The Tight End position has evolved significantly over the past 15 years in the NFL. As players have become more athletic, these Power Forward type athletes can do more than block and go over the middle. The pass catching TE used to be the exception but has become the rule in more recent times. Tight Ends are now lining up in the slot like WRs and even find their way into the backfield on occasion. As the expectations for the offensive output of the position have gone up, teams are now fighting for the next Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham and not just a Heath Miller, blocker who occasionally catches a pass, type player. With that in mind, it’s time to look at this year’s top TE.
The Consensus #1
Eric Ebron UNC: He passes all of my tests. Tight Ends must carry bulk to be effective blockers. He is the right size at 6’4 245. The Neo-Tight End must also possess enough speed to beat linebackers and safeties in coverage off of their breaks. I expect Ebron to run around a 4.6 dash at the combine. He has the size, speed and strength to play in the NFL. He is such a good athlete that last year he sometimes did double duty and played DE. The Tarheels use Ebron the way NFL teams use Gronk and Graham by placing him in the slot often. It should be no surprise, then, that he has the second most receiving yards of any TE in the country with a wide margin over the next highest player. In fact, after one guy ahead of him who I will mention below, there is only one other TE within 150 yards of him. Ebron also averages more than 17 yards a catch and looks fast running through the secondary, (he has a 71 yard TD which demonstrates good break away speed for a player at his position). His speed is particularly evident on slants and seam routes, although he needs work on more technical route running where he is asked to make quick changes of direction or execute double moves. As a blocker, he can dominant, driving defenders back like they are standing on skis or skates although he lacks consistency in doing so. There are times he whiffs completely and is beat by a defender. Still, the football press consensus has him at the number 1 TE on the board as a multi-talented offensive weapon. Ebron stands a good chance of being the only TE taken in the first round.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins Washington: First of all let me say that I am surprised by how many UW guys I have on my board. This guy would be drafted more on potential then stats or accomplishments. Like Graham, Gates and Gonzalez in the NFL, this guy played hoops for the Huskies as well. At 6-6 270, with the ability to run around a 4.6 dash, and great leaping ability, he is the type of athlete that has the potential to be the springy, athletic, playmaking TE that NFL teams are looking for. ASJ isn’t just going to be a workout freak. He passes the eye test on the field as well as his speed in pads matches his impressive measurables. Teams clearly have problems matching up with him. The two problems I have with him are that he doesn’t seem to produce the kind of stats that you would want from a guy with his skill set (ala Jared Cook), and he has some pesky DUI problems (which can be forgivable). Depending on what he does the rest of the season and at the combine, he could be the one guy who is taken before Ebron.
Jace Amaro Texas Tech: His production is unreal, although that must be viewed from behind the lens of the fact that he plays in the Air Raid offense that throws 60 times a game. He leads his team in receptions with an amazing 56 catches for 743 yards. This is 12 among all players at any position in receiving yards. 200 more than Ebron who comes in at number 2 among TEs. Amaro only averages 13 yards a catch, and isn’t particularly fast. He is the right size, at 6-5 257, to be considered to have an NFL caliber body at his position. The major problem I have with him is that he is in a gimmick offense in a conference that doesn’t play defense. That and I expect him to run slower than a 4.7 40 dash. Still, his production can’t be ignored.
Colt Lyerla Oregon: Lyerla is an athletic tight end who has been a nice weapon in the Ducks’ offense. He is the right height, 6-5, but could and should add some weight to his 246 lb frame. He is extremely explosive as a receiver, which makes him play faster than his 4.6 dash time, and his speed takes defenses by surprise. Lyerla would have greater utilization in most programs, however, Oregon has so many other weapons to spread the ball around to that, as a result, he is underused. He has a lot of upside, but it’s hard to grade him much higher than a third round pick because his light usage makes him a bit of an unknown quantity. Based on his potential he could go in the 2nd I suppose.
CJ Fiedorowicz Iowa: This guy is very tall (6’7) and has a nice size at 265. He is a better blocker than pass catcher, more of a Heath Miller than a Gronk or Graham. Iowa has a putrid offense and he is a lone bright spot. He could be drafted in the 3rd or 4th round and be a run of the mill blocking NFL TE.
Xavier Grimble USC: He is a typical USC skill player. Talented, with good measurebles (6-5 255), but has underperformed due to the shitstorm that is their program. He is very week as a blocker but has some natural pass catching ability and is pretty quick for his size.
Arthur Lynch Georgia: There is nothing special about him, he has solid measurables (6-5 260), but he isn’t particularly fast. I expect him to run almost a 4.8 dash. In this day and age that is slow for a TE. What people like about him is that he a solid blocker and a reliable pass catcher. As UGA’s skill players have dropped this season, Aaron Murray has relied on Lynch in big situations. He is the 3rd and 6 guy Lynch counts on to pick up a first down. Like CJ Fiedorowicz, he fits the mold of the pre-Gronk/Gonzalez/Gates/Graham TE which would make him a shoe in for the 1983 Pro Bowl, but maybe not a good fit in the pass happy offenses of the current iteration of the NFL.
It’s no secret that I love the offensive line. It is way more difficult of a position to play then anybody gives it credit for. When you think about what you have to do at a base level, playing OL requires you to physically move another man against his will. Essentially they are the ultimate goons. With all due respect to John Dalton, the greatest bouncers are really offensive lineman in the NFL. You cannot run around them or through them in close spaces, if you punch them in the face chances are it will not faze them, and they can collapse your chest with an open fisted punch. I could write all day about these guys, but I do realize that I am in the extreme minority. Nobody watches the OL but nerds like me, their OL coach, their mothers and maybe their WAGS. Since the Lion aims to please, he will keep this short and sweet.
Quick tutorial: you want your Tackles to have longer arms and be better pass blocker than your guards, who you want to be better road graders, (drive/run blockers). Because the NFL is a passing game, Tackles are obviously more valuable, although two guards went in the top ten picks last year, that won’t happen again. I expect many Tackles to go in the top ten. Here are 5 guys I think will go in the first round.
Top Ten Guys
Jake Matthews Texas A&M: What can I say, he is probably the number one overall pick right now. When I evaluate him I check every box. (There are no stats for OLs to look up) He is the right size, (6’5 305). Oh yeah, he is the son of a pretty good NFL offensive lineman, HOFer Bruce. Matthews has great instincts and intelligence. Maybe it’s in his blood (his uncle is Clay and his cousin is Clay Jr.) but he is just a natural football player. Matthews has a lot of success with cut blocks, and is quick to use one when he sees an opening to take a lineman out of the play by diving at the legs. My one critique is that he could use more strength to push defenders at the point of attack and help him to sustain his blocks longer, but so could every college player. The thing I like about him is that he dominates against some of the best DL in the SEC week in and week out. One particular game that stands out in my mind is when he manhandled early 1st round defenensive player Barkevious Mingo last year. He almost never gets beat straight up, but sometimes gets fooled on stunts. He is better than Joekel in my book and I think if he had come out last year would have been the first OT taken.
Taylor Lewan Michigan: What people love about this guy is his length. He is 6’8 with long arms. He is very aggressive and sometimes overly so. He lunges sometimes in pass protection. He could fill out that 6-8 frame a little more, he is only 302. He has improved dramatically from year to year. For example, against likely first round DE Stephon Tuitt in 2012, he struggled, but this past year he held him totally in check. It was a total 180 degree turnaround. Even more impressively, Lewan held his own against Jadeveon Clowney in that bowl game last year. Clowney had no sacks on his side. That highlight when Clowney killed a guy? Lewan was not his assignment. Still he is not nearly as polished as Jake Matthews, but dare I say he has more upside?
Cyrus Kouandjio Alabama: He is only a Jr. but has started for now 3 years for the best college football program in the country. In the 3 years he has played for Bama they have won 2 national championships and are undefeated and number 1 at this point this year. Perhaps the best story of how good he is was last year, Bama moved Barrett Jones, a returning All-American LT down to C to let Cyrus play LT. He did not disappoint. He would have played more as a freshman but hurt his knee early in the season. There is no doubt that he is a great athlete for his size. He is very agile and quick for someone who is 6’6” 310. He has one of the best kick slides I have seen in pass protection and also has the power to push linemen around at the point of attack. Like Matthews, he goes against great DL every week in the SEC and wins way more than he loses. As good as the two guys above him are, I wouldn’t be surprising if he ends up being the first tackle selected.
Later First Round Guys:
Antonio Richardson Tennessee: This 6’6 332 pound guy has almost perfect measurables, but just has been inconsistent in his play. He holds his own against some of the best DE in the country, but then against lesser DE’s get beat at very inconvenient times for Tennessee. He seems to have brain farts. You have to wonder how much of this is attributable to Tennessee’s general awfulness the past 8-10 years. He is second team All-SEC behing Cyrus last year. I would like to see him dominate more like the guys above do. He just doesn’t. Due to his inconsistency, he will drop to the late first round and I see him as being the most likely bust candidate of this group.
Cameron Erving Florida State: This guy has had suffered from a history of back trouble, but since he has been healthy this year he has been great. FSU has dominated this year and so has he. He has sufficient measurables (6’6 310), and was athletic enough to play defense his freshman year. He is only a junior and due to missing significant time due to injuries, really could work on his fundamentals. With that said, he is quick and athletic for his size and could be the late riser of the tackle group and sneak into the first round. I personally think he should stay for his senior year.
Sleeper Seantrel Henderson, Miami: This guy was the number 1 High School recruit in the country but has been largely disappointing at Miami due to back surgery, a suspension, a car accident that resulted in a concussion and dealing with some personal family issues. When healthy and on the field he shows flashes of dominance. What will get him a look by NFL teams is his body. He is 6’8 336. If he could get healthy and get his head right, and realize the potential that made him the number 1 H.S. recruit in the country, he could be an NFL tackle.
While Tackles are more important and make more money in the NFL, good guards are a luxury that it seems all good teams, especially ones who can run the ball have. A lot of times they are OT’s whose arms aren’t quite long enough to play OT in the NFL. Here are my top three.
La’el Collins LSU: Collins was a guard in 2012 and has been a LT for the Tigers this year. LSU, particularly him, has often dominated the LOS in many an SEC team. Even though he is 6-5 321, he isn’t a particularly outstanding pass blocker, is a much better road grader. I see him doing that in the NFL more so than I see him being a tackle. His ability to move around will help.
Cyril Richardson Baylor: This is another guy who has bounced back and forth from OT to G for his team. Like Collins, he is a very good run blocker, opening lanes for Lache Seastrunk, (see my RB eval). Where Collins is listed by media draft gurus as both a T and G, Cyril is listed as only a G, it is true that he would probably fit best at guard in the NFL, but he could maybe pull off right tackle. If he continues to play well, he could be the first guard taken.
Zack Martin, Notre Dame: Another LT who probably has arms that may be too short to play T in the NFL. Martin is a two year captain of the Irish and clearly a leader on the field. Last year the Irish has much more success running to his side than the right. He is really smart and works hard at being a technician, with near perfect fundamentals. His athleticism is probably his biggest weakness. I see him succeeding in a zone blocking team in the NFL due to his fundamentals, excellent footwork and ability to read defenses. While Mike Mayock thinks he could play Right Tackle in the NFL, I just don’t see it. Dazzle knows that this ND fanboy gives unbiased opinions on his evaluations.