Finding Broncos: Examining The 2017 Tight End Class, Part II

MHH Senior Draft Analyst Erick Trickel continues to break down the 2017 tight end class. It is a really deep class, and with a need at tight end, the Broncos should be keeping an eye out.

In the first part of this series I touched on O.J. Howard, David Njoku, Jake Butt, Adam Shaheen, Gerald Everett, Evan Engram and Bucky Hodges. Those are my top seven tight ends and all carry a third round grade or higher.

The next group of guys are some fourth-to-sixth round guys that could really work within the Denver Broncos scheme.

Michael Roberts, Toledo

Roberts is soaring under the radar. When he gives effort, he is one of the best blocking tight ends in this class. However, he doesn’t always give you that effort that you want.

He also only has one year of eye-catching production (16 touchdowns), but has flashes throughout his college career as a receiver. Roberts didn’t blow scouts away with his Combine athletic testing, as he tested out how many figured he would.

NFL tight end coaches love this kid, and he's one that the Broncos tight end coach should pound the table for in the fourth round or later.

Eric Saubert, Drake

Another smaller school guy that catches your eye when watching his tape. The worst thing about Saubert's tape is probably the inconsistency. He has such a mix of jaw-dropping plays and then, facepalming plays.

A lot of it can be chalked up to concentration issues or effort for the boneheaded plays. But there is no denying that Saubert has tremendous potential to play tight end in the NFL and could be another player coaches pound the table for. Saubert, if developed, can actually add a legit receiving tight end threat to the Broncos offense as a rookie.

Jonnu Smith, Florida International

If not for a domestic violence issue, Smith's stock would likely be higher. Now to make sure it is clear, the domestic violence issue occurred when his girlfriend poured boiling hot water on Smith, which saw him miss the end of the season. Still, teams are wanting clarity on this, which is why it affects his stock.

As for his play, Smith is what you want in a tight end. He can catch, and he can block. In fact, he does them both very well. There is the level-of-competition issue when playing at Florida International, which could make him look better than he is.

However, that doesn’t diminish the potential Smith shows on the field. I talked to one tight ends coach about Smith and he said, “Smith is the coach's dream. He can do it all. Plus he has the attitude to grow and allow development. He wants to get better and as a coach, we want to make him better.”

As for Denver, if they don’t have Smith on their board, I would be shocked. Smith had an outstanding Combine, and raised his stock tremendously. After the tight ends were done on the field, a scout texted me that Smith made himself a top 3-5 tight end in this class.

George KittleIowa

Kittle had a great Combine and raised his stock some. There are concerns with an injury to his left foot that teams looked into at the Combine. He is more athletic than he shows on tape, and is a better prospect than credit is given.

Kittle is a 'move' tight end, who lacks blocking ability as an in-line tight end. Some work will be needed on his route running, among other things.

He has a fifth round grade from me, but his Combine answered some questions and concerns. Depending on how the left foot checks out, he could move to the fourth round. Denver very well should have him on their board.

Scott OrndoffPittsburgh

The Pitt prospect is a good blocker, but has more to bring as a receiver than his stats suggest. Orndoff isn’t going to get separation and hurt defenses after the catch, but he will fight for the ball and come down with contested passes majority of the time.

He is an in-line guy that can help a run heavy team. Even though Denver has this type of player in Virgil Green, they still should have Orndoff on their board for the later fourth to fifth round.

Jordan LeggettClemson

When Leggett cares, he can do some really good things for his team. He personally has called himself lazy, which is obvious on tape. There are also questions on how much he actually wants to play the game.

That is just the start of his many issues as a prospect. It isn’t all bad for Leggett. When he touches the ball, and gives effort, he is a big-play threat. He shows a good football IQ and understanding of zone concepts, which helped him find the soft spot and gash the opposition for yards.

It all comes down to effort and passion, and many teams think he is lazy and doesn’t care. Upside is there. With Denver having dealt with Julius Thomas's vagaries, where effort and passion were missing, Leggett very well could be off their board. Likely a situation they don’t want to deal with again.

