Packer Report continues its monthlong NFL Draft positional series with the on-the-line 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.”
NICK VANNETT, Ohio State
Position rank: 4.
Height: 6-foot-6. Weight: 257. 40: 4.89. Vertical: 30.5. Bench: 17.
Notes: Vannett caught 55 passes for 585 yards and six touchdowns during his four seasons. After scoring five times as a junior, he closed his career with 19 receptions for 162 yards and no scores as a senior. He caught 67.9 percent of targeted passes with one drop. With stud running back Ezekiel Elliott and three wide receivers good enough to earn invitations to the Scouting Combine, Vannett was an overlooked part of the offense. Then again, with his 8.5-yard average and 3.4 yards after the catch per catch, he didn’t exactly command more chances, either. In the Senior Bowl, he caught three passes for 58 yards. That’s more yardage than he recorded in any game with the Buckeyes.
Scouting: Phil Savage, the former Ravens general manager, is the brains behind the Senior Bowl. With the Packers having two pass-catchers in Richard Rodgers and Jared Cook, Vannett could make sense as a role player. “Nick Vannett’s more of an end-of-the-line tight end,” Savage said. “He’s got some degree of being a pass receiver. If you have that pass-receiving tight end, he can fit in as that second tight end primarily as a blocker kind of guy.” Longtime NFL scout Dave-Te’ Thomas liked Vannett as a blocker, as well. “He must keep his pads down in order to gain position and attack defenders with force when blocking in-line. When he sinks his hips and runs his feet, he is quick to gain advantage, especially when executing his hand punch. When blocking in space, he utilizes his long arms well to tie up the linebackers. He is athletic enough to make contact on open-field blocks and does a nice job of facing up to the second-level defenders so they can’t make the play.” As a receiver, he shows good initial quickness getting into his routes and good hands when the ball’s thrown his way, but he has neither the speed or lower-leg power to be a major YAC threat. “You can see on film that he is capable of making sharp cuts when he keeps his pad level down,” Thomas noted. “With his big body, once he adds more bulk and strength (upper body), he will not have problems creating separation at the next level. He has good vision to look the ball in and no flinch going for the pass in a crowd.”
Personally: Vannett, on his production: “When I meet with these teams, they always say, ‘We feel like you were underutilized.’ I always smirk when I hear that. We had so many threats at Ohio State. It’s kind of hard to spread the ball around to every one of us. We obviously had a great running back and a great offensive line and we just ran the ball a lot because we had so much success at it. I was asked to block a lot. I just did what the coaches asked me to do and just be a good team player.”
DAVID MORGAN, Texas-San Antonio
Position rank: 10.
Height: 6-foot-4 1/8. Weight: 262. 40: 5.02. Vertical: 30. Bench: 29.
Notes: Morgan, a part-time starter as a junior, recorded 45 receptions for 566 yards (12.6 average) and a program single-season record five touchdowns as a senior to become the fledgling program’s first-ever All-American. While he caught only 57.0 percent of targeted passes and averaged a so-so 3.9 YAC per catch, he had only one drop and ranked among the tight end class’ leaders with eight red-zone receptions and five red-zone touchdowns.
Scouting: Look at that bench-press number. It blew away the field of tight ends at the Scouting Combine. He’s got long arms (33 5/8) and big hands (10 1/2) that add to the package. “Morgan has been a revelation as a blocker,” Thomas said. “His 10 touchdown-resulting blocks in twelve games led the major college’s tight ends, while his 61 knockdowns are tops for his team. He is much more decisive shooting his hands when working in-line, as added reps seems to have given him confidence in his hand punch. He has been very efficient getting into position and walling off, as he has a much stronger leg drive, which has allowed him to get a consistent anchor. He has also shown good pop and explosion as a second-level blocker. He has a better kick step getting into position in pass protection and shows very quick foot slide sustaining the rush lanes. He is quick enough to pull and trap, along with showing good shoulder power when leading through the holes.” The 40 time, however, will limit his impact in the passing game, though he should be an asset there, as well. “Morgan is not really a sudden player off the snap, but he is an athletic mover with above-average change-of-direction agility, foot quickness and a built-up stride to stretch the field,” Thomas said. “He shows fine balance throughout the route’s progression. He is a natural hands catcher with excellent hand/eye coordination.”
Personally: Why Texas-San Antonio, which didn’t field its first team until 2011? “I grew up about an hour-and-a-half way, a huge Spurs fan growing up,” he said. “So, I loved the area before the program started. I wanted to be close to my parents — my parents were big supporters, which was big for me. Coach Coker, obviously — great coach, been there, done that, won national championships. It was a good all-around fit.” Could he have envisioned this when he went to the fledgling program? “Not in a million years.”
J.P. HOLTZ, Pittsburgh
Position rank: 20.
Height: 6-foot-3. Weight: 238. 40: 4.79. Vertical: 33. Bench: 20.
Notes: Holtz caught 24 passes for 350 yards and four touchdowns, with an impressive 14.6-yard average. He had four catches of 25-plus yards, but averaged only 3.4 YAC and dropped two passes. He caught 6-of-8 red-zone passes. In four seasons, he played in 52 games (48 starts) and caught 81 passes for 931 yards (11.5 average) and 11 scores.
Scouting: “He does everything relatively well. I kind of like him. He’s got a chance, I’d think, to make somebody’s roster,” a scout said. “You wish he was taller, you wish he was faster, you wish he blocked better.” Take the 40 time with a bit of a grain of salt. He dropped nine pounds between the NFLPA all-star game and Pitt’s pro day in mid-March.
Personally: Football runs in his DNA. He is the son of ... Bob Holtz, who played at California University of Pennsylvania. He is not related to legendary Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz.
DAVID GRINNAGE, North Carolina State
Position rank: 22.
Height: 6-foot-5 1/4. Weight: 248. 40: 4.90. Vertical: 29.5. Bench: 7.
Notes: As a part-time starter, Grinnage ranked third on the team with 25 receptions for 290 yards (11.6 average) and scored three touchdowns. In his three seasons, he caught 67 passes for 798 yards (11.9 average) and nine scores. He didn’t drop any passes and had a catch rate of 59.5 percent.
Scouting: “When you see the list of early entrants and you see his name, your first thought is, ‘What are you thinking?’ a scout said. “There’s nothing about him that’s ready for the NFL.” The combination of the 40 time — run after dropping 15 pounds — and bench-press total are a major problem. That showed up in his run blocking — which wasn’t great but wasn’t awful — and in the passing game, with just 2.4 YAC per catch and no gains of 25-plus yards. That YAC was the second-worst among our top 25 tight end prospects.
Personally: Playing tight end was something new for the Newark (Del.) High School product. “When I came here, I had never put my hand in the dirt before. I'd always lined up at wideout or in the slot. I always thought it was about strength but it was more improving my footwork. I couldn't just spend half my time on blocking and half my time on receiving. I had to spend more time on blocking.”
JAY ROME, Georgia
Position rank: 25.
Height: 6-foot-4 3/8. Weight: 248. 40: 4.92. Vertical: 35. Bench: 14.
Notes: Ranked as the fourth-best tight end prospect in the nation coming out of Valdosta (Ga.) High School, Rome’s career ended with a thud, as he caught eight passes for 88 yards (11.0 average) and no touchdowns in 13 games (one start) as a senior. He averaged 3.9 YAC with one drop and a 72.7 percent catch rate. He put up career-best totals of 11 receptions, 152 yards, 13.8 average and two touchdowns as a freshman but was unable to build upon that success.
Scouting: “You hate guys who don’t develop, and he didn’t develop,” a scout said, “but the athletic ability is there. He’s worth a shot.”
Personally: Rome is so athletically gifted that, while redshirting on the football team as a freshman, he played in seven games on the Georgia basketball team.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.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.