Football is a game rich in tradition. Because of that, coaches never change the name of positions on the field. The way the game is now played, the traditional “tight end” is seldom used. Now, the player that has that position name is split out as another wide receiver, lined up in the slot or on the wing. Unless there is a two TE formation, we rarely see the old fashioned “Y” tight end any more.
Maybe we should all lobby the powers that be in the NFL and college football and ask the position to be named something else. We could go back to when I was a kid and call these players “split ends” of “flankers”. That would better describe their position because they sure as heck aren’t “tight”.
All of that nonsense aside, there are some good prospects in this year’s draft that can play split out, in tight, or both. Here are the five best.
1) Eric Ebron – North Carolina
At some positions, you can get an argument as to who is the best player in a given position group. That's not the case with this year's tight ends. North Carolina’s Eric Ebron is head and shoulders above any other prospect in this group.
Ebron has great size (6043 – 250) and speed (4.60) that enable him to play split out or in the slot creating a mismatch for the opponent. He runs routes like a wide receiver, has very good hands, and is a dangerous runner after the catch.
He can also be lined up tight and is a good enough blocker to help the ground game. He should be able to step in as a starter right away. With his talents, he can be drafted as early as seven, and I doubt he lasts beyond the 15th pick.
2) Jace Amaro – Texas Tech
When you watch Texas Tech tape, you seldom see Amaro lined up in tight. While there are a few plays, he is mostly lined up in the slot and even out wide. Like Ebron he has excellent size (6053 – 265) but doesn’t look that big on tape.
Amaro did not run well at the combine (4.72) but came back at the Texas Tech pro day to run a more respectable 4.68. On tape, he plays more like a 4.60 type. He is quick into his routes and can come out of his breaks to get separation. He is effective on both short and deep routes and does a very good job adjusting to the ball. His run skills after the catch are also good, as he has some elusiveness and power.
Amaro doesn’t block well. In their offense, he wasn't asked to block that often and was average when he did. Still, he is an athletic, big receiver who can create a mismatch for opponents. He could get drafted in the late first round and shouldn’t last past the first 12 picks of the second round.
3) Austin Seferian-Jenkins – Washington
A year ago, it was thought that if Seferian-Jenkins choose to enter the 2014 Draft, he would be the first tight end selected. In 2012 he had a big year, catching 69 passes for 852 yards and seven touchdowns. In 2013, his production dropped to 36 catches for 450 yards and eight touchdowns.
Seferian-Jenkins missed the opening game due to a suspension because of a DUI charge. Washington also had quarterback problems and could not do as much on offense as they wanted. That, coupled with their head coach leaving, Seferian-Jenkins decided to enter the draft.
Seferian-Jenkins has all the tools to be a top tight end in the NFL. He has great size (6052 – 262) to go along with good play speed (4.62 estimate). He was not able to work out at the combine because of a stress fracture in his foot. He had a pin inserted and should be good for offseason workouts shortly after the draft.
Seferian-Jenkins is a good route runner who is effective both short and deep. He can snatch the ball and is a strong runner after the catch. When asked to block, he is effective but not quite as good as a player his size should be. Still, he will come in and play right away as a rookie. This a big, athletic, and talented player.
4) C.J. Fiedorowicz – Iowa
If you are looking for a throwback type tight end, Fiedorowicz is your guy. While many of the guys listed above are more comfortable being split out, C.J. is very comfortable playing inside and blocking.
Fiedorowicz is one of the bigger tight ends in this year’s class at 6055 – 265. While he is no speed merchant (4.74), he is a good route runner and does a consistently good job getting separation on the shorter routes. He is highly effective as a short-to-midrange receiver with excellent hands. After the catch, he is a dependable, strong runner. In the Iowa offense, he is used some as a deeper receiver, but I don’t see that happening in the NFL.
Fiedorowicz is a quality blocker and because of that he will be in demand. He can come in and play right away because of his blocking skills and be effective as a receiver. Every team wants a player like C.J. but not every team has one. Because of that, his value is high.
5) Troy Niklas – Notre Dame
Niklas was a surprise early entry into the draft. The third-year junior has only played the tight end position for two seasons. He enrolled in 2011 as a linebacker and was switched to tight end the following spring. In 2012 he was Notre Dame’s “Y” tight end and got significant playing time as Tyler Eifert was used as the move tight end.
In the 2013 season, he became Notre Dame’s primary tight end but was still used primarily in tight. Niklas has excellent size at 6064-270 and is very strong. While he looks athletic on tape, Niklas did not perform well at the combine. He did all the measurable drills except the 40. The 20-yard shuttle and three-cone were among the slowest times for his position group.
After the combine, it was discovered that he had a hernia and surgery was performed. He was not able to work at Notre Dame’s pro day and probably won’t be cleared to work out until after the draft. With Niklas being as raw as he is, he becomes a bit of a wildcard in the draft.
When you figure in that he has only played the position for two years, the upside on Niklas is excellent. He is already the best blocker in the tight end class this year. As a receiver, he is still raw as far as running routes, but he has good hands and is a strong runner after the catch.
Before the surgery, I felt Niklas was a sure second round talent. Now clubs will be drafting him with a lot unknown. Still, I figure he will selected somewhere in the third or fourth round.
Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe
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