Welcome to the launch of my Positional Superlatives Series for the 2017 NFL Draft. Over the next 11 days, I will release one position per day that will provide an overview of the crop and highlight some of the “bests”.
I’m kicking things off with tight ends which features four prospects ranked among my top 54 prospects and nine that are graded in rounds one through four. Whether you are looking for an inline player or a move piece, this is a position group that offers a wide-ranging degree of skill sets.
For analysis on the entire 2017 NFL Draft class, Joe Marino’s 2017 NFL Draft Scouting Portfolio is NOW AVAILABLE. The Portfolio consists of 300 prospect reports and is available with an NDT Scouting Premium Subscription.
Best Prospect: OJ Howard, Alabama
There won’t be many years that you will find a tight end ranked among my top five overall players in the class but Howard is that special. Offering a blend of size, athletic ability, receiving and blocking skills, Howard performs in all aspects of the position at a high level. He firmly checks every box.
Best Resume: Jordan Leggett, Clemson
My resume grades factor the injury history, off-field concerns and accolades that a player accumulates in his collegiate career and Leggett scored the highest of any tight end. Leggett played in 51 career games with no notable injury concerns and no off-field problems. He earned First Team All-ACC honors in 2015 and 2016 to go along with being recognized as a Mackey Award Finalist and receiving a Senior Bowl Invitation.
Best Size: Pharaoh Brown, Oregon
Brown checks in at 6055, 255 pounds with 10 ⅜” hands and 35 ⅝” arms. Need I say more?
Best Athlete: George Kittle, Iowa
My athleticism metric weighs all athletic testing results against positional averages over the last five years and surprisingly, Kittle scored the best. He turned in some outstanding results.
- 40-Yard Dash: 4.52
- 10-Yard Split: 1.59
- Bench Press: 18
- Vertical Jump: 35”
- Broad Jump: 11’00’’
- 3-Cone: 6.76
- Short-Shuttle: 4.07
Best College Production: Evan Engram, Ole Miss
My production metric factors total games started and consistency in statistical output and Engram scored the highest. Starting in 42 career games, Engram tallied 162 receptions for 2,320 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Best Route Runner: David Njoku, Miami
Njoku gets a quick, smooth release and eats up yards in a hurry. He knows how to work zones and snap his head around to show his numbers. He can break through contact and physically to separate. Njoku is a difficult cover for opponents because he represents a size and athletic mismatch for defensive backs and linebackers alike.
Best Ball Skills: Evan Engram, Ole Miss
Engram does well to attack the football in the air and knows how to adjust his body and track the ball. He excels at the catch point and works through contact to haul in catches while positioning his body to box out his opponent and work to the football with great timing.
Best After the Catch: David Njoku, Miami
He’s the type of TE you scheme plays for in space because he can create yards for himself. He physically breaks tackles, reduces his pad level and accelerates quickly after the catch. He is dynamic and explosive with the ability to both run people over and make them miss in space.
Best Blocker: OJ Howard, Alabama
Not only is Howard the best in this class but he’s among the best I’ve seen. He has a powerful punch, hip roll, and leg drive to create movement. Howard is outstanding at getting to the second level and boundary to break down and seal pursuit. He is able to dominate blocking in-line, out of the backfield, and from the slot.
Best Sleeper: Jonnu Smith, Florida International
Smith had an unfortunate final two seasons at FIU, as a knee injury and the boiling water incident derailed him from fully exploding onto the scene, but he was productive and displayed quality traits when he was on the field. Profiling as a move tight end, Smith can uncover easily against linebackers and safeties with excellent short area burst and the speed to run away from defenders. While his routes need more nuance, he’s an size/athletic mismatch. He is dynamic after the catch and offers the ability to work every level of the field. As a blocker, Smith does well with angular and zone blocks, as he is competitive and works to get his body in proper positioning. Smith should be a quality receiving and blocking option from the slot, wing, or backfield and help his offense create matchup problems for defenses.