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20

A Tight Fill

by DJ Boyer on Feb. 20, 2014

When you look at some of the most successful teams in the NFL, you will most often find a team that heavily utilizes the tight end position.  Tight ends are becoming so big and athletic now they are more like wide receivers than the sluggish big tight ends we saw in yesteryear.

 

The Top Prospects

 

Eric Ebron should be the first tight end off the board and he probably possesses more upside than any of the other tight ends at the top of the board.  If there is a knock on Ebron it's that he makes the easy catches look hard and the hard catches look easy. There are problems with drops in the open field but he shows tremendous aerial skills and has the footwork of a wide receiver. Ebron is still very lean and will need to add some muscle and bulk for the next level but he has a wide frame that looks like he can carry the extra weight without affecting his speed. Ebron shows good speed but it's his burst off the line that allowed him to set a new ACC mark for receiving yards by a tight end in a season with 895. Ebron should be selected in the 15-25 range overall and is the only tight end everyone feels safe in saying will definitely be a first round selection.

 

Austin Seferian-Jenkins started the year as the top tight end available for the draft and was a top ten overall prospect on our board. Seferian-Jenkins is built like the traditional tight end at near 270 pounds with athleticism and large hands - a real red zone threat.  Some off the field issues (DUI) got him off to a shaky start and Seferian-Jenkins did not post consistent eye-popping numbers, though that had more to do with the emergence of running back Bishop Sankey in the Washington offense.  Yet no matter how pedestrian his numbers and play seemed, he always seemed to deliver in the big games. Seferian-Jenkins has more talent than anyone at the position but there will be red flags selecting him in the first round. He will have a chance to succeed at the next level, as he is too talented not to.

 

Jace Amaro was all about numbers this season as he re-wrote the record book for tight ends at the NCAA level. Amaro caught over 100 passes and his 1,352 yards were the most by a tight end ever at the NCAA level in a season. Amaro also led all tight ends with six 100-yard games and he did this against some very stiff competition in the Big 12. We are anxious to see what Amaro will do with his weight as he was playing around 245 but bulked up and still showed the ability to get open and cause separation at the 260-pound mark. Even if Amaro plays at a higher weight he shows the ability to be split out like a receiver or be used out of the backfield maybe as an h-back at the NFL level.

 

Second Tier

 

C.J. Fiedorowicz is a top-notch prospect despite used sparingly overall in the passing game. Fiedorowicz is a red zone threat who specializes in blocking but has shown the ability to be so mobile that he lined up in the backfield often for the Hawkeyes. A very reliable target that won't make you miss in the open field but is tough and durable, reminiscent of Heath Miller for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Fiedorowicz will get drafted a bit higher than expected due to his supreme blocking skills and footwork to pull-and-play in space and in the open field. A team that uses more spread formation running the football would be an ideal fit for Fedorowicz.

 

Troy Niklas is a player that will excite many NFL teams with the upside he offers along with being 6'6” and close to 270 pounds. He should have stayed in school for his senior season where he would have cemented himself as the top tight end available for 2015. With the class being a little weaker this year though, he should lead the charge for the second tier candidates and possibly go as high as the second round based upon demand for young athletic tight ends. Niklas is a little stiff and will round his routes coming in and out of breaks. He uses his body well and is a fluid runner in the open field. Niklas offers more as a blocker than many realize and can develop into a solid threat as a blocker and not just a receiving option.

 

Arthur Lynch is a player we expected a little more from during the 2013 campaign but the season was so up and down for Georgia as they experienced as many injuries on offense as any team near the top of the FBS standings. Lynch has a frame that can add weight and he could play in the 270-275 range quite comfortably since speed is not the major facet of his offensive prowess. Lynch may have the best hands of the tight ends available near the top of the draft and he is a reliable red zone target. He has shown steady improvement every year as a receiver and a blocker. Lynch is another player who may not have the overall statistics but comes up big in big games and moments as he is frequently looked at during crunch time or two-minute situations.

 

Marcel Jensen is a bit of a mystery because nothing about his overall game seems to be conventional.  With such a pass happy offense like we saw at Fresno State one would expect inflated numbers, but Jensen only posted 26 catches and 3 touchdowns.  The size is there but Jensen has not been used as a blocker, which seems to have more to do with the offensive scheme in Fresno where chipping blockers and releasing is more common than blocking.  Jensen does have 5 career blocked kicks so look for him to make an immediate impact on special teams. Jensen has a nice amount of upside but he doesn't look like a pro ready athlete and he will need time to develop.

 

Xavier Grimble is a player that got overlooked due to his lack of production on the field and now that he is leaving for the NFL early, we won't see him break out at the NCAA level.  At 250 pounds Grimble may not be best suited as a wide receiver because his stride, motion and speed seem to indicate he can be split out as a wide receiver quite often at the next level. Grimble finished his three years at USC with only 69 catches and the uncertainty at the quarterback spot for much of the year did not help his junior campaign. Grimble is a safe gamble because his pedestrian numbers will have him deeper on the draft board and teams that select him will have time to let him develop without a huge investment.

