Positional draft analysis: Tight ends

The tight end class has plenty of prospects, but most of them can be found in the third day. The Vikings could look for insurance then, too.

VIKINGS TIGHT ENDS – Kyle Rudolph, Chase Ford, Brandon Bostick, Rhett Ellison, Ryan Otten.

VIKINGS POSITION NEED – The Vikings would love for Rudolph to remain healthy, but that has been an issue over the years. The Vikings have been able to get improved play from Ford and Ellison, but neither of them is a lock to retain a roster spot. If the Vikings see a tight end that Norv Turner is enamored with, there is definitely a chance the Vikings will take advantage of the opportunity, but don’t expect to see one until Day 3.

POSITION OVERVIEW – There is a strong crop in the Class of 2015, with most of the talent that will be coming off the board happening in Day 2 and, more likely, Day 3. There is only one player with a chance to slide into the back end of Day 1 – Maxx Williams from Minnesota. However, by the time the final day of the draft begins, there may only be two tight ends that have been selected – Williams and Miami’s Clive Walford. Teams will be drafting projects here, not a slew of immediate starting types.

THE CREAM OF THE CROP
Maxx Williams, Minnesota, 6-4, 249 – Third-year sophomore…Started 17 of 25 career games, catching 61 passes for 986 yards and 13 TDs…First-team All-Big 10 and second-team All-America last season…Good athlete who makes the “wow” catch more times than not…Good route runner who consistently gets separation from defenders…Tracks down the deep ball extremely well…Raw with limited experience…Doesn’t have elite speed…Is not adept at in-line blocking…Ran a 4.78 40 at the Combine with 17 reps of 225 pounds, with a 34½-inch vertical jump and a 9-9 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A player with limited experience, but has all the intangibles that jump out at you and is a weapon for any offense, which likely will see him on radars late in the first round and certainly early in the second.

Clive Walford, Miami, 6-4, 251 – Fourth-year senior…Started 34 of 49 career games, catching 121 passes for 1,753 yards and 14 touchdowns…Improved production each of his four seasons…Is a physical blocker who finishes until the whistle…Is a very good short- to mid-round route runner…Didn’t run a full route tree…Has a thin lower body that will be tested in the NFL…Isn’t adept at reading coverages and will often get himself out of position and not find the soft spots in defenses….Ran a 4.79 40 with 20 reps, a 35-inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A player who made a lot of money at the Senior Bowl, he has the potential to be a complete tight end who can be a solid blocker and a receiver. He looks to be an early Day 2 prospect.

THE NEXT LEVEL
Jeff Heuerman, Ohio State, 6-5¼, 254 – Fourth-year senior…Two-year full-time starter who caught 43 passes for 673 yards and six touchdowns in that span…Played through injuries through much of 2014…Has good build-up speed and can get deep…Has a good body type to be both a blocker and a receiver…Can consistently high-point passes and wins most contested battles for passes…Doesn’t have quick-twitch speed to get consistent separation from defenders…Not an elite in-line blocker…Did not run or jump at the Combine with a right ankle injury, but did 26 reps of 225 pounds.
PROJECTION: A tight end who will have to be on the move to be his most successful, he will likely be viewed as a niche tight end and will likely be available on the final day of the draft.

Ben Koyack, Notre Dame, 6-5, 255 – Fourth-year senior…One-year starter who caught 30 passes for 317 yards and two touchdowns in 2014…Was a backup behind NFL tight ends who have consistently been drafted highly – Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Eifert and Troy Niklas…A versatile player who had experience at tight end, H-back and fullback…A willing blocker who can consistently seal off defenders…A tenacious playing demeanor who likes to go after defenders when blocking…Lacks a lot of playing experience and will likely need time to become a well-rounded NFL player…Needs to add a little upper-body bulk…Needs to work on in-line blocking technique…Chose not to work out at the Combine.
PROJECTION: A prospect with very limited production or playing time, but given the pedigree of Notre Dame tight ends over the past several seasons, somebody is likely to step up and take him earlier than his production would indicate.

Jesse James, Penn State, 6-7, 261 – Third-year junior…Started 31 of 36 career games, catching 78 passes for 1,005 yards and 11 touchdowns…A very skilled tight end who was often limited by his own offensive scheme…Has the speed to stretch the seam and make big plays over the top…Has a great sense of how a play is developing and has an ability to adjust his route and find a soft spot for his QB…Doesn’t have natural hands and often double-catches passes or allows them into his chest…Has extremely limited production…Needs to bulk up to be effective at the next level…Ran a 4.83 40 at the Combine with 26 reps of 225 pounds, a 37½-inch vertical jump and a 10-1 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Will be a 21-year old when he plays his rookie season and he is simply scratching the surface with what he is capable of. The team that drafts him will be doing so with an eye more to the future than the present.

