2017 Draft: Tight End Rankings

I’m the Raider fan that’s been discussing and mocking skill position players to bolster this Oakland offense. Yeah, that guy. The one who’s taking talented pass-catchers and/or dynamic running backs (regardless of size) who can create in the first round, 24 overall, sidestepping the need(s) on the defensive side of the ball.

Breaking down these players and dealing with my mentions afterwards has been neat but, if I were a betting man, I’d lean toward General Manager Reggie McKenzie targeting a defender early (and often). That doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun and think up scenarios that continue to surround the Raiders’ young signal-caller with playmakers.

Enter the 2017 tight end class.

This is a really exciting bunch. We haven’t seen this level of athlete – there are several of note – and this kind of depth at the position in, uh, forever? Truthfully, I can’t remember the last time we were pumping up a tight end group like this.

For Oakland, the name that was thrown around early this offseason was Evan Engram. In order to land a player like Engram, after the all-star games and performance at the Combine, you had to hope and pray that he was still hanging around at 56 overall. Then, as weeks and months passed, reality set in. He may not make it out of the first round, and you’d have to consider his prospect on Day 1.

I imagine the board has tilted with the addition of Jared Cook through free agency. At this point, McKenzie and the Raiders don’t have to “reach” for any player or position in particular, and those periods of “consideration” don’t have to be as stressful.

If I’m looking to add based on pure talent, and draft best player available, here’s how I’d chop up and rank this tight end class.

Round One

1) Evan Engram, Mississippi — This top three is really tight. With Evan Engram, however, I think you get the best of both worlds: ceiling (athletically) that’s up there with both Njoku and Howard, paired with blocking that’s surprisingly really good (Howard gets a lot of the shine in this regard as well). To go along with those two factors, you have to highlight the production with Engram. The Jordan Reed comparison makes a lot of sense; that’s his ceiling. Wrote more about Engram here:

2) David Njoku, Miami — One of the freakier players in this year’s class has yet to turn the legal drinking age. Looks like he was built in a lab, and there are plenty of stretches of film where he lives up to that billing. Bigger, faster, stronger than most and takes advantage as such. Former high school wideout and national high jump champion. No one’s questioning his athleticism, despite the “underwhelming” numbers at Indianapolis – the bar was set really high. Still can throw on a few pounds and fill-out his frame, which will help with the blocking duties. Only started nine games during his two years in Miami. More about David here:

3) O.J. Howard, Alabama — I want to like Howard more, I do. All the “transcendent” and “generational” talk has been a little much, all things considered. The lack of production may not be “concerning”, but it is something to note. Howard’s obviously a ridiculous athlete for his size, and brings some of the better blocking capabilities to the table. Now, I do agree that he’s going to be a solid pro, and I won’t necessarily argue with anyone if they have him at TE1 – as many do, I’m sure. My pal Charlie wrote some good words about Howard here:

Round Two

4) Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech — Coming into the season, there was plenty of discussion that anointed Bucky Hodges as the bonafide TE1. None of that was very hot take-y then, and if you have Bucky coming off the board Day 1 still, you won’t hear a peep from me. Hodges is a former quarterback who had no problem producing in his new role, finding the end zone 20 times during his career at Tech. My biggest issue with Hodges is the hands. Physically, at 6’6″, he has all the tools to win and win often – again, obviously found success at the college level. His inconsistencies at the catch-point and average work with routes keeps him out of the first round for me. Polish things up, and he’s back on top.

Round Three

5) Adam Shaheen, Ashland — Looks and plays like the juggernaut. He checks all the boxes if you’re looking at traits alone (height-weight-speed monster). He stands at 6’6″, 270+ but that didn’t necessarily factor in as far as blocking was concerned, which surprised a bit. Fast for such a big guy and nimble and sudden on his feet (former basketball player). Put up some ridiculous numbers, but we should keep the level of competition in mind. He’ll go higher than most expect given his physical makeup.

6) George Kittle, Iowa — This class’s best blocking tight end who’s drawn Chris Cooley comparisons from the PFF crew. Former safety and wide receiver in high school so his “surprising athleticism” (he opened several eyes in Indianapolis) shouldn’t really be that big of a surprise. Blazed a 4.52 40. Really good hands; rarely suffered from a dropped pass and clearly has the desired quickness to make things happen downfield and after the catch. Still feels underrated, which speaks to the depth of this group.

Round Four

7) Jonnu Smith, Florida InternationalLance Z. compares Smith to Delanie Walker. I can dig it. Another uber-athlete at the tight end position who’s senior season notably came to an end after his girlfriend poured boiling water over him. Real headline. Anyway, on the field, the athleticism is very obvious, especially after the catch. Catches more with his body than you’d like to see and while he’s strong, struggles inline and handling blocking responsibilities.

8) Gerald Everett, South Alabama — I had Everett a bit higher prior to the Combine where his weigh-in (6’2″, 227) and hand-size (8″) didn’t necessarily do him any justice. A little bit on the smaller side. Regardless, with Everett, you’re investing in a top-notch athlete with a lot of ability after the catch. He’s not the most polished route runner and his hands, much like Smith, are a bit too inconsistent. Still, his ceiling is nearly as high as the Day 1 or 2 prospects.

9) Michael Roberts, Toledo — Athletically, not on the same level as some of the aforementioned names. Didn’t really matter though, as he scored 16 times last season and consistently factored into the offense; made plays when it counted. Body control is noteworthy, as well as his route running ability. He’s serviceable inline, but it’s an area that’ll need improvement. Wouldn’t put him on the same level as Howard or even Engram in that regard. Hands are reliable, as well, as he only dropped three passes during the 2016 campaign (via PFF).

Round Five

10) Jake Butt, Michigan — I wasn’t the biggest Jake Butt fan prior to the ACL injury that effectively knocked him down a couple rounds on my board. Mediocre athlete, regardless of injury status. The Jason Witten comparisons are lazy, however, I think he’ll have steady career assuming he’s able to heal up and regain his form. He’s able to make things happen after the catch but again, limited athleticism keeps the electric plays to a minimum. The amount of better, more dynamic athletes in this class coupled with the injury concerns drop Butt into Day 3.

11) Eric Saubert, Drake — He passes the eye test; certainly looks the part, and falls in line as far as the athleticism is concerned with this group. Has some juice after the catch, and does his best work in the red area where he’s just too good with the body-positioning and overall strength. Concentration drops are an issue.

12) Jeremy Sprinkle, Arkansas — Really good name. Julius Thomas comp via PFF and a Larry Donnell name-drop via Lance Z. at NFL. Stands at 6’5″ 250ish and has the frame to tack on some additional weight. Big target. Likes to get involved in pass protection where he’s good, but not great. Didn’t flash enough after the catch but can certainly climb the ladder. Does good work underneath. Long-strider who wins off the quick, one-cut.

Round Six

13) Jordan Leggett, Clemson — Disappeared for stretches of time in the Clemson offense. Despite his size and excellent hands, overall, very underwhelming player. Could be an effort issue? Simply uninterested? I jot these notes down and then watch him come to life during big games (recently vs. Alabama in the National Championship where he hung nearly 100 yards on the vaunted Crimson Tide defense on 7 grabs). Doesn’t offer anything as a blocker. More questions than answers with Leggett.

Round Seven

14) Billy Brown, Shepherd — Talked about Billy here, and took him in the final mock:

Catch me on Twitter: @StillRyanFive

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