 

Lurking

 

Joe Don Duncan had 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns in his last two years at tiny Dixie State.  We have been tracking Duncan for anyone willing to listen about him for the last three years and are very happy he is generating serious buzz in NFL circles. Duncan has shown he can catch, move well in open space, and is an above average blocker. Scouts and teams are not as worried about the level of competition he faced, as much as his injury history. Duncan has had a pair of knee surgeries and he was granted an extra year of eligibility due to the knee surgery he had before the start of his senior season. Duncan had microfracture surgery related to a broken femur at the start of his career and the latest surgery dealt with issues and scar tissue that built up as a result. Duncan bounced back posting 71 catches for 1,045 yards and 12 touchdowns this season and says he feels better than ever. Duncan will be taken somewhere in rounds 4-6 and is a player we have been screaming is a draft gem for some time, so we'll be rooting for him at the NFL level.

 

Jacob Pedersen set a career high with 39 catches as a senior and has been a threat in the Wisconsin offense since his sophomore season in 2011. Pedersen had a career best 8 touchdowns as a sophomore and has been a staple and a safety valve for the Badger quarterbacks. The only issue with Pedersen is his size and whether he will be a true tight end at the NFL level or if a team will force him to be an h-back or fullback type player. His versatility helped him at Wisconsin where he lined up all over the field. Pedersen has exceptional hands, but catches the ball too close to his body or traps it in his body without extending his hands, which is something he will have to work on at the next level. Pedersen is not a dominant blocker but he gets the job done and takes good angles in space when asked to block in the open field. He may be picked in the later rounds but he will contribute immediately whether on offense, special teams or both.

 

Ted Bolser finished his career at Indiana as the all-time leader in receptions and yards for tight ends with 117 catches for 1,337 yards and 15 touchdowns. Bolser is an accomplished blocker despite being a little slight-of-frame playing just a shade over 250. Bolser is a classic example of a player who does not wow you, possess enormous athletic talent, or stand out in one particular area, yet he has no glaring weaknesses. Bolser was the team captain for the Hoosiers in 2013 and played well in conference games. Durable 5th year senior who is one of the more NFL-ready prospects outside the top tiers.

 

Rob Blanchflower only played in six games this season after an impressive 43 catch campaign as a junior. In limited action as a senior Blanchflower recorded 27 catches and three touchdowns.  Blanchflower had a host of nagging injuries but nothing that seemed serious enough to limit him as he prepares for his pro day and combine.  He can line up in the backfield and could be used as a fullback at the NFL level if he goes to a team that utilizes the position. One knock on Blanchflower is that he too catches the ball too close to his body and needs to extend hands to make more receptions before the ball hits his body. Should be selected in the 5-7 round range.

 

Colt Lyerla is the biggest wild card at the tight end spot and perhaps on the draft board itself. When the season began we were talking about whether or not Lyerla would declare for the draft after his junior season because we had him as a late 1st round pick. Lyerla announced he was leaving the team in early October after he faced a 1-game suspension for violating team rules. Two weeks later Lyerla was arrested for cocaine possession and he is still awaiting trial.  There is no questioning the talent and athleticism Lyerla possesses, as he is a player that can cause mismatch problems for opposing defensive coordinators. It will be interesting to see whether a team will take a chance on Lyerla but if he is drafted I suspect it will be during the 7th round.

 

Fullbacks

 

J.C. Copeland is a bruising fullback who checks in at around 280 pounds and is a former defensive tackle. No doubt Copeland will be looked at as a short yardage specialist but he is a better receiver out of the backfield than many give him credit for. Copeland could go as early as the 3rd round, although rounds 4-5 seem more plausible.

 

Trey Millard looked like he would be the top fullback off the board for most of the year but a late season ACL tear changed things. Millard played straight tight end for most of his career as a Sooner but projects as an H-back/fullback type at the NFL level. Millard is a great open field runner with power and leg-drive that will make him a short yardage nightmare and a threat catching the football out of the backfield. I think Millard will still be drafted but the injury will drop him down a few rounds.

 

Ryan Hewitt is one of the more complete prospects at fullback, well-rounded yet not exciting to watch, as he just does his job. Hewitt has the ability to catch 3-4 passes a game at the next level and is an effective blocker with great lower body strength that projects when blocking and running the football. Hewitt has had some minor injury problems throughout his career and always seems to have a nagging injury of some sort, but doesn't miss many games.

 

Jay Prosch mighty be the first fullback off the board and he had a grand total of 0 carries as a senior. Everyone knows Auburn made it's living running the football with three nice prospects toting the rock but there are some who watched Auburn this year and proclaimed Prosch deserves MVP consideration for the team due to the table he helped lay for the running backs. A very durable prospect who looks like he can step in and start from day 1.