Kirby Lee/USA TODAY

Scouting Combine Research Series: Tight Ends (Part 1)

Whose leg injury was so severe that amputation was considered? Who enjoys jokes about his name? And who wasn't allowed to take a white girl to prom? Those answers and more as we get to know the top tight end prospects.

Here are the 20 tight ends who have been invited to the Scouting Combine. Players are listed in alphabetical order. Heights and weights come from CBSSports.com/NFLDraftScout.com. All players are seniors unless noted. Members can read Part 2 here.

Billy Brown, Shepherd (6-3, 254): Playing wide receiver at a listed 6-foot-4 and 241 pounds, Brown was a Division II All-American with these staggering stats: 99 receptions for 1,580 yards (16.0 average) and 22 touchdowns. He led Division II in catches and was second in yards and touchdowns. As a junior, he had 89 receptions for 1,492 yards and 10 touchdowns. Brown didn’t have enough core credits to attend a FBS school so he had to play in Division II or a junior college.

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Pharaoh Brown, Oregon (6-5, 250): Brown caught 70 passes for 1,011 yards (14.4 average) and 13 touchdowns in four seasons. That includes 33 catches for 426 yards and five touchdowns as a senior, when he was named first-team all-conference, and 25 catches for 420 yards and six touchdowns as a junior. Brown has big-play ability, with long gains of 66 and 72 yards the past two years. In 2014, he sustained a knee injury so severe that amputation was considered a possibility. Three surgeries and one puppy later, he was back in action.

Brown was involved in three acts of violence during his time at Oregon but never faced discipline. In 2013, he was suspended for his role in an on-campus snowball fight.

Jake Butt, Michigan (6-5, 250): Butt won the John Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end but his great senior season end in a torn ACL in the Orange Bowl. It’s the same knee (right) in which he tore his ACL in February 2013. Not only did he win the Mackey, but he won the Senior CLASS Award as the nation’s top student-athlete, with notable achievements in four areas: classroom, community, character and competition. Butt started 37 games in four seasons, finishing with 138 receptions for 1,646 yards — both tops for a tight end in program history.  Butt caught 51 passes for 654 yards (12.8 average) and three touchdowns as a junior and 46 catches for 546 yards (11.9) and four touchdowns as a senior, earning All-American and Big Ten Tight End of the Year honors both times.  “Because he’s like the mailman,” offensive coordinator Tim Drevno said. “He always delivers.”

Butt volunteers most weeks at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor, a place near and dear to former Michigan and NFL star Charles Woodson. Last year, he helped fulfill a Make-A-Wish request for a young boy who suffers from cancer, and instead of saying good-bye when the event was over, Butt gave the boy’s family his phone number, and formed a lasting relationship. When heroin overdose hit his hometown of Pickerington, Ohio, Butt went home to help raise funds and participate in a charity 5K to benefit those affected.

Yes, Butt realizes he has a funny name for a tight end. “I’ve been seeing the ‘I love Jake Butt and I cannot lie’ — that one comes up quite a bit,” Butt said. “That’s a good one.”

Cethan Carter, Nebraska (6-3, 234): Carter started 35 games in four seasons and was an honorable-mention on the all-Big Ten team as a junior and senior. He caught 59 passes for 744 yards (13.9 average) and four touchdowns during his four seasons. He posted career-high totals of 24 catches, 329 yards and two touchdowns as a junior. He might have posted bigger numbers had he not been suspended for two games for undisclosed reasons. As a senior, he tallied 19 catches for 190 yards and one score. Carter grew as a receiver, blocker and communicator during his time in Lincoln. “I just know that there was definitely a point where we're watching film and he started to ask questions. That’s when I knew, 'OK, he’s starting to get it,'" tight ends coach Tavita Thompson said. "Once you're comfortable enough to ask the big-picture questions, that's when things start going good."

Darrell Daniels, Washington (6-3, 254): In four seasons, Daniels caught 47 passes for 728 yards (15.5 average) and five touchdowns. As a senior, he caught 17 passes for career highs of 307 yards (18.1 average) and three touchdowns to be an honorable mention on the all-Pac-12 team. Daniels played receiver as a prep in Pittsburg, Calif., before moving to tight end upon arriving at Washington. “He was a big receiver and things like route concepts and spacing, he does that naturally well,” tight ends coach Jordan Paopao said. “His posture in run blocks, his posture in pass protection and his assignments, that’s where he’s truly grown the most and I’m really excited to see that all culminate together.”

Evan Engram, Ole Miss (6-3, 236): Engram already was the school’s career leader among tight ends with 97 receptions and 1,394 yards. Then came his senior season of 65 catches for 926 yards (14.2 average) and eight touchdowns to win first-team All-America accolades and the C Spire Conerly Trophy as the top college player in Mississippi. That gave him a four-year total of 162 receptions, 2,320 yards (14.3) and 15 scores. He was first- or second-team all-SEC all four seasons — a first in school history. Engram was one of 10 finalists for the prestigious Senior CLASS Award off the field for, among other things, his work with the physically and mentally handicapped and Special Olympics. His sister, Mackenzie, plays basketball at Georgia. Who’s the best athlete? “I’ll give her that. I’ll let her take that crown, for her sake,” Evan said. “We grew up pushing each other. I think she’s really good at basketball because of how many times I beat her one-on-one. I take some credit when she has some success.”

Their father, Derrick Engram, was good enough to play football at Louisville. "I'm a proud, humble dad excited as heck for my kids," Derrick said. "They are living their dreams. I was a part of that process, so I'm enjoying their ride. I'm not living through them, I've done it already, as you see. I went to seven different schools. I don't live through them, I am living their dreams with them."

Gerald Everett, South Alabama (6-3, 227): Everett had two big seasons for USA — 41 catches for 575 yards (14.0 average) and eight touchdowns as a junior and 49 catches for 717 yards (14.6) and four touchdowns as a senior. That included catching eight passes for 95 yards and the game-winning touchdown in an upset of Mississippi State. Everett, who played only one year of high school football, started his career at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College before going to Alabama-Birmingham.

He caught 17 passes for the Blazers but the school shuttered its football program after the season. The program was founded in 2009 and played its first season in FBS in 2014, so Everett almost certainly will be the first player in program history to be drafted. "It would mean a lot, setting the tone for the program, leading the way for the younger guys for years to come, the guys that are there now and the guys that haven't even been offered by South Alabama yet."

Cole Hikutini, Louisville (6-4, 248): After catching 19 passes for 348 yards (18.3 average) and three touchdowns upon arriving at Louisville in 2015, Hikutini had a tremendous senior campaign with 50 catches, 668 yards (13.4 average) and eight touchdowns. Sacramento State was the only FCS-level school to offer a scholarship, never mind any offers from an FBS school. He redshirted at Sacramento State in 2012 and scored five touchdowns in 2013. Then he gambled on himself by giving up his scholarship in hopes of landing at a top-tier school as a stepping stone to the NFL. Paying his own way at City College of San Francisco, he caught 40 balls and scored four times to open the eyes of recruiters.

“Cole is a really determined person, and he told us this is what was going to happen,” his mom said. “To see that despite the fact that his dreams were something that were difficult to achieve? He just kept plugging at it. He has this strong sense of himself, strong confidence in his skill, and he has a tremendous work ethic. To see that no matter what’s happened, he’s persevered and has completely met every challenge that’s been placed in front of him, and to see your child actually attaining a goal they set for themselves through hard work is, I think, one of the most gratifying things you could have happen as a parent.”

Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech (6-6, 245): Junior. Hodges was a model of consistency during his three seasons. He caught 45 passes for 526 yards (11.7 average) and seven touchdowns as a freshman, 40 passes for 530 yards (13.3) and six touchdowns as a sophomore and 48 passes for 691 yards (14.4) and seven touchdowns as a junor. That gave him a three-year total of 133 catches, 1,747 yards and 20 touchdowns. He earned all-ACC honors all three seasons. Not bad for the school’s four-star quarterback recruit. “He brings some tremendous athletic ability to the spot,” a coach said at the time. “His ability to run and catch was way beyond what we thought it was going to be. We knew he had great ball skills, going back to when he was a basketball player. He has some great hand-eye coordination. We like that.”

The Hokies used him in a variety of roles this past season, which meant various types of offseason workouts to get ready. “It was a challenge this summer. With workouts, I’d run with the receivers and I’d lift (weights) with tight ends and linemen, but I feel like I can do anything that coach asks me to.”

O.J. Howard, Alabama (6-6, 249): Howard was an All-American on the field and was one of 10 finalists for the prestigious Senior CLASS Award off the field.

As a senior, he caught 45 passes for 595 yards (13.2 average) and three touchdowns, and was one of three finalists for the John Mackey Award, which goes to the nation’s top tight end. He burst onto the national scene in the 2015 National Championship Game against Clemson, when he caught five passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns to earn MVP honors. That gave him junior-year totals of 38 receptions for 602 yards (15.8) and two scores. In four seasons, he caught 114 passes for 1,726 yards and seven touchdowns. Really, the only team capable of shutting down Howard was the Alabama coaching staff. “All the teams, they always refer to me being underutilized in college a little bit, but you could be a guy in the NFL that can probably be a difference-maker for some teams," Howard said at the Senior Bowl. "They think I have some good talent and good speed. And that's just some of the feedback I get from every team when we first start talking.”

Howard attended Autauga (Ala.) Academy. As a sophomore, he had committed to play for Alabama. The star athlete, however, wasn’t allowed to take a white girl to prom. Wrote Joseph Goodman of AL.com: “A community once divided for generations rallied around the Howards and defeated that racism. Long before he was an MVP in the 2016 national championship, O.J. was a hero back home.”

Howard’s a big man. He just wasn’t the Big Man on Campus at Alabama.

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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