Troy Niklas – Tight End – Notre Dame
Niklas is a surprise entry into the draft. This was only his second year at the position and his first year as a full-time starter. He was an offensive and defensive lineman in high school and was recruited by Notre Dame to play on the defensive line. When Niklas got to school his first year, the Irish staff saw what kind of an athlete he was and converted him to outside linebacker. Most of his playing time as a freshman came via special teams. Because of his athleticism, Niklas was moved to tight end in the spring of his freshman year. He played as a backup in 2012, but still started a number of games and got a lot of playing time when Notre Dame went to two tight end sets. Niklas’ role was mainly as a blocker and as a result, he caught only five passes for 75 yards and one score. This year he became the team’s top tight end and upped his receiving production to 32 catches for 498 yards and five touchdowns.
Niklas is a huge tight end. He will measure in the neighborhood of 6064 – 265 at the Combine. He is very athletic for a big guy. He has speed, very good change of direction and body control. I would estimate that Niklas will run somewhere in the 4.67 to 4.72 area. In addition to his big size, Niklas is very strong. He is probably the best blocking tight end in this year’s draft. While watching tape, you can see him consistently knock opponents four and five yards off the ball. He is explosive and nasty as a blocker and consistently looks to finish. He shows good pass blocking ability, but gets beat at times only because he still lacks top pass blocking technique.
Niklas has just begun to scratch the surface of his receiving talent. In 2012, you couldn’t trust that he was going to make the catch because he struggled a bit adjusting to the ball while it was in the air. However, Niklas showed great improvement in that area this year and made some very difficult catches. As a route runner he is still raw, but he has good initial quickness and can get in and out of his cuts quickly. He catches the ball well and really knows how to use his body to shield a defender. He is very good with seam routes and corner routes and when in the red zone, Niklas is a nightmare to defend because of his size.
Overall, there is not a tight end in this draft who can block as well as Niklas. He will only get better as a receiver with experience. The team that drafts the Notre Dame tight end will do so because of his high ceiling as a receiver. As a rookie, he will be a regular in two tight end sets and could really help in the running game, but it may take him a year to become a top receiver. In saying that, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him taken as the second tight end in this draft. I see him going in the later part of the first or early in the second round. Once developed, he has to the potential to become a Pro Bowler.