C.J. Fiedorowicz of Iowa is a sensational blocker whose only fault was playing for a team that rarely looked at their tight ends as a receiving option. He was what we call an "opportunist" when it came to making the most of those limited passes targeted to him.
Last season, among his 30 receptions were six scores. He also had big grabs that set up 10 other touchdown drives. Fifteen of his catches were for at least 10 yards and nineteen produced first downs, converting nine third-down tosses and another on a fourth down. For his career, Fiedorowicz has delivered 48 touchdown-resulting blocks, ranking with Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins as the only tight ends in this class with at least 30 of these types of score-producing shots.
Another finalist was super-quick Cincinnati Bearcats sleeper Blake Annen. The senior had scouts begging for another run after he "scorched the earth" with an explosive 4.42-second 40-yard dash during his team's recent Pro Day. He obliged and ran a 4.39. He played in a backup role until this season and had just 15 catches for 177 yards, but it was his stellar blocking (position-best 19 touchdown-resulting blocks in 2013) that saw this emerging talent earn All-American Athletic Conference first-team honors.
With two worthy choices above, my decision came down to potential, as in awesome potential, when I decided upon Dixie State's little-known Joe Don Duncan. When you see this impressive athlete performing healthy on the football field, you see striking similarities with his aggressive blocking approach that brings back memories of Mike Ditka. When you see him simply out-jump and out-wrestle any opponent to get to the ball in a crowd, you suddenly have similar flashbacks to Todd Christensen's days with the Raiders.
With those types of attributes, you might be wondering why he is not a Dream Team member instead. The reason is simple — Duncan can not stay out of the doctor's office. Even a banner final campaign ended on a sour note, as hamstring issues prevented him from playing in the season finale and he later had to pull out of all-star games due to a left foot injury that would also prevent him from performing at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine.
Still, when you examine his body of work on the football field, some team could unearth a first-day draft talent by using a late-round pick instead, thanks to his medical records.
His issues began in 2008, when he suffered a fractured femur prior to the season opener and never played for Sacramento State. Duncan later went the junior college route before transferring to Dixie State, but injuries soon followed. In 2011, he missed the Azusa Pacific game with a patella strain and the entire 2012 campaign was a "wash" when a reoccurrence of the femur injury in August required surgery to repair. Further concerns cropped up when he went "down for the count" late in 2013.
Still, what a year it was — setting school season-records and league marks for tight ends, as he pulled down 71 balls for 1,045 yards and 13 touchdowns. During his final 20 games, he delivered 1,994 yards on 135 receptions that included 22 scoring grabs, numbers no tight end in this draft class can come close to matching.
Dixie State College Red Storm
Duncan has a solidly built frame with room to add at least another 10 pounds of bulk with no loss in quickness. He has that tall, thick build that makes him an inviting target for quarterbacks over the middle. He has very well-defined muscles, good bubble, thick thighs and calves, good arm length and large hands.
Duncan shows very good initial quickness with no wasted motion to get into his routes. He comes off the line with his pads low and hands extended to jolt and shock the defender to get a clean release off the jam. He has very good agility and flexibility, thanks to his time playing on his high school's basketball team. He also demonstrates the hand/eye coordination and natural hands to look the ball in and the leaping ability to get to the throw at its high point. He looks very fluid with good balance throughout his route progression and is quick to uncover. He can separate in the short area and has the valid speed to elude second level defenders and threaten the secondary. His lower-body flexibility is evident when he goes in motion. He makes good adjustments to track the ball and has the power and agility to work his way through trash. Duncan has rare speed, especially for a player generally known for his above average blocking ability. He has the foot quickness to accelerate off the ball and his weight room numbers are evident in the way he comes off the snap with a good surge to shock and jolt a defender working in-line. He lacks suddenness to be a vertical threat, but he is a polished route runner who comes out of his breaks cleanly. He is a deceptive player, as you get surprised with his flexibility, especially when he locates an edge rusher at the opposite side of the field, only to redirect and prevent the opponent from reaching the quarterback from the backside. He has the balance, flexibility and change of direction skills to be very effective working underneath. He runs with a smooth stride and demonstrates good hand/eye coordination to look the ball in and separate without having to gather. He has the body control to get to the off-target throws and the loose hips to adjust to the ball in flight. He has functional acceleration, but plays up to his timed speed.
Duncan not only does very well in the classroom, but he has keen field instincts. He is a minimal rep type who knows his assignments and easily takes the plays from the chalkboard to the field. He makes good adjustments on the field and is quick to find and settle into the soft areas. He is alert to the blitz and stunts, showing good urgency with his kick slide. He just has a natural feel for his position, doing a nice job of working back to the ball when the quarterback is pressured. He has no problems digesting a complicated playbook.
Duncan is known for his ability to fight for yardage after the catch. He makes blocks away from the play and is a self-starter and very hard worker. He is very physical competing for the ball and has more than enough power to break tackles. He has the timing and fire in his belly to compete for the ball in a crowd and will not hesitate to mix it up with an opponent. He wants the ball in pressure situations, knowing he can dominate in one-on-one situations in attempts to move the chains. Few tight ends show the aggression that Duncan brings when blocking. He is a tough, nasty position blocker who loves to mix it up in the trenches. He gives 110% on every play and will not hesitate to compete for the ball in a crowd. After the catch, he squares his shoulders, shields the ball and drives hard through the initial tackle. Defenders struggle to bring him down in one-one-one situations. He is a clutch player with a strong desire to succeed, yet, will comply with the game plan (doesn't need to be the main target- he just wants to win). He is a very determined drive blocker who excels at neutralizing second level defenders.
Duncan has good speed and initial quickness coming off the snap. He is more of a power-oriented type rather than one who will explode off the ball, but he uses his hands effectively to escape the jam. He is quick to elude after the catch. He is very physical uncovering when operating out of the slot or in motion. Despite his size, he is slippery enough to avoid the jam and has the hip snap to side-step linebackers trying to reroute him. He also shows enough agility to get up field in a hurry. Even though he has good timed speed, Duncan might lack suddenness, but is a savvy route runner with above average flexibility. He has the change of direction agility to avoid defenders, but also possesses the raw strength to attack the press and beat it with very good hand usage. Once he beats the jam, he is quick to get into his routes. With his initial burst, strong upper body and powerful hand punch, He has no problems getting a clean release and accelerating off the line. He shows good strength in his initial step and gets off the line at a low pad level.
Duncan is an inviting target working underneath. He won't explode off the line, but has the valid speed to gobble up the cushion and surprise the lethargic safety when challenging the deep zone. He uses his size well to shade defenders and does a very nice job of adjusting his routes to set up the defender. He is flexible when sitting down and has the speed to separate in his routes, along with the body agility to adjust. He is a big, rangy sort who has the long arms to get vertical and the balance to maintain his stride after the grab. He is a long strider, but shows good acceleration and the speed to stretch the field. He is simply an imposing target down field with the ball skills to consistently make plays on the ball. He can create mismatches vs. linebackers and safeties when he separates deep down in the seam. Working underneath, Duncan has the movement skills to settle in and the size to shield the ball from defenders (see 2013 Colorado Mesa and first Central Washington games). He is used mostly on screens, curls and crossers, so you really can't see his deep route speed, but based on his agility tests, he could be effective running down the ball past the intermediate area. He builds nicely to top acceleration and has a functional second gear to stretch the field. His strength in his RAC is evident by his consistency in breaking tackles. He is quick to get open in a crowd, using his hands to get a push off the defender, but won't explode and escape vs. the smaller defenders (relies on power to break tackles). His ability to find voids and adjust is evident, as he has a good feel when working underneath.
Duncan has very good timed speed for his position, but you would want to see him use it to explode off the line more often. By being a long strider, he doesn't appear fast at first coming off the line, but he will surprise a defender when he builds to top acceleration to ride up on his opponent. He flashes the ability to defeat the jam with his feet and maintains his acceleration throughout the routes. He shows good acceleration coming off the snap and getting into his routes. He is good at uncovering coming off the line and shows the lateral range to escape and get up field. He can also reach and seal a nine-tech. He has the valid foot speed, balance and body control to gain advantage over second level defenders coming off the snap. He won't explode off the ball, but has more than enough acceleration to get to the top of the route quickly. He is better when used as a traditional tight end on short area routes, but has good lateral quickness to be utilized in motion. He won't generate sudden moves to eat up a cushion, but has enough quickness and athletic agility to get through route progression.
Duncan has crisp plant-&-drive agility to come out of his breaks cleanly, but has not had enough coaching in proper route running. He needs to be more precise with his cuts (takes some soft angle ones), but is very effective on outs and crossing patterns. He is very smooth and athletic in his stride for a player of his size, doing a nice job of keeping his pads down. Even with consistent explosiveness, he has the ability to leverage and weave, stick his feet in the ground and create separation by using his power and frame. He has the ability to be precise in his routes, mostly due to his ability to sink his hips, but does need some technique work. His balance and flexibility are above average for this position. He has the ability to isolate the linebackers and safeties and shows the second gear needed to elude in the open.
While he needs to be more precise running those routes, you can see he has the power to break tackles and the stride to separate after the catch. He will sometimes run into spots in the zone, but generally knows where to settle. He has the functional burst to get through holes. His separation quickness turns defenders out of their back-pedals too early and his leg drive is evident when he maintains balance and bounces off when he makes the initial collision with his opponent. He shows good awareness of the sticks and good balance running down the sidelines. He still needs to make sharper cuts underneath, but he can accelerate to get open on deep routes. He has good pull-away speed from second level defenders, but he has never been used to challenge the deep secondary to see how he would match up vs. speedier safeties in the deep zone. He shows good pad level and change of direction agility settling in the soft areas, along with a strong hand punch to get a good push off a defender, turn in a fluid motion and head up field. He is precise when cutting and has the valid strength to power through tackles, but if he can gain confidence in his ability to elude rather than take the "power through" rate when meeting initial tacklers, it could possibly reduce his injury factors.
Duncan has good raw power, but has not been challenged much at this level. You can see that he is able to maintain position parking over the middle of the field and uses his arms well to get a good push off the defender while maintaining eye contact on the ball in flight. He will need to attack the ball more often at the next level, but it is very rare to see him affected by the physicality when working through traffic. When the bullets are flying over the middle, he shows good urgency and concentration to look the ball in. He is a physical receiver with enough strength to out-battle the defender for the ball and does a good job of looking the ball in over his outside shoulder.
Thanks to his basketball experience as a rebounder and shot blocker, Duncan has no problems timing his good leaping ability to get to the ball at its high point. He does a fine job of adjusting and contorting his frame to get to the off-target throws and has the balance to maintain his stride when turning up field after the catch. He is alert to coverages and has the awareness to locate open lanes. His body control lets him adjust on the move and he is very effective at making the off-target catches or hauling the ball in along the boundaries.
Few tight ends in this draft have the timing Duncan displays in his leaps. He looks very comfortable and athletic in his jumps, getting to the ball at its high point. His height lets him take away the ball from smaller defenders and he has the acceleration to get to the receiving point and go up for the ball. He has made great strides in timing his leap to get to the ball at its highest point and turn suddenly to run with the ball after the catch, thanks largely to his above average balance.
Duncan is a natural hands catcher with large mitts to secure the ball before running. He shows proper arm extension to reach for the ball at its high point and the soft hands to look the ball in away from his frame. He generates a strong hand punch to avoid the jam, but needs to work on better hand placement when blocking in-line (short arms at times). He looks very comfortable making the catch and his long arms give him a wide radius to work in the ball.
Run After the Catch
While he lacks explosiveness, this is one of his better assets due to his strength. Duncan has been tackled for a loss only two times during his last 135 receptions and shows the leg drive to consistently break tackles. With his size and power, he is simply too much to tackle in one-on-one situations. He lowers his pads and squares his shoulders well to simply obliterate the smaller defensive backs that dare to get in his way. More that 60% of his 1,994 receiving yards have come after the catch (see 2013 Colorado Mesa, Humboldt State, Simon Fraser and Central Washington games). He has enough agility to elude linebackers and even when working underneath, he knows how to use his size to push up field.
His effort is admirable, but he needs to generate better hand placement to lock on and steer his assignment away from the ball when blocking in-line. He takes some soft angle cuts, making him late at times when asked to neutralize a linebacker up field. He also needs to work on improving his foot technique when trying to sustain. He has the raw power and size to be effective here, but just needs to refine his technique.
Jason Witten, Dallas: Duncan is a well-built, powerful athlete with long arm, strong lower torso, thick chest and valid speed to challenge the deep secondary. He has the hand strength to easily defeat the jam and get into his routes, demonstrating the quickness to reach shaded defenders and go through his route progression. A left foot injury was his latest episode" for a visit to the doctor's office and if he slides on draft day, it will not be due to his production level, but rather his long medical record.
Earlier in his career, Duncan tended to run into spots and did not escape the jam cleanly. But, with improved hand extension and punch, he showed in 2013 that he is able to get a clean release and accelerate up field with minimal impediment from the defender. He is not explosive in his initial burst, but builds to top speed nicely and has the cutting ability to get the defender to come out of his backpedal too early. He can gobble up the cushion and with his loose hips and leg drive, second level defenders struggle to cover him in one-on-one situations.
Duncan still needs some route technique work, as he will take soft angle cuts at times, but with patient coaching, you can see he has the balance and body control, along with lateral agility to be an effective target over the middle or one that can threaten the zone with his valid speed. He is an imposing target over the middle who uses his frame well to shield the ball from defenders. His lower body strength allows him to consistently break tackles and his long stride lets him stretch the field consistently.
Duncan has those long arms and basketball leaping ability that creates mismatches for smaller defenders trying to compete for him vs. the jump ball. He can extend and pluck the ball away from his frame and does a very good job of timing his leaps. He looks fluid in his stride and has the ability to look the ball in over his outside shoulder and catch it without having to break stride.
Duncan is still a work in progress as a blocker. He has the hand punch to shock and jolt, but needs better hand placement and more urgency in attempts to sustain. He sometimes gets too upright in his stance and needs to play with a wider base. His raw power is much more evident in his running style after the catch than when blocking. He has the leg strength to break isolated tackles and once he gets a head of steam going, defenders struggle to bring him down, even when gang-tackling.
Overall, Duncan is an imposing target in the Jason Witten mold, especially with his ability to locate the soft areas on the field. He fights hard for extra yardage after the catch and his power can obliterate the smaller defenders that get in his path. He needs some route technique and blocking hand placement work, but you can see he is a quick study just begging for patient and experienced coaching. His leg issues are the only thing stopping this player from emerging as possibly the best in the 2014 NFL Draft Class at this position.
Dave-Te' Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft.