocks. Allows defensive ends and outside linebackers to bring the pressure to him. Routes need refining for better separation against man coverage. Run after catch potential not realized because his legs are easy targets for defenders to chop down.
Projected Round: 2-3
Possible landing spot: Green Bay Packers
4. Bryce Williams, East Carolina
Bio: After redshirting as a freshman at Marshall, Bryce Williams decided to transfer to East Carolina as a walk on. During his four year career, Williams caught 96 passes for 1,045 yards and 13 touchdowns, all of which are school records for tight ends.
Strengths: Big target who plays to his size in the passing game. Consistent arm extension as a receiver with a smooth grab and tuck approach. Makes catches with defenders all over him and is willing to secure the catch and take the hit over the middle. Consistent highpoint catcher with excellent ball tracking and concentration down the field. Quick first five strides off line and into his routes. Deceptively fast in the seam and can surprise safeties who sleep on him. Adjusts to scrambling quarterbacks by freeing himself and becoming open. Not overly shifty in open spaces as runner, but will gain additional yardage by leaning into tacklers and finishes the play. Has the frame to offer resistance to smaller tacklers.
Weaknesses: More straightline speed than fluid movement in his routes. Early head turns give away direction of routes. Sloppy route running. Running in space at times. Gets caught drifting at top of crossing routes allowing safeties to close in. Needs to play with consistent game speed. Finesse run blocker relying on overall size over strength. As a moving blocker, lowers head into block and absorbs more of the contact than he dishes out.
Projected Round: 3-4
Possible landing spot: New York Jets
5. Tyler Higbee, Western Kentucky
Bio: After spending his freshman year as a wide receiver, Tyler Higbee made the move to tight end. As a senior, he was named All-C-USA while recording 38 receptions for 563 yards and tied the FBS season high touchdowns by a tight end with eight.
Strengths: Former wide receiver with a smooth stride when he hits top gear. Big hands. Had just one drop this season and showed ability to recover the catch when he juggled a pass. Can protect the ball in traffic. Willing to work middle of the field and take the hit. Quick off line and into routes. Great acceleration out of his breaks and can be a tough cover for defensive backs. Has the speed and toughness to work all three levels of the field. Can own the seam with his vertical speed and hands. Immediately opens and looks for throws when he's over the top of middle linebackers. Frame can add more muscle mass. Competitive after the catch with speed, elusiveness, and power. Can carry tacklers after the catch.
Weaknesses: Must fill out his frame. Slow to adjust blocking assignment during a play. Not strong enough yet to handle NFL edge rushers. Doesn't run feet through to sustain blocks. Body upright into his breaks. Needs to polish route running for underneath routes. Can get better at creating leverage through crisper moves. Suffered through a knee sprain that cost him four games before reinjuring it in Conference USA Championship Game. Won't be active until the NFL Combine.
Projected Round: 4
Possible landing spot: Arizona Cardinals