Grading the pro potential: Tight ends

Dave-Te' Thomas doesn't subscribe to the typical tight end rankings at the top, seeing glaring deficiencies in the two typically ranked at the top through his film study. Instead, he chronicles what he likes about some more well-rounded prospects, all the way down to the sleepers.

Readers might want to review my Tight End Comparison Chart analysis to see why I am saying that this year's tight end class has a few "imposters" residing at the top of most draft boards in Eric Ebron and Jace Amaro. While teams do concede more to the deficiencies of tight ends over the years, having two pass catchers with similar mediocre blocking ability resting at the top of those draft boards is ridiculous, especially when the best of the class might not hear his named called until those two charlatans are taken.

Amaro's numbers look very impressive when they reside on an individual statistical chart, but just how comfortable might a team be when they have a player pull in 106 of 156 targeted throws. One look at those "misses" tells the real story here. Amaro, who stands 6:05, had 21 passes deflected out of his hands. He was flagged four times, and because of a lack of ball security, his three fumbles were the result of running before hauling in the pigskin properly. He's been used more in motion and lined wide, doubting if he can amount to anything more than a glorified receiver, as it is evident his blocking skills are lacking.

Ebron is even less productive than Amaro, and not just receptions and yardage. Here is a self-promoter who beats his chest claiming just how great he is, yet, when you really look into his "body of work," you see a receiver that found the end zone just three times on 62 grabs. Further delving into his performance and you find a player that was penalized 10 times last season, including three contests with multiple infractions. Throw out the "you live and you learn" adage with this Tar Heel. He also had 16 passes batted away from him and dropped five others. That is a lot to leave on the ground, enough to have some frustrated head coach reaching for his Tylenol bottle.

If not for the discovery of a stress fracture in his foot at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, I am sure that the debate for who the real top talent is at this position would have quickly ended with Austin Seferian-Jenkins occupying the top spot. Yes, his receiving numbers do not match up to either Ebron's or Amaro's, but in half the passes targeted to Ebron and close to a third of what Amaro had coming his way, the Washington product not only found the end zone eight times, but set up eight other touchdowns with clutch catches. He also helped tailback Bishop Sankey piled up huge chunks of real estate, delivering 12 touchdown-resulting blocks for the running game.

While Notre Dame's Troy Niklas is a very impressive athlete, he is, after all, still a neophyte as a tight end, with just two years and 20 starting assignments at the position. He has made better strides as a blocker, which will gain him playing time, but he is more likely to develop into an Anthony Fasano-type of former Irish tight end, and with his poor route-running ability is never going to bring back memories of Mark Bavaro, or even Kyle Rudolph.

Georgia's Arthur Lynch might have the best hands in this group, or at least be the most opportunistic tight end in the country. He had only 39 passes targeted his way last season, but pulled in 30 receptions. He posted 23 first downs among those grabs and was very impressive on third-down snaps, converting 8 of 10 of those last year. Eighteen of his catches came on series that led to Bulldog scoring drives, including nine clutch catches in the ever-so-tight red zone areas.

C.J. Fiedorowicz is similar to Lynch, as he's had to take advantage of whatever is handed him. Iowa has ranked 93rd and 99th in passing during the last two seasons. Last year, they had 19 touchdown passes, with the tight end pulling down six of those. He turned 19-of-30 receptions into first downs, converting nine third-down throws and another on a fourth-down snap. He also had 61 knockdowns and six touchdown-resulting blocks. Many feel he is the school's best tight end prospect since Dallas Clark (2000-02).

After the "Big Six" are drafted, most other tight ends will hope to hear their names called on the third day of the draft, but there are still interesting prospects that could surprise. The first that comes to mind is "workout warrior" Blake Annen of Cincinnati. The Bearcats are known for keeping their tight ends in mothballs until their final season and that is exactly what happened with this senior with blazing 4.41 speed. While his 16 catches are nothing to write home to mother about, the league coaches awarded him first-team honors and seven of those 16 grabs set up touchdown drives.

Colorado State's Gilmore Crockett should be off the board no later than round five. He's a great blocker who was finally given a chance to show the other skills he has – producing 47 catches while continuing his stellar blocking with 78 knockdowns. What might cause his stock to dip a bit is if teams are concerned about some left elbow issues.

Injuries are the only thing keeping small college standout Joe Don Duncan from joining the elite at this position. If he can remain healthy, he could end up joining Seferian-Jenkins as the best producers at this position coming out of the 2014 draft. In his last two seasons, the bruising Dixie State standout has pulled in 135 passes for 1,994 yards and 22 touchdowns. He has game-breaking speed, simply outstanding strength. Keeping him away from a team's M*A*S*H unit and he has all the earmarks for being a Pro Bowl performer and the main reason he was selected to The NFL Draft Report's Super Sleeper Team.

Dale Murphy could not convince his sons to take up the "family business" and play baseball, but the former Atlanta Braves standout will see Jake Murphy catching passes for an NFL team next year. A broken wrist limited him to eight games last season, but he averaged 16.68 yards per catch, has very good special team coverage skills and is a brutal blocker with enough valid hitting skills to also be considered a blocking fullback at the next level.

Fresno State's Marcel Jensen was expected to have a breakout season, but most of those expected receptions went to a multitude of Bulldogs receivers instead. Fresno State seemed to discard the tight end position in favor of the spread offense and Jensen had just eight starts and minimal touches (26of-33 targeted throws), but turned 17 of his grabs into first downs, and even though he scored just three times he had big catches to help the team produce ten more touchdown drives.

California's Richard Rodgers might have started 35-of-37 games for the Bears, but has highly questionable blocking skills. Look for him to see more two-tight end action as a receiver, as he did manage to pull in 39 balls for a 15.59-yard average last season. On the opposite spectrum was Southern Cal junior Xavier Grimble, who is much more effective as a blocker than receiver. The big question is why he would even think of coming out after injuries and uninspired play last season have seen the "boom or bust" jersey resting next to his name.

Look out for a late-round find coming out of Indiana. Ted Bolser was not considered much of a prospect entering the season and was snubbed when Combine invitations went out, but he has 76 receptions and nine touchdowns as a Hoosier the last two seasons. A bad back is cause for concern when teams try to access the value of Massachusetts tight end Rob Blanchflower, and unless somebody has a clean medical on him, he might as well go fishing during the three-day draft process and hope his agent secures him a quick free agent deal.

Jacob Pedersen of Wisconsin had 39 catches last season, but almost looks like Bambi staring at the truck headlights when asked to block.

Off-field issues, severe in both cases, have teams being very cautious about bringing in a pair of very impressive athletes – Colt Lyerla (ex-Oregon) and A.C. Leonard (Tennessee State). It is highly doubtful that a team will invest a draft pick in guys that could be candidates for wearing "eight digits" on their jersey instead of two.

For teams looking for that diamond in the rough, they will find some speedsters to their liking in North Carolina State's Asa Watson, Virginia Tech's D.J. Coles, who is likely to switch from receiver to H-Back in the NFL, and a very interesting player with 4.4 speed who is a special teams demon in Southern Cal's Kevin Greene. Look for Greene to be a practice squad candidate while his team tries to see if he is better suited to be a tight end, fullback or outside linebacker.

Our Super Sleeper Tag Alert goes on big time when we cite the athletic skills on display by Jordan Najvar (Baylor), Anthony Denham (Utah), Eric Waters (Missouri, look for a possible move to fullback) and Kaneakua Friel (BYU). But, it is a trio of small college standouts teams have been whispering about quite a bit – New Haven's Michael Flacco, whose brother Joe is Baltimore's quarterback (Michael is also a former professional baseball player and oldest prospect at this position); Cameron Brate-Harvard, who has excellent hands and cutting ability; and Dustin Greenwell (St. Francis (Ill.)), who has very similar quality to Kevin Boss before the former Giants' career ended when he suffered a concussion while with Kansas City.

MY PERSONAL LIST:

CREAM OF THE CROP: Austin Seferian-Jenkins
BEST OF THE REST: C.J. Fiedorowicz
MOST UNDERRATED: Crockett Gillmore
MOST OVERRATED: Eric Ebron and Jace Amaro
SUPER SLEEPER: Joe Don Duncan-Dixie State and Blake Annen-Cincinnati


