Green Bay Packers NFL Draft Preview: Flex Tight Ends

Which tight end prospects are at their best when lined up off the line of scrimmage? We examine the "flex" tight ends in Part 2 of our positional preview.

Packer Report continues its monthlong NFL Draft positional series with the tight ends.

In many ways, “tight end” is an antiquated term.

With so many colleges operating out of a spread offense, the pool of available tight ends has shrunk. As was the case in 2014, when the Green Bay Packers used a third-round pick on Cal receiver Richard Rodgers and had to project him playing tight end, there are few complete tight ends entering the draft each year.

“Anymore, you don’t talk about tight ends,” Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said at the Scouting Combine. “You’re looking at either a ‘Y’ or an ‘F’. You’re either an in-line guy who usually lacks the skill-set to be a pass catcher but is usually a tougher, overachiever that is physical at the point of attack. Then you have the guy who can flex who is essentially a big wide receiver. So the guy who can do it all, generally, doesn’t exist any more. There are a few guys who can do both but very rarely. The perception around the league is that when you see these guys who are great pass catchers, people think they are functional in the run game. When you watch tape, they are really not. You see guys who at the point of attack are having a very difficult time.”

Here are the "flex" tight ends, as projected by Optimum Scouting’s Eric Galko and our conversations with scouts. The on-the-line tight ends are up next. Here are the all-around tight ends. Stats are from STATS and RealFootball.com.

JERELL ADAMS, South Carolina

Position rank: 2.

Height: 6-foot-5 1/8. Weight: 247. 40: 4.64. Vertical: 32.5. Bench: NA.

Notes: Adams caught 66 passes for 977 yards (14.8 average) and three touchdowns during his career, including 28 grabs for 421 yards (15.0 average) and three touchdowns as a senior. The retirement of coach Steve Spurrier and the lack of a real quarterback led to Adams putting up such ho-hum numbers during his final season. Looking deeper, he averaged an impressive 15.0 yards per reception and led the entire tight end class with 6.8 yards after the catch per catch. Plus, he had six receptions of 25-plus yards. So, too, did Arkansas’ Hunter Henry and Western Kentucky’s Tyler Higbee, but they required 51 and 38 receptions, respectively. Adams’ rate of one 25-yarder for every 4.67 catches was tops in this draft class among the tight ends with at least 20 receptions.

Scouting: Adams’ speed is evident with his 40-yard time, drawing comparisons to Jared Cook, the former South Carolina tight end who signed with the Packers. However, he had only a 32.5-inch vertical compared to Cook’s 41. Plus, Adams’ 9-inch hands were the smallest of the 15 tight ends at the Combine, which perhaps explains his four drops — tied for the most in the tight end class. Working in Adams’ favor: His 34 3/8-inch arms were the longest of the tight ends at the Combine, giving him a huge catch radius.

“Adams is a well-put together athlete, evident by his agility performance figures,” wrote longtime NFL scout Dave-Te’ Thomas. “He shows good initial quickness, agility, balance, explosiveness, timed speed, change-of-direction agility and flexibility, along with excellent stamina, thanks to his years on the basketball court. He is light on his feet for a player his size, showing impressive upper body flexibility extending for the ball in flight. The thing you notice immediately on film is his explosive initial burst off the snap. He is the type with the acceleration and second gear to make second level defenders miss.” Adams also is a decent blocker, with his hand bunch helping him against the bigger defenders on the defensive line. That, however, is not going to be his forte. “I think that would be a work in progress,” said Phil Savage, the former NFL general manager and Senior Bowl executive director. “He’s a leaner-type body frame — kind of an oversized wide receiver. He would the receiving piece to a team that already has the on-the-line Y blocker.”

Personally: At Scott’s Branch High School in Summerton, S.C., Adams played quarterback, tight end, defensive end and punter. He also averaged 19 points and 13 rebounds as a junior. “I always wanted to play basketball,” Adams said. “Football was just something I did. I wanted to be an NBA All-Star.”

TYLER HIGBEE, Western Kentucky

Position rank: 3.

Height: 6-foot-5 3/4. Weight: 249. 40: DNP. Vertical: DNP. Bench: DNP.

