Top Five 2017 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. O.J. Howard, Alabama
Bio: The top high school recruit in the country at tight end, O.J. Howard decided to stay in-state at Alabama. As a true freshman, he lead the Tide in yards per reception. His true breakout season was in 2015, where he caught 38 passes for 602 yards and earned Offensive MVP honors in the national championship game with 208 receiving yards and two touchdowns on five catches.
Strengths: Exceptionally gifted athlete. Has long arms and giant hands for his position. Tremendous acceleration into his routes. Has tools to embarrass defenses on second and third level. Play speed resembles a wide receiver's when the ball is in the air. Linebackers have no shot against him in space. Can turn a short throw into a long gain. Light on his feet and smooth out of his breaks. Easy separator who creates instant throwing windows when he hits the top speed. Natural pass catcher who plucks the ball away from his body. Can adjust to poorly thrown balls and secure contested catches. Shows no lack of toughness over the middle. Can be lined up all over the field. Monster championship game in 2015 season revealed true potential. Has elite ceiling as playmaker. Lands his hands inside the frame as a blocker. Operates with wide base and attempts to snap hips into his block.
Weaknesses: Will need more muscle mass to be an in-line blocker as a pro. Occasionally passive. Football never seemed his top priority. Doesn't have the on-field demeanor of most Alabama players. Needs better hand strength to sustain his blocks. Can do better job of working feet into position after contact. Needs urgency in his routes to tilt defenders and get them guessing. Needs to show more elusiveness after the catch. Saw playing time diminish from junior to senior season. Explosive talent who doesn't make enough explosive plays. Alabama's scheme creates some wide-open deep-ball catches at time. Scouts question his competitive nature.
Projected Round: 1
Compares to: Julius Thomas
Possible landing spot: Tennessee Titans
2. David Njoku, Miami
Bio: A former wide receiver in high school, David Njoku converted to tight end at Miami. By 2016, he was a major threat in the red zone with 43 receptions for 698 yards and eight touchdowns.
Strengths: Great muscular definition with long arms and room for more muscle tone. Elite athlete with seam buster speed. Can stick a foot in the ground and break in either direction at an angle in shorter routes. Tremendous acceleration out of breaks to separate and widen the window for quarterbacks. Opens the gate in open field. When he catches it on the move, the YAC yards pile up. Was a high school jump champion and can go up and over most everyone he faces. Hand quickness to get a last second push-off and still get hands up to secure catch. Finds holes against zones. Plays outside, from the slot and in-line. Willing to compete as a blocker. Can push defensive backs around from slot. Gets early arm extension into defender and looks to create some separation. Shows lateral blocking ability for zone schemes.
Weaknesses: Inexperienced at the position and still a work in progress. Only started nine games in his two years on the field with the Hurricanes. Needs to add to his play strength to handle in-line blocking as a pro. Needs to build up strength in lower body. Struggled badly to stay in front of Pitt defensive lineman Ejuan Price. Hands too high and wide at point of attack. Inconsistent hands over two years at Miami. Focus drops were a big problem. Had eight drops over last two seasons for drop rate over 11%. Speed allows him to uncover on downfield routes and hasn't had to learn nuances of setting up defenders with route work. Needs to get head around and find ball quicker when working over linebackers.
Projected Round: 1-2
Compares to: Greg Olsen
Possible landing spot: Denver Broncos
3. Gerald Everett, South Alabama
Bio: A former high school basketball player, Gerald Everett honed his skills in community college to gain the attention of bigger programs. He was a star at Alabama-Birmingham but was forced to transfer after the school cut the football team. In two years at South Alabama, he recorded 90 receptions for 1,292 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Strengths: Smooth athlete with wide receiver traits. Easy acceleration into routes and can blow by safeties who sit down looking for a route break. Good acceleration off of plant foot in route breaks. Can create immediate separation. Carries play speed throughout routes. Cover linebackers are usually in for a rough day against him, who eats in the middle of the field and shows no fear. Maximizes arm length for wide catch radius. Hands look fairly natural as pass catcher. Adds to totals with yards after catch. Runs physically with excellent balance. Rips his legs through arm-tackles. Instinctive runner who sets up blocks on bubble screens. Alters stride length to elude diving tackles. Able to work all three levels of the field. Blocks with anger and is prone to longer engagements than most blockers on edge. Put on a show, including game-winning touchdown, at Mississippi State.
Weaknesses: Route running isn't a high priority. Routes are rounded, dull and lack urgency. Leans into most of his breaks, allowing talented cover safeties to jump his routes. Drifts on square-ins, allowing deep safeties a window into the play. Needs work on double moves. Could have issues playing through route redirection off line of scrimmage. Shows deceleration when locating ball on deep throws. Small hands. Too many one-handed catch attempts on throws outside his frame limit ability to make the highlight reception. Touchdown production lower than expected given his use in the offense.
Projected Round: 2-3
Compares to: Eric Ebron
Possible landing spot: New York Giants
4. Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech
Bio: A former quarterback, Bucky Hodges became an instant mismatch at tight end for Virginia Tech. In three years, he amassed 133 catches for 1,747 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Strengths: 6'7". Outstanding combination of size and athleticism for the position. Smooth glider around the field. Runs fast, plays faster. Long target with extended catch radius. Can get up and over the top of most defenders at the high point. Willing to work over the middle and has the frame for it. Spent time at all receiver spots and could be an option from the slot as well as outside in the NFL. Seam breaker who can get over top of linebackers and work all three levels of the field. Saw 28% of his catches go for 20 or more yards in 2016. Can access a second gear out of route breaks. Once he stacks defenders on his hip, he wins. Excellent ball tracker with speed and hand usage for late separation down the field. Former quarterback with knowledge of coverages. Will demand double coverage if covered by a cornerback near goal line. Has strength to overwhelm defensive backs as a blocker.
Weaknesses: Has played the position just three seasons and still has a lot to learn. Long strider who can be stopped by a physical jam from press. Too care free with his routes. Needs to hit route breaks more quickly to give quarterback a timely, open target. Defaults into running through defender rather than adjusting routes. Throws beat him up at times this season. Struggled to finish challenging catches. Lower percentage of clean catches trapping throws against his body and double catching it. Athletic but takes awhile to build up speed after catch and may not get the yards after catch people expect. May lack strength and toughness to be a reliable in-line option as a blocker.
Projected Round: 2-3
Compares to: Devin Funchess
Possible landing spot: Dallas Cowboys
5. Jake Butt, Michigan
Bio: In his four years at Michigan, Jake Butt was a productive target for the Wolverine offense. In his final two seasons, he was named the Big Ten Tight End of the Year both years.
Strengths: Has NFL size and steps up big in the passing game. Strong hands like glue. Can snatch and secure at the catch point. Tough and reliable when working in traffic. Fearless in the middle of the field and understands how to protect himself and the ball while there. Has slap move to free himself off line of scrimmage and able to create separation at top of his route with slight push-offs. Sinks into space and eats up zone coverage. Skills will help him win in the red zone. Effective in intermediate work adjusting routes according to defensive positioning. Competitive after catch with ability to add to his yardage through force. Team leader.
Weaknesses: A little slow getting off the line and into his routes. Very average athleticism. One speed runner without many gears. Lacks speed to threaten vertically. Upright into and out of his breaks. Acceleration out of his cuts can be minimal. Separation often comes from rub scheme. NFL linebackers should be able to keep up with him in coverage. Limited catch radius. Grabby as a blocker and takes questionable angles on the second level. Allows physical outside linebackers to set strong edges against him. Needs more commitment and work as a run-blocker at the pro level. Suffered a torn right ACL in Michigan's Citrus Bowl loss to Florida State.
Projected Round: 3
Compares to: Zach Miller
Possible landing spot: Pittsburgh Steelers