Tight end is one of the toughest positions to judge.
At least for me it is.
Essentially, the NFL is full of really average tight ends.
And yet they’re all so different at the same time.
What should we be looking for?
Everyone wants to find the next big thing, but for whatever reason it’s just so damn difficult.
The most highly touted prospect I’ve covered since starting this blog was Jermaine Gresham. He was considered a huge talent at Oklahoma. A true difference maker.
At the combine he ran a 4.66 — which was pretty good at 261lbs. Not elite, but fair. His vertical jump (35 inches) was superior to the likes of Jason Witten (31) and just shy of Jimmy Graham’s (38.5).
He wasn’t joining a team with a hopeless passing game — whatever you want to say about Andy Dalton, the Bengals have put up yards since 2011.
He had the luxury of playing alongside a superstar in A.J. Green — a player who regularly draws extra attention in coverage.
Yet for whatever reason it just hasn’t worked for Gresham. He is the very definition of average.
He’s a classic ‘bye week’ fantasy tight end. He’s always on the waiver wire. You’re hoping the week you grab him in desperation is that one, strange week he actually does something.
We’ve all been there.
And more often than not you’re left completely disappointed.
He has 2262 yards in four seasons and 19 touchdowns. After his most productive campaign in 2012 (737 yards, five scores), the Bengals went out and drafted another tight end (Tyler Eifert) in round one.
For all the promise he showed in college, we’ve seen such rampant mediocrity at the next level.
This was supposed to be a can’t miss type pick. Really, it’s just a classic example of how difficult it is to project tight ends to the pro’s.
Here’s a list of TE’s taken between rounds 1-3 in the four drafts prior to 2013:
Brandon Pettigrew (1st rounder, 2009)
Richard Quinn (2nd rounder, 2009)
Jared Cook (3rd rounder, 2009)
Chase Coffman (3rd rounder, 2009)
Travis Beckum (3rd rounder, 2009)
Jermaine Gresham (1st rounder, 2010)
Rob Gronkowski (2nd rounder, 2010)
Ed Dickson (3rd rounder, 2010)
Tony Moeaki (3rd rounder, 2010)
Jimmy Graham (3rd rounder, 2010)
Kyle Rudolph (2nd rounder, 2011)
Lance Kendricks (2nd rounder, 2011)
Rob Housler (3rd rounder, 2011)
Coby Fleener (2nd rounder, 2012)
Dwayne Allen (3rd rounder, 2012)
Michael Egnew (3rd rounder, 2012)
That’s a heck of a lot of swinging and missing.
There’s everything in that list above. Big production, minimal production. Great size, smaller tight ends. Athleticism, more of a blocker.
And out of 16 players drafted in the first three rounds between 2009-12 — about three guys made it happen.
So much swinging. So much missing.
It’s a similar story with the 2013 class. Of the six tight ends taken in the first three rounds — the guy picked right at the end of the third (Jordan Reed) had the best rookie year.
Gavin Escobar, Travis Kelce, Vance McDonald, Zach Ertz, Tyler Eifert.
All usurped by Reed — a guy who ran a 4.72.
Drafting this position early, to put it bluntly, scares the crap out of me.
How do you know what you’re going to get?
Michael Egnew ran a 4.62, had a 37.5 inch vertical jump and managed 21 reps on the bench press. He looked every bit the next big ‘move’ tight end at 6-5 and 255lbs. I really liked his potential, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he was high up on Seattle’s list.
He went in the third round to Miami.
In two years he has seven catches for 69 yards and zero touchdowns.
Coby Fleener — solid, Stanford guy. 4.52 speed, 27 reps on the bench. Looked sensational at his pro-day too. He’s a very early second round pick after a lot of talk he could go in the top 20.
He’s even drafted by Indianapolis, the team that just picked his guy to play quarterback — Andrew Luck.
The end result? Drops galore, loads of errors and a marginal NFL target for Luck.
Both players look like the kind of guys you’d take a chance on.
And yet neither is working out as planned.
Then you look at players who did make it work in 2013…
Julius Thomas — a former 4th round pick who ran a 4.64 and spent his college career playing basketball.
Jordan Cameron — another ex-Basketball guy and another former 4th rounder. Ran a 4.53 with a 37.5 inch vertical jump at the combine in 2011.
Antonio Gates — undrafted in 2003, enjoying a renaissance season after a mountain of injuries. Yep — you guessed it — basketball background.
It seems to me a better plan might be to keep searching for those 4.5/4.6 runners who converted from basketball. Dig around in the later rounds to find the next gem.