Notes: Higbee had knee surgery in December so didn’t test at the Combine or this week’s pro day. Despite missing five games due to the injury, Higbee caught 38 passes for 563 yards and eight touchdowns for the pass-happy Hilltoppers. Before the injury, he led all FBS tight ends in receptions, yards and touchdowns. In our list of the top 25 tight ends in the draft, Higbee ranked No. 1 with a catch rate of 77.6 percent — only one other tight end with more than eight receptions was even at 70 percent (East Carolina’s Bryce Williams, 71.6 percent). Higbee also led the tight end class with 11 red-zone receptions and six red-zone touchdowns — incredible considering the injury left him playing only 46 percent of the snaps. “I think I am a physical tight end who can stretch the seam,” he said at the Scouting Combine. “And if the ball is up in the air I am going to go up and get it.” He opened his career behind the Packers’ Mitchell Henry, catching a total of 28 passes with five touchdowns in 2013 and 2014.

THE WORLD'S BEST TIGHT END CHART: STATISTICAL COMPARISON OF OUR TOP 25 PROSPECTS

Scouting: Higbee dropped just one pass and ranked second in the tight end class with 6.4 YAC per catch. “Higbee has soft hands and is very good with hand placement on the ball,” Thomas said. “He will catch in his hands, extend and pluck outside the framework and look natural doing both. The thing you notice on film is his ball-concentration skills. Once he gets the ball within his grasp, it will result in a clean catch. When in stride, he catches the ball smoothly, showing the hand/eye coordination to make proper body adjustments and will extend some to catch out of the body’s framework.” Blocking is not a strength, with a scout saying he gets “no movement” in the run game.

Personally: Higbee spent his true freshman season playing wide receiver before packing on more than 20 pounds to play tight end. Now, he’s one of the top prospects. “I think the tight ends can create mismatches with the linebackers and safeties,” Higbee said. “Sometimes they put a linebacker on them and they are too quick for them and sometimes they try to put a safety on them and they are too small for them. I think with my game I can create mismatches and hopefully contribute to a team’s success.”

AUSTIN HOOPER, Stanford

Position rank: 6.

Height: 6-foot-3 3/4. Weight: 254. 40: 4.72. Vertical: 33. Bench: 19.

Notes: Hooper was a third-team All-American and a finalist for the Mackey Award. He caught 34 passes for 438 yards and six touchdowns. However, Hooper caught only 60.7 percent of his passes while dropping four passes and had just 4.1 YAC per catch. He’ll obviously be compared to fellow Stanford-turned-professional tight ends Zach Ertz and Coby Fleener. “It starts with (coach) David Shaw,” Hooper said. “His players are very intelligent and passionate about the game of football. Coach Shaw believed in me. I might not have the prototypical height, but Coach saw something in my tape that hopefully an NFL team will, too. I f you play tight end, you have to do a great job of blocking, you have to do a great job of running your routes, and know the way our offense works. That’s a part of why we’ve had so many guys get to this point in their careers.” Physically, he’s a combination of the two, with Hooper’s 40 time about the same as Ertz’s (Ertz ran in 4.75 vs. Fleener’s 4.51) and his vertical right in between the two (Fleener jumped 37 vs. Ertz’s 30.5). The difference, as Hooper eluded to, is height. He’s more than an inch shorter than Ertz (6-foot-5) and more than 2 inches shorter than Fleener (6-foot-6). However, Hooper’s 10 5/8-inch hands were the largest of the tight ends at the Combine and his 33 3/4-inch arms were near the top of the chart.

Scouting: Hooper redshirted as a freshman in 2013 and played only two seasons for the Cardinal. With that, he might need a season or two to reach his potential. That was evident with his 19 reps on the bench at the Combine. “He is an aggressive upfield blocker who plays with the intent to punish,” Thomas said. “He is just a much better blocker on the move than in-line. When blocking at the line, he has quickness to gain position but, due to size and bulk issues along with some impatience, he will tend to overextend and lose leverage. He’s just not the type if you are looking for a tight end to get in-line movement or want him to wall off or turn the defender.” In time, maybe he’ll become a complete tight end. “I believe I can,” Hooper said. “I have a good combination of speed and strength. I’m very physical. I grew up playing defensive line my whole life until I came to college so the physical side of the game of football isn’t something that scares me in the slightest. I feel confident with my abilities and hopefully a team does too.” For now, though, he’ll be limited to H-back status and a quality pass catcher. “He is a bit of a contortionist, as 22 of his receptions the last two years were off-target throws that should not have been caught,” Thomas noted.
Personally: Hooper’s father played football at San Diego State. His younger brother, Justin, plays baseball at UCLA and was drafted in the 25th round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Milwaukee Brewers. One uncle played fullback for Stanford and another played professional tennis.

TEMARRICK HEMINGWAY, South Carolina State

Position rank: 9.

Height: 6-foot-4 7/8. Weight: 244. 40: 4.72. Vertical: 30.5. Bench: 18.

Notes: In the long history of the MEAC, only six tight ends have been drafted. That short list includes Morgan State’s Raymond Chester, who the Raiders selected with the 24th pick of the 1970 draft, and Visanthe Shiancoe, who the Giants grabbed in the third round in 2003. Hemingway almost certainly will join that group. He caught 38 passes for 418 yards (11.0 average) and one touchdown as a senior to earn first-team all-conference and to the SBN Black College All-America team. (STATS did not keep stats at South Carolina State, so items such as YAC and catch percentage are not available.)

Scouting: Hemingway performed well at the Scouting Combine, including a position-best clocking in the three-cone drill. With 34-inch arms, he provides a big target, with his 10-inch hands helping him reel in whatever’s in range. “Hemingway can get to top speed in an instant after he secures the ball after the catch, but that is also a problem, as he does have concentration lapses that leave the ball on the ground,” Thomas said. “You can see on film his ability to turn it up hard after the catch. He is not your typical one-cut runner, like most tight ends on deep routes, as he is faster and shiftier with outstanding speed and good hip wiggle.” Strength and effort are issues as a run blocker. At North Myrtle Beach High School, Hemingway was 6-foot-5 and just 180 pounds. He’ll need to add another 10 pounds of muscle to compete in the run game and maximize his obvious tools.

Personally: Before the season, he was given the Walter Payton Achievement Award, which recognizes exemplary student-athletes, shining a light on character and embodiment of team spirit. This past summer, the native of Loris, S.C., was chosen to intern at Charleston International Airport.

THOMAS DUARTE, UCLA

Position rank: 11.

Height: 6-foot-2 1/8. Weight: 231. 40: 4.72. Vertical: 33.5. Bench: 12.

Notes: As a junior in 2015, Duarte finished second on the team with 53 receptions for 872 yards to earn second-team all-conference honors. His 16.5 yards per catch ranked fourth in the conference and his 10 touchdowns were good for fourth in school history. Duarte finished second in this tight end class in receptions, first in yards, third in yards per catch and first in touchdowns. His 10 receptions of 25-plus yards ranked second and his eight red-zone receptions ranked third. He dropped three passes and caught 59.6 percent of his targets. Duarte was explosive in 2014, as well, with 28 catches for 540 yards and four touchdowns, with his 19.3 average leading the conference.

Scouting: Duarte will either be an underpowered tight end or an oversized wide receiver in the NFL. Opinions vary, as Duarte worked out at both positions at the Scouting Combine. Based on his 40 time, tight end would seem to be the ticket. Based on his woeful bench press, maybe hs should play receiver. He is a terrific route-runner. He is not a terrific blocker. Optimum Scouting compared him to Jordan Reed.

Personally: Having good hands came out of necessity — whether it was the football, remote or piece of fruit. "I always remember catching balls. My dad and uncles would always play catch with me. There was something about running and catching balls that fascinated me."

HENRY KRIEGER COBLE, Iowa

Position rank: 12.

Height: 6-foot-3 1/4. Weight: 249. 40: 4.91. Vertical: 33.5. Bench: NA.

Notes: The senior caught 35 passes for 405 yards (12.0 average) and one touchdown in his only season as a starter. He made up for lost time with a 69.6 percent catch rate and 6.4 YAC per catch — both among the best at the position. He dropped two passes. Before that, his entire collegiate production consisted of seven receptions.

Scouting: He’s not tall and he’s not fast, which is perhaps why he wasn’t invited to the Scouting Combine despite being relatively well-regarded by scouts. “Krieger Coble lacks even adequate timed speed, but compensates with sure hands, great tenacity as a blocker, good hand/eye coordination and above-average pass-catching skills,” Thomas said. “He is much more productive in the short range, using his savvy to find holes in the zone. He has the big body and natural hands to catch in a crowd, but just lacks top end speed and separation.” As a blocker, he’s better in the trenches than at the second level, where the athletic issues crop up again. “He really only had one year starting at Iowa,” Savage said. “He really knows and understands how to play. He would be more of a mid- to late-round option for a team but I think he can make a team.”

Personally: His first cousin, George Kittle, was a junior tight end for the Hawkeyes. They’ll be the next quality tight ends developed by coach Kirk Ferentz. “I don’t know if we’ve had anybody run routes any better than Henry does as a tight end,” Ferentz said. “I wish you guys could see the ones (catches) he makes in practice. It’s unbelievable. He’s a really good football player that is flying so far underneath the radar, it’s amazing.”

DARION GRISWOLD, Arkansas State

Position rank: 13.

Height: 6-foot-3 1/2. Weight: 253. 40: NA. Vertical: NA. Bench: NA. (Griswold’s pro day is set for April 5.)

Notes: Griswold caught 13 passes for 187 yards (14.4 average) and two touchdowns. He caught 65.0 percent of targeted passes without a drop and averaged 5.5 YAC per catch. Griswold caught 24 passes as a sophomore and 18 as a junior. He emerged as one of the top prospects at the Shrine Game.

Scouting: Said Savage: “Darion was a quarterback in high school who went to Arkansas State; they moved him to tight end. He has a level of experience but he’s still somewhat raw at the position. He’s big, he’s got some athleticism. He’s more of a project right at this point but he’s got the height, the weight. He’s got some tools to try and develop.” As a blocker, he’s better on the second level, where he can use his athleticism, than on the line. His technique needs a lot of work. Like Savage said, he is a project.

Personally: During his first season at ASU, he also competed on the basketball team, averaging 4.6 points and 2.5 rebounds. “It was tough,” he said of that first year. “My freshman year, I played football and transitioned into basketball. You have to be in a different kind of shape for basketball and you travel a lot. Basketball was fun. It was one of the first sports I ever played and I loved it and still love it to this day. It was an awesome experience to be able to play two sports. It was pretty cool. A lot of my football teammates actually came and watched me my first game. I didn't even score but I got a rebound and the crowd went crazy. That was pretty cool.”

JAKE MCGEE, Florida

Position rank: 14.

Height: 6-foot-5 1/2. Weight: 250. 40: 4.84. Vertical: 28.5. Bench: 17.

Notes: McGee opened his career at Virginia, catching a total of 71 passes in 2012 and 2013. With diploma in hand, he went to Florida for the 2014 season but sustained a broken leg in the opener. The NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility, and McGee was a key cog for the surging Gators this past season. “Big Gronk,” as his teammates called him, caught 41 passes for 381 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged 9.3 yards per catch, including 4.1 YAC, and didn’t drop any passes. He was a major red-zone threat with eight receptions and all four touchdowns.

Scouting: The numbers say it all. He’s not athletic — he was one of only three tight ends in this class without a 25-yard catch (minimum 20 catches) and he’s not strong, but he is a big, sure-handed target who catches everything thrown in his vicinity — high, low, wherever. Blocking is the enormous weakness, stemming from his quarterback background and then missing all of 2014.

Personally: McGee was recruited to Virginia to play quarterback but witched to tight end during his redshirt season of 2010. He will turn 25 in September.

DEVON CAJUSTE, Stanford

Position rank: 15.

Height: 6-foot-3 3/4. Weight: 234. 40: 4.62. Vertical: 36. Bench: 12.

Notes: This is a total projection, since Cajuste played receiver at Stanford. His lack of suddenness, however, means Cajuste might wind up as an off-the-line tight end. Cajuste caught 27 passes for 383 yards (14.2 average) and three touchdowns as a senior. He had a 65.9 percent catch rate, dropped two passes and averaged only 3.6 YAC. His lone big game came against Notre Dame — five catches for 125 yards and one score. That came on the heels of 34 receptions for 557 yards and six scores as a junior and 28 receptions for 642 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore. His 22.9 yards per reception in 2013 set a school record.

Scouting: Much like UCLA’s Duarte, what is Cajuste’s position? Is he a big but athletically underpowered wide receiver? Or is he a small but physically underpowered tight end? Then again, defenders have to cover him and he’s taller than defensive backs and faster than most linebackers. His size, fearlessness and enormous hands are his biggest assets.

Personally: If you look at his height and weight, you might think he’s a tight end. That’s what most schools thought, too, when they recruited him. And that’s why Cajuste went to Stanford — the Cardinal would let him play receiver. For a big guy, he’s got good speed, which Cajuste says comes from his dad, a former athlete and Marine, and from racing the family Rottweiler. “The glory of like the big catch is really more applied to the receiver," Cajuste said. "And being my size, a tight end would make me an even match. It's such a huge advantage being on the outside at my size.”

SEAN PRICE, South Florida

Position rank: 16.

Height: 6-foot-2 1/2. Weight: 245. 40: 5.02. Vertical: 30. Bench: NA.

Notes: For his career, Price caught 75 passes for 897 yards — both tops in USF history for a tight end. As a senior, he caught 19 passes for 296 yards (15.6 average) and five touchdowns. He was second in the tight end class with 6.5 YAC per catch and turned five of his receptions into gains of 25-plus yards.

Scouting: Price’s 40 time is horrendous, especially for a man of 245 pounds. But his niche is blocking, and he’s one of the better tight ends in the draft at that part of the game. He was a key reason why the 2015 team rushed for a school-record 3,205 yards. Most of the big-play production in the passing game came as the result of play-action. His 11-inch hands — the biggest in the draft class — are an asset in the passing game and as a blocker.

Personally: Price was raised by his grandparents. His mother died in a car accident in 1996 and he never met his dad.

KIVON CARTWRIGHT, Colorado State

Position rank: 17.

Height: 6-foot-3 7/8. Weight: 243. 40: 4.77. Vertical: 34.5. Bench: 23.

Notes: After missing all of the 2014 season with an ankle injury, after which the NCAA granted him an extra year of eligibility, Cartwright caught 18 passes for 279 yards, an impressive 15.5-yard average, with two touchdowns. He didn’t drop any passes but caught only 52.9 percent of targeted passes. In 2013, he caught 27 passes for 462 yards (17.1 average) and scored six touchdowns — third-most by an FBS tight end.

Scouting: His 15.1-yard career average in the Rams’ pro-style system is an obvious asset, as are his workout numbers and enormous hands (10 7/8 inches, making them the second-largest in the tight end class). His blocking, however, is not a strength, which is going to cost him in even this subpar draft class.
Personally: Both of his brothers, John and DaQuan, played football at Colorado State-Pueblo — the same school that produced Packers defensive lineman Mike Pennel.

STEPHEN ANDERSON, Cal

Position rank: 19.

Height: 6-foot-2 1/8. Weight: 230. 40: 4.64. Vertical: 38. Bench: 16.

Notes: Anderson, who started his career as a walk-on, finished with 101 receptions for 1,260 yards (12.5 average), with his best season coming as a junior in 2014, when he set career highs in catches (46), yards (661) and touchdowns (five). He added 41 receptions for 474 yards (11.6 average) as a senior, with a 65.6 percent catch rate, two drops and 3.1 YAC per catch. He played the same spread-offense receiver position that Rodgers starred in during his final season at Cal.

Scouting: Anderson has excellent quickness and athletic ability. However, he’s too small to block anyone and lacks the overwhelming height of Cajuste to make him a huge matchup mismatch.

Personally: He worked as an intern at Children’s Hospital in Oakland. Anderson’s father was a walk-on safety at Cal from 1984 through 1988. Said the younger Anderson: “I didn’t have any coach say, ‘We want you on the team. Here’s a scholarship — it’s yours if you want it.’ That never happened for me. People were telling me, ‘Signing Day is coming up. If this person doesn’t sign, they’ll throw you something.’ But I never got that call.”


Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.


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