In Part 6 of our Green Bay Packers draft preview, we examine the tight ends.
PACKERS AREA OF NEED (1 TO 10)
Seven: Andrew Quarless is a decent veteran, with 29 catches for 323 yards and three touchdowns in 2014, but there is no upside. Richard Rodgers, a third-round rookie, had a decent season with 20 receptions for 225 yards and two scores, but he’s slow, offers little run-after-catch ability and even less as a blocker. Brandon Bostick was sent packing after helping lose the NFC Championship Games. So, yes, the Packers need a tight end. Will they go after a game-breaking playmaker? Or a blocker? Either one would complement Rodgers, who had 17 catches in the final nine regular-season games and played a key role in the playoff loss to Seattle with five receptions for 40 yards. He looks like a guy who could catch 40 or 50 passes a year.
“I really like what Richard did this year,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “I think the second half of the season he was really comfortable to do all the things we ask the tight end position to do. From a responsibility standpoint, our tight ends are asked to do a lot as far as where they line up, mentality, on the ball, off the ball, in the backfield, displaced formations, and Richard is comfortable with that now.”
IT’S WORTH NOTING
In the last four drafts, only two tight ends were taken in the first round — Eric Ebron by Detroit (No. 10, 2014) and Tyler Eifert by Cincinnati (No. 21, 2013). It’s possible this will be three of the last five drafts without a first-round tight end. General manager Ted Thompson has taken only six tight ends — with Jermichael Finley being the earliest chosen as a third-rounder in 2008.
THOMPSON’S SUCCESS RATE
Considering the resources expended in the draft, Thompson has done fairly well.
Can he improve on the position in this draft? If last year’s tight end class was bad, this one might be worse. There’s some good blockers and some good receivers but nobody ready to step in and be the total package.
“The in-line tight end that's a great blocker and also receiver is getting more and more rare,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “There just aren't that many. The guy from Dallas (Jason Witten) obviously has been doing it for years, (as has) Heath Miller in Pittsburgh. Those guys are disappearing, mostly because they're not coming out of the college game. Most everybody is a hybrid in college football these days.”
Maxx Williams, Minnesota (6-4, 249; 4.78): More than likely, no tight end will go in the first round. If one does, it probably will be Williams.
Williams was one of three finalists for the Mackey Award, which goes to the nation’s top tight end, and was voted the Big Ten’s top tight end in 2014, his redshirt sophomore season. Williams led the Gophers in receptions (36), yards (569), receiving touchdowns (eight) and was fourth in yards per reception (15.8). His yardage and touchdown totals set single-season records for a Minnesota tight end. His eighth touchdown came in the Citrus Bowl, when he hurdled two Missouri defenders. In two seasons, he caught almost 80 percent of targeted passes. He was also a first-team Academic All-American.
Athletics are in his genes. Williams’ father, Brian, played at Minnesota and played center for the Giants. His mother, Rochelle, played volleyball at Minnesota. A grandfather, Robert, was a quarterback at Notre Dame who was drafted by the Bears. An uncle, Ron, played for the Gophers and for Barcelona in the World League of American Football.
With soft hands, he has garnered comparisons to Carolina’s Greg Olsen.
“Williams is best when used in motion, especially on screens and fades,” reads a portion of his NFL scouting report, which was provided to Packer Report by the league’s head scout. “He has the size and strength to power through the jam and enough quickness to get open underneath. He shows the feel to adjust to uncover and effective ball reaction to look the pass in. He is a big target over the middle and does a decent good job of adjusting to the ball in flight. He lacks the vertical explosion to get deep consistently and needs to add more bulk and power to navigate through arm tackles to gain additional yardage after contact.”
CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL SCOUTING REPORTS from the NFL’s head scout, Dave-Te’ Thomas.
Clive Walford, Miami (6-4, 251; 4.79): Walford also was a Mackey finalist. As a senior, he caught 44 passes for 676 yards (15.4 average) and seven touchdowns while hauling in 81.5 percent of targeted passes. He sustained a knee injury that required surgery late in the season against Florida State but showed his toughness by lacing up his shoes for the Senior Bowl, where he impressed Phil Savage, the executive director of the all-star game and a former NFL general manager.
“He has the suddenness to separate at the line of scrimmage and at the top of his routes and the speed to threaten the middle part of the field,” Savage wrote at SeniorBowl.com. “He has very capable hands, but will need to continue refining his blocking at the point of attack.”
