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2017 TE Rankings

March 16, 2017

OJ Howard

  1. OJ Howard Alabama 6’5 ¾ 251 Sr. He’s a bit of a late bloomer as he was rarely used his first two seasons (14-17 catches, 260-269 yards, 0-2 TDs each year) and then exploded onto the scene in 2015 (38 602 yds 2 TDs) and 2016 (45 595 yds 3 TDs). Alabama is a run oriented offense that rarely ever uses the tight end on offense. In fact in Nick Saban’s 10 years at Alabama, Howard is the only TE to have a season with 400 or more receiving yards. The fact that he had nearly 1,200 yards his final two seasons combined becomes even more impressive when seen in that context. At the Combine he impressed with a 4.51 40 at +250 lbs. His 22 reps were good too but his best numbers in my eyes were his agility drills as his 4.16 shuttle and 6.85 3 cone were both elite. To put that in perspective that 3 cone time of 6.85 at 251 lbs bested Sammy Watkins at 211 lbs (6.95), Allen Robinson at 220 lbs (7.00), Jordan Matthews at 212 lbs (6.95) and was eerily close to Brandin Cooks time despite weighing only 189 lbs (6.76). OJ is an absolute freak of nature. To have that kind of quick twitch athleticism for such a big man is amazing. He has legit 4.51 speed and it shows on film as seen by his four +40 yard receptions in BCS bowl games. He isn’t a great route runner and is more of a battler for a few extra yards after the catch than a gamebreaker but he’s an elite size/speed guy who has Pro Bowl written all over him. What’s scary in fact is that parts of his game are still so raw AND his team rarely accentuated him on offense yet he still put up great stats and looked like a stud. I never was a huge fan of Tyler Eifert (I was wrong) or Eric Ebron (I was right) and Gronk came out of college coming off a major back injury so Howard goes down as the highest rated TE I can remember. The sky is the limit with him as he has Pro Bowl potential even if he doesn’t improve his fluidity and route running as he’d be a rich man’s Martellus Bennett type in that scenario. If he does learn the finer points of the game though and becomes a well rounded player then we are looking at the next Gronk/Jimmy Graham type as guys with his frame aren’t supposed to be so damn athletic! Top 10 as my #1 TE and the highest rated TE I’ve graded in the past 10 years.
  2. David Njoku Miami 6’4 246 Soph Redshirted one season. He has ‘35 ¼ arms which are incredibly long for an OT let alone a TE. He ran a 4.64 40 (7th out of 19 TEs), ‘37 ½ vertical (3rd), 11’1 broad (2nd) and 6.97 3 cone (3rd) so a lot of elite numbers except for his 40. He came into college ready to contribute with 21 362 1 TD in 2015 as a redshirt freshman and 43 698 yds 8 TDs in 2016. His leaping TD over his own blocker and a defender is about as athletic of a play as you will ever see a TE make. He’s got a legit TE frame but still leans more towards a move TE than a traditional one. He is okay at the POA on blocks. He has great after the catch ability, both with his speed and as a tackle breaker. I think Njoku would be the #1 TE in quite a few drafts but isn’t even on a lot of team’s radars in this one. He’s still a baby and really should have stayed in school another year but some team could get a steal with him if they give him time to grow and develop him as a blocker. He looks faster on film than 4.64 and was among the best at the Combine in the TE group in every other drill. He is fluid, fast, has good hands and is very good after the catch. I see him surprising people with how good he is in 4 years. Early 2nd round as my #3 TE 3/15/17. Njoku gets the distinction as the only prospect I updated their rankings on pre-draft, post-publishing their position. It’s been well over a month since I wrote his bio and I realized I got it wrong. He’s even better than I projected and everyone is on to him. I was surprised by his lack of buzz at the time I wrote it but that has steadily grown to now it not being a shock if he’s a Top 15 pick. I liked him a lot but considered him very raw. Now I love him and, while I still see him as being a raw and undeveloped player, think he could be great not just good. He has Top 5 TE type talent with his size, hands, speed and length and I think he’s one of the best prospects in this draft. Top 20 as my #2 TE 4/26/17.