FINAL TIGHT END ANALYSIS

PLAYER HTWT 40225 VJBJ SH3C PRORND
#%SEFERIAN-JENKINS, Austin  6:06262 4.7120 35 ½09'07" 4.236.97 7.82
#EBRON, Eric   6:04 2504.6 2432 10'00" 4.37 7.126.5 2
#%NIKLAS, Troy   6:07 2704.86 2732 09'06" 4.55 7.576.4 3
#AMARO, Jace   6:05 2654.74 2833 09'10" 4.3 7.426.2 2
FIEDOROWICZ, C.J.   6:06265 4.7625 31 1/209'08" 4.267.1 64
LYNCH, Arthur   6:05 2584.82 2829 1/2 09'08" 4.35 7.386 5
ANNEN, Blake   6:04 2474.41 2534 10'00"4.3 7.195.7 6
GILLMORE, Crockett   6:06260 4.8918 33 1/210'00" 4.447.42 5.65
%DUNCAN, Joe Don   6:03268 4.7935 3209'02" 4.47.23 5.57
#MURPHY, Jake   6:04 2494.79 2433 09'06" 4.27 7.185.4 6
JENSEN, Marcel   6:06 2594.85 2435 09'07" 4.6 7.385.2 7
#RODGERS, Richard   6:04257 4.8716 31 1/209'08" 4.477.23 5.16
#LEONARD, A.C.   6:02 2524.5 2034 10'08" 4.32 7.195 7
#GRIMBLE, Xavier   6:04 2574.9 1630 1/2 09'05" 4.79 7.414.9 7
BAYER, Alex   6:04 2574.77 2031 1/2 09'03"4.42 7.264.9 7-FA
BOLSER, Ted   6:06 2574.871 1931 09'03"4.5 7.154.8 7-FA
WATSON, Asa   6:03 2314.68 1832 09'04"4.45 7.254.8 7-FA
COLES, D.J. (WR)  6:03 2254.5 1934 10'03"4.24 7.174.7 PFA
NAJVAR, Jordan   6:06 2564.93 1832 1/2 09'04" 4.47 7.144.7 7-FA
PEDERSEN, Jacob   6:04 2384.86 1428 1/2 09'03" 4.4 7.554.7 PFA
DENHAM, Anthony   6:05 2354.77 1432 1/2 09'05"4.56 7.384.7 PFA
FLACCO, Michael   6:05 2514.74 1432 09'07"4.34 7.214.6 PFA
BRATE, Cameron   6:05 2494.77 2433 1/2 09'09"4.48 7.164.6 PFA
GREENWELL, Dustin   6:04235 4.6924 39 1/210'01" 4.657.38 4.6PFA
FRIEL, Kaneakua   6:04 2544.84 1933 1/2 10'00"4.58 7.74.6 FA
GREENE, Kevin (OLB) 6:03247 4.421 30 1/209'03" 4.556.94 4.6FA
%BLANCHFLOWER, Rob   6:04256 4.8222 3109'02" 4.457.33 4.5FA
#LYERLA, Colt   6:04 2424.61 1539 10'08" 4.51 7.114.5 FA
WATERS, Eric (FB) 6:03 2504.7 1839 10'02"4.39 7.174.5 FA
#JACOBS, Nic   6:05 2694.76 2035 09'09"4.72 7.44.5 FA
MILLER, Terrence   6:04 2334.72 1730 09'02"4.63 7.244.5 FA
TIALAVEA, D.J.   6:04 2674.92        4.4 CMP
PERILLO, Justin   6:03 2504.86        4.4 CMP
ARIGUZO, Ike   6:05 2354.76        4.4 CMP
JACKSON, Blake   6:04 2294.83        4.4 CMP
%WALES, Beckett   6:03 2554.82        4.3 CMP
CLEVELAND, Asante   6:04262 4.84        4.3CMP
WILSON, Evan   6:06 2534.86        4.3 CMP
JONES, Justin   6:08 2774.88        4.2 CMP
WOZNIAK, Brian   6:04 2575.03        4.2 CMP
%ELLIS, Gavin   6:07 2574.92        4.2 CMP
HICKS, Nehemiah   6:03 2634.68        4.2 CMP
NAPLES, Mike   6:04 2434.83        4.1 CMP
%ARENDSE, Kolby   6:03 2544.86        4.1 CMP
Linehan, Gabe   6:03 2384.87        4.1 CMP
              


NFL DRAFT REPORT PLAYER RATING CODE CHART

When reading my ratings, please refer to the chart below to understand the grade that will be provided on each player. To understand how I arrive at this rating, I consider the player's "critical factors," which allow the teams to take the following into consideration when drafting; size, strength, competitiveness, speed, athletic ability, potential and productivity.

RATINGCATEGORYEXPLANATION
8.1-9.0Franchise PlayerImmediate starter...Should have a major impact to the success of the franchise, barring injury...Possesses superior critical factors...Plays with consistency and without abnormal extra effort...Rare talent.
7.6-8.0Star QualityEventual starter...Should make a significant contribution in his first year...Possesses above average critical factors...Has the talent and skills to start...Will contribute to upgrading the team...Can play without abnormal effort, but has some inconsistency in his play that will improve with refinement and development...Has no real weakness.
7.0-7.5Impact PlayerPossesses at least average to above average critical factors in all areas...Will contribute immediately, whether as a starter or a valuable reserve...Will move into the starting lineup with seasoning...Above average player who needs to refine certain areas.
6.5-6.9Eventual StarterCould move into the starting lineup within three years...Has average critical factors in all areas...Needs further development, but has the ability to contribute.
6.0-6.4Potential StarterCould force himself into the starting lineup with improved perform- ances...Will make a team...Has average critical factors in most areas, but at least one with less than average quality that he will have a hard time overcoming...Probable draft choice.
5.5-5.9Roster PlayerHas the ability to serve as a key reserve and possible future starter... Possesses average critical factors, but more than several areas are less than average...Plays with normal extra effort.
5.0-5.4ProjectHas the skills to play pro ball with proper tutoring...May make a team based on need...Possesses no real strong critical factors and is probably below average in several areas that the player will have a hard time overcoming...Possible draft choice, but only if that team is caught short on talent available at that position.
4.6-4.9Develop- mental Could make a team with an impressive showing in training camp... Not strong in most critical factors...Deficient in more than one area that he will not be able to overcome...At least average in the factor of competitiveness...May not make a team due to his limitations.
4.1-4.5Camp PlayerHas redeeming qualities that could allow him to play in the pros with improved performances...Deficient in more than one critical factor... Might make a team, but will always be the player that squad will look to replace.
3.5-4.0RejectMight make a team, but has glaring deficiencies in several critical factors...Below average competitor whose athletic skills will allow him to enter training camp, but has a difficult time in trying to make a team.
2UnratedSerious injury or off-field problem.

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