Finding Broncos: Examining The 2017 Tight End Class (Part I)

Senior Draft Analyst Erick Trickel is taking a deep look into the deeply talented tight end class this year. The Denver Broncos are expected to draft one, and this is the year to do so.

Following the dearth of talent in the last few tight end classes, teams are excited about the strength of the 2017 NFL Draft class. It is a common thought among NFL teams I have talked to, and those outside the league, that there is talent in the fourth round and later that would be early-round talent in previous years.

Not all of them are from big time schools, but their talent and potential are off the charts.

This is a multi-part series with each one covering at least four tight ends. These are not full blown scouting reports. Those will come later, although pros and cons will be addressed, along with their respective fit with Denver.

O.J. HowardAlabama Crimson Tide

Howard it the top tight end in the class. His blocking is surprisingly good, as it is becoming a lost art for college tight ends. Howard's blocking is something that really sets him apart from most tight ends, both in this year’s class and in previous years.

On the other side of things, there is a concern with Howard as a competitor and with his effort. There are times when watching his film that you can tell he lacks interest in the play. This is often when the ball isn’t going his way, or they run away from him.

He doesn’t want to get his hands dirty unless he must. Howard will also will need refinement with his route running.

He doesn’t have the elite level production that he should have for his talent. The main reason for that is Alabama’s scheme. They didn’t seem to know how to utilize Howard’s skill-set to its fullest.

In four years at Alabama he only put up 114 catches for 1,726 yards and seven touchdowns. Whichever team drafts him will have to find ways to utilize him. The coaches in Denver could be those guys, but it is doubtful he lasts until pick 20 in the first round.

David NjokuMiami Hurricanes

Njoku easily has the highest ceiling of the tight ends in this class and in previous years. He will need some work to get there, but all the pieces are in place.

His YAC (yards after the catch) ability is insane for a tight end of his size. Scouts expected him to display insane speed for a tight end, with some scouts telling me, “Don’t be surprised if he ends up in the high 4.3 or low 4.4 for his 40 times.”

Njoku ran a 4.64 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, which isn't bad, but certainly not insane. 

There are some people who have Njoku higher than Howard on their boards due to the higher ceiling, despite Howard being more polished now. There are many concerns with Njoku’s toughness, but he has shown willingness to learn and to adapt and develop as a blocker.

Although Njoku didn't break the broad jump record at the Combine (video above), his ability and what he brings to the table can be fit into any scheme and can bring a lot to a team that needs a serious receiving threat at tight end.

Receiving tight end threat — that sounds like the Denver Broncos. They have one of the better blocking tight ends in Virgil Green, but they are missing the receiver.

Jeff Heuerman has dealt with health issues and hasn’t shown the development the Broncos want. A.J. Derby made some nice plays, but also had some bad drops.

As for Green, he has flashed as a receiver, but that is it. Njoku would be a great fit in Denver, and likely will be an option at 20, if he is still on the board.

Jake ButtMichigan Wolverines

If not for an ACL injury, Butt would be receiving higher talk and possibly first round talk. He has the talent and is very well-rounded.

While not the athlete some others are in this class, Butt is a football player. He will give 200 percent effort on every play, and if he messes up, no one is harder on him than himself.

Butt is an effective blocker, though he can use refinement there. He also can hurt a defense as a receiver.

His ceiling isn’t as high as Howard's or Njoku's. Butt isn’t far from his ceiling now, which hurts his draft stock some. However, he is a dependable tight end who can pick up first downs and execute.

Due to his injury, Butt will end up going later in the draft than he should. His medical checks at the Combine and in private workouts will continue to affect his draft stock. He claimed that he's "way ahead of schedule" at the Combine.

Depending on how he checks out with the Broncos, he is a name to keep an eye on for sure.

Adam Shaheen, Ashland

Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports

Scouts expected Shaheen to run a high 4.4 to low 4.5 40 at the Combine. For a tight end, that would be impressive. For a tight end who is 6-foot-6, 278 pounds, it would be even more impressive.

He ended up running a 4.79, and finished in only one category as a top performer. He tied Oregon's Pharaoh Brown for the most reps on the bench press (24). 

Shaheen's size suggests blocker, but that is his biggest weakness. He is a receiving threat with a lot of growth to do as a blocker.

Shaheen's Combine will determine his draft stock, but the Broncos would be wise to keep a close eye on the kid.

Gerald EverettSouth Alabama Jaguars

For many, Everett is one of the top three tight ends, and there is a lot to like with his game. His size, however, suggests a move to receiver, which has been mentioned by people I have talked with.

What would decide a full blown move to receiver or not is how he moved in his drills at the Combine. His blocking is good, but his issues there point to him being better as a receiver blocking defensive backs, instead of linebackers and defensive linemen.

The Broncos are looking for an improvement for a receiving tight end threat, and Everett can be that guy and provides value as a weapon in the passing game, considering where they could line Everett up at.

It's worth noting is that he does have a frame to add more bulk if need be.

Evan EngramOle Miss Rebels

Engram is athletically gifted, and that has carried him a long way during his college career. He has talent, as well, but is going to need some refinement as a receiver and as a blocker.

Engram's issues as a blocker have brought on the expected talk of moving him to receiver. He has a good catch radius, and creates mismatches.

He has an issue with drops as well. Of the prospects who have potential to move from tight end to receiver, Engram is probably the most likely.

Either way, Engram gives an offense a lot of options on where to line him up, which is likely what has drawn Denver's interest. Engram was one of the darlings at the Combine and as you can see in the video atop this story, Engram would love to play for the Broncos.

Bucky HodgesVirginia Tech Hokies

Hodges is another one of those tight ends that can be a receiver. At the Combine, he checked in at 6-foot-6, and 257 pounds, but is one of the worst blocking tight ends in this class.

However, he also isn’t a viable option to move to receiver because of his issues as a route runner and with his hands. He is position-less in a way.

Due to his size, Hodges can create mismatches and be a huge red-zone threat, but that only works if he can catch the ball. The Broncos can look his way, but if they do, they will need to spend a lot of time with him improving his deficiencies to make him a legit contributor his rookie season.

Hodges is more of a project here than others below him, but has some high upside.

This is just part one of a multiple part series looking at the tight end class as a whole. 

Erick Trickel is the Senior Draft Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ErickTrickel.

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