  3. Evan Engram Ole Miss 6’3 ⅜ 234 Sr. He’s really just a bulked up WR as many wideouts nowadays are 6’3 220 which isn’t far off from where he is at. With a 4.42 40 and ‘36 vertical though he’s a size/speed freak. He was the most productive tight end in football last year (65 926 yds 8 TDs) and had two other seasons with 38 receptions, +450 yards receiving and 2 TDs so he’s had a very productive career. His 9 121 yds 1 TD against FSU in the opener and his 9 138 yds 1 TD vs. Alabama were impressive as those are NFL caliber athletes he did it against. He had 6 games of 95 or more yards receiving. He runs like a WR and has good jump ball skills with a number of his TDs being hail mary types. His burst is evident on film so he’s not just a workout warrior. He usually lines up in the slot for Ole Miss ala how the Patriots use their TEs and he works the middle of the field. He’s tough and can break tackles. He has really good hands. He’s one of the hardest prospects to grade as it’s simply how you use him. In the right system he has Pro Bowl potential ala Jordan Reed or Aaron Hernandez, two valid comps. In the wrong system he’s a TE that can’t block or a WR that struggles to get open on the outside. His blocking is inconsistent as he gives effort, usually, but isn’t that strong and takes terrible angles sometimes. I could see this looking really stupid down the road for me but I think he’s a future Pro Bowler and a potential star. Have a team like the Patriots draft him and he could be a household name as I see good hands, surprising strength and toughness and elite speed. He very likely won’t be drafted this high but I love the kid and see him as an elite prospect as the next wave of “tight ends.” Late 1st round as my #3 TE 3/13/17.
  4. Jordan Legett Clemson 6’5 ½ 258 Sr. He didn’t run the 40 and was below average in all of the other drills (vertical, broad, 3 cone). He was rarely used his first two seasons (26 total catches) and then exploded onto the scene with 40 525 yds 8 TDs in 2015 and 46 736 yds 7 TDs in 2016. In 2016 he was the second most productive tight end in the nation. He has surprising talent after the catch and can make defenders miss in the open field. He’s a pretty fluid guy for basically 260 lbs. He has good hands and can make the difficult catch. He isn’t much of a blocker, in fact he’s maybe the worst blocker in this draft in terms of size/blocking ability as I expected more from a guy with his weight, and is more of a flex tight end. He played on a team with a lot of talent and often was wide open due to the scheme and DeShaun Watson’s unique skill set. I like Legett and would love him if he ever embraced being a blocker as he has some rare skills for a guy his size. That being said he picked a bad year to come out as this is the second best TE class I’ve ever graded (the 2010 NFL Draft is hard to beat) and Howard, Engram and Njoku all seem clearly superior to me. He falls into that next category with Butt and Hodges with every team having different rankings of those three I suspect. I like Legett a lot and see some Zach Ertz in him with his surprising agility and smoothness for a guy his size so he leads that next group. Mid 2nd round as my #4 TE 3/14/17.
  5. Jake Butt Michigan 6’5 ½ 255 Sr. Tore ACL in Orange Bowl loss putting his availability for his rookie season in doubt. He didn’t work out at the Combine. He had 51 654 yds 3 TDs in 2015, 46 546 yds 4 TDs in 2016 (spot duty in 2013-2014 with combined 41 446 yds 4 TDs). Mackey Award Winner in 2016. He has a good frame, great hands, runs solid routes and has a good burst. Notice I am not raving about him. He reminds me of Maxx Williams coming out of Minnesota a few years ago as you can see the talent but question whether he’ll ever be a Top 10 TE. Butt has Top 32 talent for the position so he’ll clearly be a starter at the next level but I don’t see him ever being a Pro Bowler or being a top target. He will be consistent though and for a team that doesn’t want to accentuate the position but needs a solid starter for it, he’ll be a great value due to his ACL injury and the lack of sizzle to his game making him a prime candidate to slide on draft day. Maxx Williams, Dwayne Allen, Clive Warford, and Dennis Pitta are all solid comps (talent wise) with Pitta being the best case scenario. A very safe, lower ceilinged player who will contribute immediately once he is fully cleared medically. Mid 2nd round as my #5 TE 3/13/17.
  6. Bucky Hodges Virginia Tech 6’6 257 Jr. Redshirted one year. He had a 4.57 40 (4th among 19 TEs), ‘39 vertical (best) and 11’2 broad (best). With a large frame those already great numbers become incredible. He was a precocious youngster with 45 526 yds 7 TDs as a true freshman, among the best numbers of any TE in the country. Since then he’s been consistent but not dramatically better than that with 40 530 yds 6 TDs in 2015 and 48 691 yds 7 TDs in 2016. He’s another flex/move TE that is built more like a wide receiver than a TE. He played in the 240s at school and then bulked up for the Combine but I’m impressed since he kept his speed despite the added weight. He has incredible hands and has plenty of highlight reel catches. He is great at the diving catch and at winning jump balls. He doesn’t have Engram’s pure speed but can threaten the seam. He’s smart, confident and experienced as a playmaker. I don’t see him being a Pro Bowler but I really like him as a #2 TE paired with a more traditional, bigger one. Early 3rd round (almost sneaks into the late 2nd) as my #6 TE 3/14/17.
  7. Gerald Everett South Alabama 6’3 239 Sr. Redshirted one year. Five years out of HS so he is an older prospect. He’s another borderline WR, flex TE. He ran a 4.62 40, ‘37 ½ vertical and 6.99 3 cone all of which are very good. He’s a poor man’s Evan Engram and has a very similar frame. He had 49 717 yds 4 TDs in 2016 and 41 575 yds 8 TDs in 2015. He had big games vs. Miss State and San Diego State, both of which were some of the best teams on his schedule. He won’t be a star like Engram but he has good speed, very good hands and looks to be a quality #2 TE for a team that likes to have an H-back or move tight end. Game theory wise there is a chance he becomes a steal as a lot of teams don’t like these guys at any price and with Engram being superior to him in every way it could result in him sliding on draft day. Late 3rd round as my #7 TE 3/13/17.
  8. George Kittle Iowa 6’3 ¾ 247 Sr. Redshirted one year. Five years out of HS so he is an older prospect. He had a 4.52 40, ‘35 vertical and ‘11 broad all of which were near the top among TEs. He was never extremely productive as he only had 6 receptions his first two seasons and then had 20-22 catches, 290-314 yards and 4-6 TDs each of his final two seasons. Iowa players are always well coached and usually have limited upside, with Kittle fitting both descriptions well. He’s a very good blocker both in effort and technique. He arguably has the best blocking technique of any TE in this draft class. He has a similar frame and game to Dwayne Allen, though he’s a poor man’s version of Allen. Kittle fits well as a #2 TE as he is solid at everything, great at nothing. Some team’s prefer a speedier/smaller guy as the #2 TE but a lot of teams prefer to have two tight ends that can actually block. For those teams, Kittle will be highly regarded in this deep tight end class that has more WR like TEs than any class I can remember. Kittle is old school and could be drafted higher than anticipated since there are fewer guys like him every year. Late 3rd round as my #8 3/14/17.