Cole Hikutini, Louisville

The Louisville prospect offers tremendous upside as a receiver, but some people I have talked with see no upside as a blocker. This limits and hurts his stock as teams target dual-type tight ends.

Unlike some other receiving tight ends, Hikutini didn’t put up eye-popping numbers. However, they were solid numbers that really back what he brings to a team. As a late-round prospect, Hikutini brings good value as a receiver and can impact the passing game in a variety of ways.

Jeremy SprinkleArkansas

Sprinkle saw his stock drop a lot after a shoplifting incident. Not that big of a deal, right? Well, it isn't by itself but what makes it worse was that he tried shoplifting from the store that sponsored the Bowl game Arkansas was playing it.

Sprinkle ended up being suspended for the game. Add to that the fact that each Arkansas player gets a $450 shopping spree at the store, and Sprinkle's shoplifting attempt becomes even more ridiculous.

As for his talent and ability, there s a lot there. If not for the above incident, Sprinkle likely would find himself drafted in the third round, at the latest. His blocking is top-three in this class, and brings a lot as a receiver as well.

Some scouts I have talked to like his upside and ability more than Jake Butt out of Michigan. Even though he has the shoplifting incident, which teams will certainly question him about in meetings, the Broncos should still have him on their board as a later round option.

Late Round & College Free Agent Options

Pharaoh Brown, Oregon

Brown is a big target who knows how to use his size to box out defenders. However, there are serious medical concerns with some leg injury history and character red flags. A quick go over of those issues; fights with teammates, domestic violence issue (no charges filed), a leg injury that saw his leg nearly amputated and caused him to miss 2015.

That isn’t all of the character or medical concerns either. The injuries caused him to lose some athleticism that he had prior. The talent is there for a shot as a seventh round pick, but medical and character may make teams pass on him. Denver should be one of those teams.

Hayden PlinkeUTEP

UTEP has been known for the efficiency of their blocking tight ends, and to many that is all Plinke is. There is more to him than just that for me. He has the potential to be a receiving option, but won’t be a legit receiving threat.

He's just one who can go make a catch or two a game when called upon. His game as a receiver needs a lot of work, and his draft stock is going to be carried by his ability as a blocker. Denver already has a blocking tight end in Virgil Green, but Plinke could give them an option if they are looking to part ways with Green at some point in the next year or so.

Billy Brown, Shepherd

Brown is a converted receiver to tight end. At Shepherd he was able to get away with playing receiver due to the talent level. Had he played at a bigger school, he would’ve been a tight end, as he will be at the NFL level.

Coaches will have their work cut out for them when working with Brown. There are thoughts that Brown isn’t the smartest kid, and academic issues are what made him go to a smaller school. His football IQ is also questionable. As a seventh round or CFA, Brown is worth it to take a shot at his potential.

Darrell DanielsWashington

A converted wide receiver, Daniels is not a complete tight end, but is a pure receiving threat. There's little room to groom him as a blocker. Had a great Combine and likely will get drafted because of it.

Questions about effort and attitude make him a seventh round, at best, option for me. In that range, Denver could look his way, but they seem to want an immediate contributor more than a project.

Cethan CarterNebraska

Carter has awful hands and displays bad route running. He's a blocking tight end only, but a really good one. He had 10 drops, with 43 catches. He's not going to pick up yards after the catch.

He has some medical red flags, with a foot and elbow injury in his past. Carter likely goes undrafted but gets a chance as an CFA pickup. Just not sure that chance comes in Denver.

Taylor McNamaraUSC

McNamara is 'move' tight end who isn’t a good receiver. He isn’t a blocker, and will have a lot of work cut out for him in that department. He can make big-time catches, and shows understanding of beating zone coverage.

However, he tends to shy away from contested catches. Another undrafted guy that will have to show a lot in training camp to land a potential practice squad spot.

Colin JeterLSU

Jeter has great size for a tight end, but doesn’t bring much else. Looks like Tarzan plays like Jane. Decent blocker, who gets beaten by more aggressive defenders. Not a very physical blocker.

Lacks hand technique. Only positive is his size and a red-zone threat. Shouldn’t be a consideration for Denver. They can find a big tight end/red-zone threat tight end that brings more to the table. 

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

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