Between Walford and Williams, Walford is the better blocker and perhaps the top route-runner in the class.
“Walford looks very natural catching the ball,” reads his scouting report. “He will consistently fight for the jump ball and looks natural extending for the pass away from the body’s frame. He is very adept at turning and adjusting to the off-target tosses. His outstanding flexibility is evident when he works back for the pass. He uses his size well to shield away defenders and despite his bulk, looks fluid extending for the pass at its highest point. Walford is a wall off type who gives good effort.”
MyCole Pruitt, Southern Illinois (6-2, 251; 4.58): Pruitt is the Missouri Valley Conference’s career leader in career receptions (211), receiving yards (2,601) and receiving touchdowns (25) among tight ends. No other tight end in this class has more than 150 catches. He was selected the best tight end in the 30-year-old history of the conference and is a two-time consensus first-team FCS All-American. As a senior, he caught a school-record and conference-leading 81 passes for 861 yards and 13 touchdowns. Will that small-school production and elite athletic ability translate, or is he nothing more than a clone of D.J. Williams, the undersized former Arkansas star who busted with the Packers?
“Pruitt has soft hands and is not the type that uses his body as a crutch,” reads his scouting report. “I really like the way he will extend to catch the ball outside his frame. He also knows how to keep the ball off his body to make the catch and with those long arms, he certainly has the catching radius to reach and pluck the ball with ease. Pruitt is a very good open-field runner, with the loose hips and nifty spin moves to avoid second-level defenders after the catch.”
Jesse James, Penn State (6-7, 261; 4.83): James caught 38 passes for 396 yards (10.4 average and 63.3 percent catch rate) and led the team with three touchdowns to earn honorable mention on the all-Big Ten team as a true junior in 2014. His nickname is “Freak” — which didn’t come into play with his 40 time but he finished second among the tight ends with his bench press and vertical jump. One scout said James was a big riser on his team’s board because of his size, upside and blocking ability.
“You will rarely hear James’ name bandied about by the media, but in scouting circles, many analysts feel that he could be on the verge of emerging,” reads his scouting report. “He has offensive lineman-like size and is regarded as one of the most punishing blockers in college at his position. He also made great strides as a receiver this season, ranking third on the team with 38 receptions. His long reach lets him adjust to off-target throws, showing ease of movement extending to catch away from the body.”
Mayock isn’t as high on James. “He looks like kind of a one-speed guy to me. He's not overly fast. He's not quick. Captures the football fairly well. As an in-line blocker, he's pesky. He'll get in the way, stay there and fight. But he's not overly powerful. I think he's a mid to late-round tight end.”
CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL SCOUTING REPORTS from the NFL’s head scout, Dave-Te’ Thomas.
Blake Bell, Oklahoma (6-6, 252; 4.80): After spending his first three seasons at quarterback, where he rushed for 24 touchdowns as the “Belldozer” and threw for 12, Bell moved to tight end for his senior season. He was a hit, with 16 receptions for 214 yards (13.4 average; 50.0 percent catch rate) and four touchdowns. His 40 time wasn’t great at the Combine but he blew away the field in the three-cone drill.
Scouts see in Bell a player in the mold of former Dallas Cowboys great Jay Novacek — a standout quarterback who moved to wide receiver at Wyoming before he excelled once he shifted to the tight end position later with the Cowboys.
“His best assets are his size and hands,” reads his scouting report. “He looks very comfortable lining up inside in a four-receiver set or flexed out. He's a fluid open-field runner, but needs to show better precision breaking off his routes. He’s shown significant improvement this offseason, but one area that needs a lot of work will require long hours in the weight room, where his current figures (14 reps in the 225-pound bench press) is sorely lacking. If he can translate his physical abilities on to the football field, he could be one of the better late round finds from this draft class, but patience will be required and he’s the type to come back and evaluate three years from now.”
Jeff Heuerman, Ohio State (6-5, 252; 4.81): With a revolving door at quarterback, Heuerman caught 17 passes for 207 yards (12.2 average; 65.4 percent catch rate) and two scores. In 2013, Heuerman led all Ohio State receivers by averaging 17.9 yards per reception with 26 receptions (72.2 percent catch rate) for 466 yards and four touchdowns.
“He is a tough and physical receiver when working in a crowd,” reads his scouting report said. “He has good hand/eye coordination to catch outside the framework and has some shake to elude after the catch. He will not win many foot races in the open, but turns it up hard and will bleed yardage after the catch. He is more of a power runner who can break tackles rather than try to slip by and avoid defenders. As a blocker, he is on the defender quickly and follows up with good strength, leverage and active feet. Heuerman is a physical in-line blocker who works hard to sustain.”
Tyler Kroft, Rutgers (6-5, 246; 4.75): Kroft caught 24 passes for 269 yards (11.2 average; 61.5 percent catch rate) as a junior in 2014 after a big-time 43 receptions for 573 yards (13.3 average; 59.1 percent catch rate) and four scores in 2013.
“Kroft has good change-of-direction agility and balance,” reads his scouting report. “He shows good body control through his routes and the hand/eye coordination to maintain relationship with the ball in flight. He compensates for a lack of speed with a fluid stride. He has the body control and flexibility to adjust on the move and looks natural with hands in catching the ball.”
Ben Koyack, Notre Dame (6-4, 254; 4.79): Koyack caught 30 passes for 317 yards (10.6 average; 69.8 percent catch rate) and two touchdowns as a senior and 40 passes for his career. He’s a good player but hardly the next fine-tuned machine to be turned out from the school’s tight end factory.
“His body control and flexibility need to be quicker, as he can be a step late getting off the snap and must show better extension going after off-target throws,” reads his scouting report. “At his position, he usually plays in a two-point stance (did not see hands down much). As a blocker he moves his feet, has a punch and will extend arms, but has to deliver more strength in order to sustain. He plays with adequate leverage, but will lose his feet some on the inside power move.”
Nick O’Leary, Florida State (6-3, 244; 4.93): O’Leary, the grandson of legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus, won the Mackey Award as a senior. He caught 48 passes for 618 yards (12.9 average; 57.1 percent catch rate) and six touchdowns. He was a finalist in 2013, when he grabbed 33 balls for 557 yards and seven touchdowns, with his 16.9-yard average leading the nation’s tight ends.
“O’Leary displays the versatility which allows him to flex out wide as a receiver, line up close on the line or be used in the backfield as an H-back, qualities that the most teams with multiple receiver formations are looking for,” reads his scouting report. “He is a pretty decent runner in the open field and after the catch for his position and has the ability to look the ball in and make the over the shoulder grabs. “He has also shown good pop and explosion as a second-level blocker, making him an asset serving as a lead blocker.”
Nick Boyle, Delaware (6-4, 271; 5.04): As a senior, he had 37 catches for 304 yards and four scores to run his career total to 101 receptions and 12 touchdowns.
“Boyle has the prototype tight end frame — thick with excellent arm length, broad shoulders, large hands and muscular throughout,” reads his scouting report. “Even though he was primarily a blocker, he has natural hands, good arm extension and leaping ability and a powerful looking frame.”
He has “natural hands” and gets off the ball well. “I like him,” Mayock said. “Nick Boyle is a 270-pound guy who I thought had a better Senior Bowl week than he actually had during the season. He played tight end, he played H-back, he played fullback all Senior Bowl week. I think he opened some eyes. I think he showed a little more athleticism. I think he's limited in the pass game. But because he's got such an upside as an in-line blocker, H back, fullback, I think he's a valuable commodity.”
Casey Pierce, Kent State (6-4, 244; 4.77): The former walk-on turned in a senior season of 60 catches for 641 yards (81.1 percent; 10.7 average) and six touchdowns. He impressed as a late addition to the Senior Bowl but did not get invited to the Combine.
“For a tight end, Pierce displays excellent foot speed, but with his light frame that might be at maximum growth potential, he will possibly be used as a motion back at the next level,” reads his scouting report. “He is a normal strider, but has that burst to accelerate when running his routes (is inconsistent on his breaks, though). He has quick feet and good body control, but must develop better flexibility to make crisp cuts out of his breaks.”
C.J. Uzomah, Auburn (6-4, 264; 4.62): Uzomah started 12 of his 50 games, recording 29 receptions for 435 yards (15.0 average) and seven touchdowns. As a senior, he caught 11 passes for 145 yards (61.1 percent; 13.2 average).
“Uzomah can release with his strength, displaying effective arm rip and swim moves,” reads his scouting report. “He has the overall timed speed to shake off coverage, but tends to break too high in his stance, resulting in his failure to generate much of a burst. He is most effective when working in the short area, as he has a knack for getting his head turned around to locate the ball when operating underneath.”
Jean Sifrin, UMass (6-6, 245; 4.84): Sifrin had a big-time junior season with 42 receptions for 642 yards (59.2 percent; 15.3 average) and six touchdowns to earn FCS All-American honors. The catch? Sifrin is 27, which is why he declared for the draft. After taking a couple years off to help take care of his family, his big break came when a junior college coach watched him playing flag football.
“If given room, he has above-average speed to go the distance with the ball, demonstrating the second gear needed to pull away from anyone outside, especially from second-level defenders,” reads his scouting report. “The thing I like about him is his steady improvement turning it up hard after the catch. Thanks to his impressive quickness and lack of experience as a blocker, Sifrin has been utilized strictly as a pass-catching tight end who is not heavily involved in the blocking assignments.”
Will Saxton, South Alabama (6-4, 248; 4.65): Saxton caught 20 passes for 155 yards (74.1 percent; 7.8 average) and no touchdowns as a senior but had a big-time junior year with 50 receptions for 635 yards and one score. His high school quarterback was Jameis Winston.
“Saxton is the classic H-back, chain-moving pass catcher that NFL teams are looking for,” reads his scouting report. “He has room to add more bulk, as he has a long torso and a developing frame with narrow hips and long limbs, reminding scouts of Titans breakout star Delanie Walker.”
E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State (6-2, 258; 4.88): Bibbs recorded 45 receptions for 382 yards (73.8 percent; 8.5 average) and eight touchdowns despite missing the final two games with a knee injury — an injury that prevented him from testing at the Combine. He caught 70.6 percent of targeted passes in his two season at ISU.
“Bibbs is more of a savvy route-runner,” reads his scouting report. “He is not going to simply fly past and get behind a defender, but he builds his acceleration steadily and shows good wiggle and moves to make the secondary types bite more often than they should on play action. His patterns are precise with no drift vs. man coverage, with good stem, stick and leverage ability. He does a nice job of using swim moves and a stutter-step to shake off the safeties when working in the short area.”
Gerald Christian, Louisville (6-3, 248; 4.87): Christian played one season at Florida before transferring. At Louisville, he started 23 of his 26 games, catching 60 passes for 810 yards (65.9 percent; 13.5 average) and nine touchdowns.
“The first thing you notice on game film is that Christian has large, soft hands, good change-of-direction agility, quickness and hand/eye coordination,” reads his scouting report. “He is still learning to use his size to shade a defender, but is capable of handling that task with more reps. He has the acceleration to create mismatches vs. linebackers and slower safeties, but lacks that second gear to climb into the deep part of the field. He appears to understand leverage and just needs to learn how to sit in the zone.”
FOUR WILD CARDS
Khari Lee, Bowie State (6-4, 251; 4.96): Lee started 39 games in his four seasons, recording 108 catches for 1,257 yards (11.6 average) and five touchdowns. As a senior, his 34 receptions (for 389 yards and one touchdown) placed eighth among Division II tight ends as he won first-team All-American honors.
“Lee is a natural hands catcher that will best be served as a motion tight end at the NFL level,” reads his scouting report. “He has great field vision and the ability to break down and locate and is a big target for the vertical passing game due to his deep speed. He is a very sharp route runner who gets his head turned properly to track the ball in flight over his shoulder. He still has room to grow physically, but it is his athletic ability that immediately catches your eyes.”
Eric Tomlinson, UTEP (6-6, 261; 4.77): Tomlinson started 31 games in four seasons, finishing with 59 catches for 547 yards (9.3 average) and four touchdowns. He did his best work as a blocker, as he was credited with 42 touchdown-resulting blocks.
“Where Tomlinson excels is as a determined, nasty in-line blocker with a good lower-body base and a strong hand punch to shock and jolt a lethargic defender,” reads his scouting report. “He has the hip swerve and pad level to gain advantage upon initial contact. He needs to stay on his blocks more (looks for secondary targets to attack rather than lock on and sustain for long), but when attacking the second level, he takes good angles and positions himself well to deliver a strong lick on a linebacker.”
James O’Shaughnessy, Illinois State (6-4, 248; 4.68): O’Shaughnessy was a three-year starter. As a senior, he caught 29 passes for 544 yards and nine touchdowns. He contributed 19 catches for 403 yards and three touchdowns as a sophomore and 14 catches for 147 yards as a junior.
Gabe Holmes, Purdue (6-5, 260; 4.88): Holmes is the son of former Olympic long jumper Walter Holmes. As a senior, he caught 17 passes for 178 yards (10.5 average and two touchdowns). He missed most of the 2013 season with a wrist injury.
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