  9. Jeremy Sprinkle Arkansas 6’4 ⅞ 252 Sr. Redshirted one year. Five years out of HS so he is an older prospect. He had ‘34 ½ arms (3rd best among 19 TEs) and a 4.69 40, ‘29 vertical and 9’8 broad all of which were average to below average. His arm length is that of an OT though and he’s basically 6’5 so he has a nice frame to build upon. He was suspended for shoplifting in a rather bizarre incident at the bowl festivities as every player was given 90 minutes to select $450 of merchandise. He took that and then stuffed his bag with $260 more of merchandise? What a piece of shit. He sprinkles with his hands after every touchdown, not bad of a pun/touchdown routine. He’s long and lean with a bit of a top heavy frame ala Jared Cook. He has an NFL frame and solid speed making him a future quality #2 TE. In 2015 he had 27 catches for 389 yards and 6 TDs as the #2 TE behind Hunter Henry. In 2016, with more chances, he had 33 catches but only 380 yards and 4 TDs. He’s a willing blocker but will need to add weight to be anything more than below average due to his top heavy frame. He’s a solid prospect if teams will overlook his one off the field incident. Late 4th round as my #9 TE 3/13/17.
  10. Adam Shaheen Ashland 6’6 ½ 278 Jr. Redshirted one season. In some ways he’s more built like an OT than a TE and will be used in that capacity at the next level. Don’t be fooled though as he can catch passes, setting a Division II record for most receptions by a TE in a season (70 803 yds 10 TDs in 2015). He followed it up with 57 867 and 16 TDs! Former basketball player and it shows in how he attacks the ball in the air. He ran a 4.79 40 which is very athletic for a guy that is basically 280 lbs. His 7.09 3 cone is even more impressive and shows up on film as he’s very agile for a man his size. Unfortunately he doesn’t have much of a vertical so my thoughts of him being a blocker most of the time and then a killer red zone threat is minimized after seeing his miniscule leaps against defenders. At 6’6 ½ he doesn’t need a huge vertical but it was still pretty poor. That being said there is something to this kid and I’m very intrigued. Just as a blocker he’s intimidating but the way he moves is special. He’s as raw as can be but I’d take a chance on him in the middle rounds as my #3 TE as he has a very high ceiling and could be a good blocker until other parts of his game mature. Late 4th round as my #10 TE 3/15/17.
  11. Jonnu Smith Florida International 6’2 ⅝ 248 Sr. He had a 4.62 40, ‘38 vertical and 22 reps all showing off that he’s short, thick and explosive. He’s been incredibly productive with four seasons of +35 receptions, +350 yards receiving and 2 or more TDs. Interestingly enough, his best season was in 2014 with 61 710 yds 8 TDs. He’s bulked up a lot since the end of his career as he was 6’3 232 going into his senior year. Engram and Everett are smaller than him but he’s clearly the worst blocker in this draft class. Some of his “blocking” is akin to bullfighting, ole! He’s similar to Engram and Everett in style and size but he’s much more WR than TE than those guys as this guy isn’t tough and doesn’t block. He also is very productive though and has a noticeable burst so he’s a later round type for this style and likely won’t be drafted since there are two obviously better version of him in this draft and so few teams even want this type of player. 5th round as my #11 TE 3/13/17.
  12. Eric Saubert Drake 6’4 ¾ 253 Sr. Redshirted one year. Five years out of HS so he is an older prospect. He didn’t run the 40 and was mediocre in his explosion drills, not surprising due to his huge size. His ‘10 ⅜ hands are massive. He has arguably the best hands of any TE in this class with elite body control and the ability to make the one handed catch. His tape is impossible to scout with due to how low his competition level was but he moves around well, has elite hands and showed NFL caliber athleticism, though by no means is he a physical freak. I’d take a flier on him in the later rounds. Late 5th round as my #12 TE 3/15/17.
  13. Ricky Seals-Jones Texas A&M 6’4 ⅝ 243 Jr. Redshirted one season. A physical freak who was an elite prospect out of HS (#1 WR in Texas, Top 50 prospect in the nation) who never fully put it together. He ran a 4.69 40 with a ‘28 vertical and 7.46 3 cone all of which are atrocious for a WR and only average for a TE. To me he proved time and again that he was more hype than substance so I want no part of him as a WR. I think he could be a decent late round flier type as a TE though as he’s already in the 240s and is ripped so he has the strength and bulk to warrant a look there. 6th round as my #13 TE 3/25/17.

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