Seattle had some success uncovering Luke Willson last year with this type of approach.
At least your not making too much of a commitment, because a lot of these early round picks are bombing and it’s costly.
Let’s have a look at the upcoming class. Five names stand out going into the combine.
Eric Ebron — the perceived big-time athlete and former basketball talent (take note). He’s getting the big props, a bit like Gresham, with people suggesting he could be the next great tight end to enter the league.
Jace Amaro — an over-sized receiver who doesn’t have great speed but oozes control and manages to find ways to get open. He excelled in a prolific passing offense, but how will he adjust to the next level when he’s not operating in an extreme spread system?
Austin Seferian-Jenkins — At times at Washington he looked like an insane prospect, with ideal size and a solid all-round game. More of a throwback tight end, not just a joker. Some have expressed concern over an entitled attitude. Does he want to be great?
Troy Niklas — a massive tight end with great height and size. Was considered a tackle prospect initially. He can get downfield but he might be better off training to be a blocker first. How fast is he?
Richard Rogers — the wildcard. Touted to flash extreme athleticism at the combine, he drifted under the radar at rotten California. Just how physically talented is he? And can he become more than just a great athlete?
All five have their issues.
Is Ebron really going to put in the kind of performance he’s touting? Can he be the next basketball convert to take over the league?
Amaro’s size can be instantly compared to Gavin Escobar in 2012. He had a very disappointing combine and it hurt his stock. I just don’t see a great athlete here and the combine might not be a good thing for Amaro.
Seferian-Jenkins needs to turn up in great shape and flash the kind of 5-star athleticism that had all the big schools trying to recruit him. If he does it, someone will take a shot early. But there’s every chance he runs a 4.7 or worse.
Niklas might be the latest player off Notre Dame’s tight end conveyor belt, but it also means he has limited experience on the field. Before the 2013 season he had just five catches for 75 yards. That’s it. And he wasn’t a focal point on the offense when he eventually became the starter. It was somewhat surprising he chose to declare.
Rogers has a shot to move up the board with a great work out. If he doesn’t run in the 4.4′s or early 4.5′s — why would you take a shot early? There’s not a great deal to get excited about on tape, even if that’s mostly down to one of the worst passing offenses in the NCAA.
Honestly, I could see all five players entering the NFL and having success. But I can also see all five adding to the list of flops.
There really isn’t a classic modern tight end where you can say — this guy ticks the right boxes so he will be this type of player.
Whether you’re bigger, smaller, faster, more powerful or whatever. All types have failed in recent years.
Here’s the order I’d put them in terms of how much confidence I’ve got in their ability to succeed:
#1 Ebron #2 ASJ #3 Amaro #4 Rogers #5 Niklas
We get a chance to see all five work out on Saturday. The combine gets under way with the tight ends and offensive linemen going through drills.
Also — keep an eye on Fresno State’s Marcel Jensen. What he lacked in consistent production, he makes up for in potential. He’s a very intriguing player.
I’ll write a review of day one from Indianapolis on Saturday evening. I’ll be live-blogging on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday during the other work outs.
Huguenin on Seferian-Jenkins:
” His combine performance should be excellent, and if you like Seferian-Jenkins, that will strengthen those feelings. But will that combine performance win over any detractors?”
Mike Mayock has published his pre-combine rankings. I love Mayock, but for someone who’s so cagey about doing a mock draft — I’m surprised he puts out an early list like this. It nearly always changes so dramatically after the combine.
His tight end list goes: Ebron, ASJ, Amaro, Niklas, C.J. Fiedorowicz.
Here’s what he has to say about Johnny Manziel, and it aint pretty:
“…not a leader by example or known to inspire by his words. Carries a sense of entitlement and prima-donna arrogance seeking out the bright lights of Hollywood. Is known to party too much and is drawn to all the trappings of the game. Has defied the odds and proven to be a great college-system quarterback, but still must prove he is willing to work to be great, adjust his hard-partying, Hollywood lifestyle and be able to inspire his teammates by more than his playmaking ability.”
Arthur, on the cap conundrum facing the Seahawks:
“Very soon — possibly before this article is published — the Seahawks will really start making offseason news. It will likely start with the releases of some popular veterans, and possibly some other re-negotiations. As of February 17, OvertheCap.com says that the Oakland Raiders have over $60,000,000 in cap space for next season. Per Davis Hsu’s latest projections on next years Seattle roster, the Seahawks are spending $60 million on the offense and defense… each.”
Finally, and seeing as we’re on the subject of tight ends, here’s some new tape on Jace Amaro vs Texas: