This year features another extremely talented group of tight ends, both with guys who can excel in space as well as some more traditional, inline threats. While there is a substantial amount of talent, little of it is a fully formed player with further development required for almost every play on the list. As always, the players included on the list are players I have broken down, so if a particular player is not listed, I was unable to break them down this year. Here are the rankings for this year’s class:
1. Eric Ebron, North Carolina - Ebron finishes atop the tight end class almost by default. He is an incredible athlete that is so big, strong and fast that he can legitimate play both tight end and wide receiver for a team. Ebron is also a high effort blocker that has held his own inline, although he is best suited to play in space. The huge question with Ebron is his hands. Concentration seems to be the issue, but he has a troubling amount of drops in his career at North Carolina. He can make some incredible, acrobatic catches at times and then drop easy ones that kill drives. His upside is incredible, but if he cannot improve his hands, he may be a shell of what he ultimately could be in the NFL.
2. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington - Jenkins is a huge player and in another era, he would be an offensive tackle. He can be a dominant blocker but his focus can waver at times. When engaged and motivated, he has been a key to the Huskies running game. He also can do a lot as a receiving threat, going up and boxing out opponents for passes like a power forward going for rebounds, which makes it incredibly difficult to cover him. Jenkins is a huge red zone threat but the way he was utilized may have sold his athleticism somewhat short. There are some questions with focus and just how important football is to Jenkins and teams will have to project Jenkins without any actual workouts as a foot injury discovered at the scouting combine has prevented him from doing anything along those lines.
3. Jace Amaro, Texas Tech - Amaro is the best, pure pass catching tight end in the class, but he has not really proven much inline. He is great in space and in a league hungry for those joker style tight ends, Amaro shows the ability to thrive. Amaro, himself, basically said he came out after this past year because it was too easy for him. He does need to get better as a blocker and continue to refine route running, but Amaro really needs to eliminate the fumbles as well. The worst case scenario is that Amaro is an enormous wide receiver, but he should be able to do more once he gets into an NFL offense.
4. Troy Niklas, Notre Dame - Niklas has the most potential in the class for the position. He is a remarkable athlete with his size, speed and strength, but he is still raw, having declared as a redshirt sophomore. Niklas can help as a blocker but he needs to get better technically and stop lunging at opponents, fanning too often. As a receiver, he can attack short and deep, going down the seam but he is still developing as a route runner and pass catcher. Nevertheless, if a team is looking for what could be the next Ron Gronkowski, Niklas may take a little bit to get there, but he has all of the tools to do it.
5. C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa - Fiedorowicz is a huge tight end that is basically an extension of the offensive line, having been developed under Kirk Ferentz. He has been an outstanding blocker that can really benefit the run, but he has ability as a pass catcher as well. While the opportunities were limited, Fiedorowicz has more burst and quickness than might expect and there is a good amount of potential for him to get better. If he is nothing but a blocking tight end that can occasionally extend a drive or catch a ball in the end zone, a team is going to be happy with what he does, but if he is just scratching the surface as a receiver, his best may yet be to come.
6. Arthur Lynch, Georgia - Lynch is the least appreciated of the full service tight ends in this class. He is a classic inline tight end that will get his hands dirty and help block, but is a weapon in the passing game that can do more than simply catch the ball and fall down. Lynch has been able to get yards after the catch and make some big plays for the Bulldogs. Lynch might be an ideal #2 tight end but he has the skill set to be a Mark Bavaro style #1 tight end that is more of a throwback to the 80′s and 90′s.
7. Jake Murphy, Utah - Murphy is older than most prospects because like so many that go to school in Utah, he went on a mission. Once teams get past his age, Murphy is a talented tight end and H-Back that might have the best hands in the entire draft. A broken wrist forced him to miss time and made it tough to really showcase his ability to block, but he came back early, fought through it and finished the season on a tear in production. Murphy was probably underutilized in his time with the Utes, but he could be an early impact guy out of the back field, in space, or inline.
8. Crockett Gillmore - Gillmore is an unfinished product but he is a really intriguing one with a good amount of upside. Right now, he is able to play inline and contribute as a blocker as well as help teams as a receiver despite a lack of quickness and agility. Even though he is 6’6″ 260lbs, he has lean legs that could still add more bulk and overall weight, so Gillmore could end up around 275lbs, get substantially more powerful as a blocker and a bigger presence as a receiver. While he would be depth initially that could contribute as a second tight end, he could become a full service tight end in time.
9. Rob Blanchflower, UMass - Blanchflower is a good blocker who can contribute a little bit as a receiver and could have more upside once he gets into the NFL. The problem for Blanchflower is he has fallen victim to one injury after another, especially in the past year where he missed games and then had trouble getting to workouts. It is unclear if it is Blanchflower’s fault or not, but a number of scouts left the UMass Pro Day very unhappy with the school after they were not alerted until they were there that he was not going to work out.
10. Colt Lyerla, Oregon - On the field, Lyerla has a great deal of talent, though he was never able to fully realize it for the Ducks and was mostly utilized as a blocker. His upside is significant, but it all comes down to the substantial off field issues. Shortly after quitting the team, Lyerla was arrested for cocaine possession. Earlier in the year he was suspended for a game that may or may not have contributed to why he quit. For Lyerla, the focus has to be on getting his life together first, but if he can do it and can stay on a team, the results could be great.