Rookie tight ends rarely if ever make a fantasy impact. In fact, of the 58 rookie tight ends to enter the league over the past four seasons only 14 have mustered at least 20 catches in their first season and the best of those rookie campaigns—Tim Wright’s 54-571-5 in 2013—would have ranked just 15th in fantasy scoring among tight ends last year. But if you’re still tempted, here’s a quick pre-draft look at the top end of the 2015 tight end class, with selected quotes from both the “Pros” and “Cons” sections of the player profiles in the USA Today Sports 2015 NFL Draft Preview.
MAXX WILLIAMS, TE, MINNESOTA – 6-4, 249
The consensus top tight end in the 2015 class, Williams enters the NFL early after two productive seasons in the run-first Minnesota offense. The son of former Giants center Brian Williams was just about the only thing the Gophers passing game had going for it, yet despite the defensive attention—and not unlike another former Gophers pass-catcher, Eric Decker—Williams consistently made plays. He’s not freakishly big or fast, but he has enough speed to get down the field, reliable hands, and is a fluid athlete for his position. Williams will need to get stronger to be an effective in-line blocker, but he’ll be best-served as a move tight end anyway.
NFL Comparisons: Williams is perhaps the only tight end in this draft class whose NFL comparisons will have any positive connotations for fantasy owners, as scouts see elements of Jeremy Shockey, Dallas Clark, and Greg Olsen in his game.
From the USA Today Sports NFL Draft Preview: “Has shown the ability to wear every hat a tight end could potentially wear in the NFL within any system. Doesn’t make a big, physical impact as a blocker.”
JESSE JAMES, TE, PENN STATE – 6-7, 261
Is it the name? The height? His position-best broad jump at the NFL Scouting Combine? For whatever reason, James is getting love from pre-draft rookie mock drafters. He does have exceptional size, with room to get bigger and stronger, and he moves well for a big man with enough speed to threaten defenses down the seam. James has good hands, knows how to find open spots in a zone, and uses his body well to shield defenders but he’s not a refined route runner nor does he have the quickness to create separation in man coverage. At 6-7 he could have a future as a red zone specialist.
NFL Comparisons: James’ immediate upside would be as a Joseph Fauria type, but considering Fauria dropped off from seven touchdowns to one last year that’s a short-term fix at best. Long-term James could develop into a Scott Chandler clone, a short-yardage scorer who is tough to depend on for consistent production.
From the USA Today Sports NFL Draft Preview: “Can position his large and lengthy frame to shield the defender from making a play on the ball. Not a dynamic athlete who scares defenses over the top.”
CLIVE WALFORD, TE, MIAMI (FL) – 6-4, 251
Walford was underused as a receiver in college but his size, speed and athleticism project well to the next level. He has the size to play in-line and enough quickness to operate as a move tight end as well. Walford has long arms and big hands, runs good routes and makes contested catches, and also possesses run-after-catch ability as well. He’s a willing blocker, though that area of his game still needs some work. Walford looked good at the Senior Bowl and has the potential to be a more productive pro than he was at the college level.
NFL Comparisons: As a pass-catching combo tight end, Walford’s upside looks much like that of Dwayne Allen.
From the USA Today Sports NFL Draft Preview: “Big, thick-bodied, all-around tight end who can be on the field every play. Doesn’t have explosive change of direction or agility.”
NICK O’LEARY, TE, FLORIDA STATE – 6-3, 252
O’Leary doesn’t possess standout measurable, he’s not a vertical threat, and he’s a marginal athlete. Yet he capitalized on his situation at Florida State—playing with two first-round quarterbacks—to become one of college football’s more productive tight ends. O’Leary has excellent hands and is a savvy route-runner who understands how to get open. He’s at least a willing blocker, which will help him get (and stay) on the field. Ultimately he’ll need to land in the right scheme to be a fantasy factor.
NFL Comparisons: O’Leary compares to the likes of Chris Cooley and Brent Celek, somewhat ordinary athletes who nonetheless carved out success at the NFL level.
From the USA Today Sports NFL Draft Preview: “A reliable target both short and medium. Lacks the speed to be a down-the-field vertical threat.”
JEFF HEUERMAN, TE, OHIO STATE – 6-5, 254
Heuerman is a tall, athletic tight end with good speed, and many scouts see untapped potential in his receiving skills. To that end he has good hands, adjusts to the ball well and is adept at high-pointing his catches. Heuerman is a locker room leader and a good blocker at the second level, projecting more as a move tight end than an in-line one despite his size. There’s plenty to work with here.
NFL Comparisons: A big guy with quickness and ball skills? Sounds like Rob Housler, whom fantasy owners have been waiting to see something from for years. Hopefully Heuerman lands his NFL opportunity more quickly.
From the USA Today Sports NFL Draft Preview: “Tall with long arms and a powerful frame from head to toe. Lacks an explosive element to his game.”