Nick O'Leary, Florida State, 6-3¼, 252 – Fourth-year senior…A three-year starter who caught 102 passes for 1,427 yards and five touchdowns in that span…The grandson of golf icon Jack Nicklaus…A Mackey Award finalist in 2014…Has excellent hands and doesn’t have many dropped passes…A versatile player who was used as a tight end and an H-back…A consistent route runner who finds soft spots in a defense and settles in nicely…Is not explosive or quick-twitch to get consistent separation from defenders…Is not a deep threat because he doesn’t have good sustained speed…Typically gets tackled when defenders get their hands on him…Ran a 4.93 40 at the Combine with 21 reps, a 30½-inch vertical jump and a 9-2 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A consistent player who improved his production each of his four seasons. Having played with Jameis Winston, scouts have seen just about every game he’s played and won’t surprise anyone when he gets selected, but he may have to be drafted by the right team to succeed.

THE BEST OF THE REST
Tyler Kroft, Rutgers, 6-5½, 246 – Fourth-year junior…Two-year starter who caught 67 passes for 842 yards and four touchdowns in that span…Was a first-team All-America in 2013 when he caught 43 passes for 573 yards and four touchdowns…A natural receiver who plucks passes with ease away from his body…A versatile player who lined up at several different spots on the field…Picks up a lot of yards after the catch…Played more like a wide receiver than a tight end and will need to learn more in-line blocking technique…His production dropped off dramatically last year as Rutgers became a run-first offense…Isn’t a hard-nosed blocker who plays with a mean streak and tends to avoid contact…Did not run or jump at the Combine due to a left ankle injury, but did 17 reps of 225 pounds.
PROJECTION: A player who is a solid receiver and learning to become more of a threat as an in-line blocker. He’s a project-type player who will be taken in the middle rounds by a team that will have the time to bring him along.

Nick Boyle, Delaware, 6-4½, 268 – Fourth-year senior…Two-year full-time starter who caught 79 passes for 778 yards and 11 touchdowns in that span…All-time school leader in receptions for a tight end…Has prototype size and strength that teams look for in a tight end…A dedicated player both on and off the field…Has good ability to adjust and track down passes…Is not polished and didn’t face elite competition…Has never been a consistent downfield threat or at least wasn’t used much in that capacity…Plays a little softer than his size and strength would indicate that he should …Ran a 5.04 40 at the Combine with 20 reps, a 30½-inch vertical jump and a 9-3 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A player who clearly looks the part, but because he will never be a deep threat, he will likely be a mid-round pick that will likely be a No. 2 TE.

Blake Bell, Oklahoma, 6-6¼, 252 – Fourth-year senior…Spent his first three years as a quarterback and was a starter in 2013, completing 140 of 223 passes for 1,648 yards with 12 TDs and five interceptions…As a senior, he caught 16 passes for 214 yards and four touchdowns…Was drafted by the Detroit Tigers coming out of high school in 2010…Has the size and ability to be an NFL tight end in the athletic mode that has been associated with drafting basketball players…An intelligent player whose experience at quarterback has taught him to read the soft spots in defenses…Is a high-effort player who will give coaches everything they ask for…Is extremely raw and will take time to develop…Needs to develop more core strength that is needed for blocking assignments…Needs to work on several fundamental technique issues associated with playing tight end…Ran a 4.80 40 at the Combine with 14 reps of 225 pounds, a 33-inch vertical jump and a 9-8 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A converted QB with some intriguing intangibles, he will likely go in the later rounds to a team with a history of being patient and developing players to a specific role. He’ll fight for his roster spot every year and may never fully blossom as a tight end, but someone will be willing to make the investment.

E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State, 6-2, 258 – Fourth-year senior who spent two years at Arizona Western Community College…In two years at ISU, he caught 84 passes for 844 yards and 10 touchdowns…A productive player who saw his role increase quickly in the offense, including eight TDs in 2014…Is a bit undersized in terms have height but has a frame that can add weight and be productive…Is a natural pass catcher…Needs to improve his technique as a blocker, especially with his hands…Is not a crisp route runner and will round off too many routes…Had two knee surgeries last year, so the medical staffs of teams will be consulted before he is drafted…Did not run or jump at the Combine with a left knee injury, but did 20 reps of 225 pounds.
PROJECTION: A player who is solid in many areas but not elite in any of them, he will need to refine his game and maximize his strengths to stick around long-term in the NFL.

OTHERS TO WATCH
Rory “Busta” Anderson, South Carolina, 6-4¾, 244
Gerald Christian, Louisville, 6-3, 244
A.J. Derby, Arkansas, 6-3¾, 255
Casey Pierce, Kent State, 6-3, 244
Mycole Pruitt, Southern Illinois, 6-2¼, 251
Wes Saxton, South Alabama, 6-3½, 248
Jean Sifrin, UMass, 6-5¼, 245
C.J. Uzomah, Auburn, 6-5, 263

SCOUT.COM DRAFT RANKINGS

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