Rookie tight ends rarely make a fantasy impact, and a thin 2016 class only reinforces that theory. However, the class isn’t entirely devoid of talent so it’s worth having a basic understanding of who the better players are. Here’s a pre-draft rundown of the upper echelon of this year’s crop of tight ends.
As an added bonus, we’ve included a quote for each player from DraftWire, extended NFL draft coverage from our parent company, USA Today Sports.
HUNTER HENRY, TE, ARKANSAS – 6-5, 250
In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king. Henry isn’t elite, but he couples his size with solid route-running and outstanding hands—plus, he’s a willing blocker. And in this year’s class, a well-rounded skill set makes him the cream of the crop. Henry still needs to get stronger to succeed at the NFL level, but he’s a three-down tight end with the talent to do whatever his new NFL team asks—and that includes making the tough catches in all areas of the field. Playing time begats opportunity, and opportunity begats fantasy numbers.
NFL Comparisons: Henry’s primary comparisons are guys like Jason Witten, Heath Miller and Greg Olsen, which plots his fantasy range somewhere between solid and an every-week starter. Clearly he has the tools to make a splash if he lands in the right situation.
From USA Today DraftWire: “His exceptional hands and savvy route-running will help his transition to the NFL, but Henry doesn’t possess the athletic tools, short-area quickness or my-ball mentality to reach premier tight end ceiling.”
AUSTIN HOOPER, TE, STANFORD – 6-5, 254
The latest in Stanford’s extended line of tight ends who made it to the NFL, Hooper has the hands and athleticism to provide big-play upside. However, his route-running needs work and he lacks the strength and power to compete in-line at the pro level. He also has limited college experience, leaving for the NFL after his redshirt sophomore season. Hooper will likely be limited to a “move” tight end role until he hits the weight room.
NFL Comparisons: Hooper’s skill set is reminiscent of Stanford predecessor Coby Fleener, and his game also has elements of Jordan Cameron—both of whom proved to be valuable fantasy commodities in the right situation.
From USA Today DraftWire:“He’s never going to be the most explosive skill player or a speed mismatch outside, but Hooper can be an ideal red zone target for teams in need of a big body who hangs tough in traffic.”
NICK VANNETT, TE, OHIO STATE – 6-6, 257
All but forgotten amidst the Buckeyes’ bevy of offensive talent, the lightly used Vannett has the size, strength and football IQ to be a more productive professional. He’s an adept blocker, which should get (and keep) him on the field, but he struggles to separate with only average speed and unrefined route-running, and his true value as a pass-catcher remains unknown.
NFL Comparisons: Optimistic scouts liken Vannett to Jason Witten or Zach Ertz, but even the John Carlson comparisons seem a bit overreaching as we simply don’t know what Vannett brings to the table as a receiver. In that vein he’s quite similar to former Ohio STate teammate Jeff Heuerman, who in theory looked like a promising prospect for the Broncos but who has yet to make an NFL dent.
From USA Today DraftWire:“Rarely targeted in the Ohio State offense, but he did show strong, reliable hands and the ability to pull the ball down in a crowd. There will naturally be a learning curve as he masters a full route tree, but he’s not a bad athlete.”
JERELL ADAMS, TE, SOUTH CAROLINA – 6-5, 247
Adams’ height and length give him a large catch radius, which he further extends with his excellent hands. He’s competitive both as a blocker and after the catch as well. However, despite his straight line speed he isn’t particularly athletic, and he needs to get stronger to have any in-line value. At least one scout feels Adams would be more effective as a big NFL wide receiver rather than trying to make him into a tight end.
NFL Comparisons: With no apparent plans for a position switch in Adams’ future, scouting reports liken his game to Fred Davis or Ladarius Green—both effective pass-catching tight ends when given the opportunity.
From USA Today DraftWire:“Very linear pass catcher who has the burst and long speed to threaten the seams consistently, but lacks any refinement as a route runner.”
BEN BRAUNECKER, TE, HARVARD – 6-3, 250
The Combine superstar—posting a top-two mark in five events and ranking third and fifth in the other two—has obvious athleticism, and he was a productive pass-catcher in his final season at Harvard. However, the lower level of competition concerns some scouts, as does his somewhat less than ideal frame for an in-line tight end.
NFL Comparisons: The top-end comparison for Bronk is Kellen Winslow (the younger, not the elder), but a more realistic match might be former Titan Bo Scaife. That said, Harvard alums like Matt Birk, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Kyle Juszczyk have come to the NFL from the Ivy League so it’s not impossible for Braunecker to make the jump as well.
From USA Today DraftWire:“Grinder from an in-line position, but flashed in the slot as well. Surprisingly fleet-of-foot athlete.”
TYLER HIGBEE, TE, WESTERN KENTUCKY – 6-6, 249
Tabbed by some scouts as the top pass-catching tight end in this class, the converted wide receiver has both size and growth potential—and he plays even taller. He’s a good route runner with a well-rounded skill set, but he’ll need to add strength to be anything more than a “move” tight end at the NFL level. Questions about a knee injury that hampered his final college season now take a back seat to character concerns after he was arrested April 10 and faces charges of assault, evading police, and alcohol intoxication.
NFL Comparisons: The names tossed out in Higbee scouting reports include Jeremy Shockey, Jordan Cameron and Dennis Pitta—all quality pass-catchers who thrived when given opportunity and volume. Too bad his off-the-field behavior is more in the Johnny Manziel vein.
From USA Today DraftWire:“All the tools are there to be an excellent starter in the NFL, as his athleticism, natural hands, high-point ability and short-area quickness helped him dominate. But after his recent off-the-field transgression I’ve removed him from my board completely. I expect NFL teams will do the same.”
BRYCE WILLIAMS, TE, EAST CAROLINA – 6-6, 257
Williams has worked his way from walk-on fullback to all-conference tight end with good hands and the size to separate from college coverage. He moves well and is a willing blocker, though he lacks a truly elite skill set, isn’t particularly explosive, and needs to add strength to compete in the NFL.
NFL Comparisons: Williams’ scouting comparisons—Richard Rodgers, Kevin Boss, Gavin Escobar—sum up his expected NFL ceiling: a functional place-holder who won’t wow anyone but has enough tools to get the job done.
From USA Today DraftWire:“He’s not athletic enough to play much of a role when flexed, and is currently too much of a liability in the trenches to be trusted with much responsibility in-line.”
THOMAS DUARTE, TE/WR, UCLA – 6-2, 231
Is Duarte a big wide receiver or a small tight end? Neither, really, but he parlayed his “tweener” size into consistent productivity in a college offense designed to take advantage of his skills. He has strong hands and is a willing blocker, and as a tight end he’s a deep threat down the seam. However, he lacks in-line experience and isn’t a particularly nuanced route runner. Where his NFL team ultimately decides to play him will likely define his career.
NFL Comparisons: Size-wise he’s Jordan Reed, but before you get too excited know that he’s nowhere near the route-runner the Redskins standout is. Another scouting report compared him to James Casey, and that’s more appropriate—a pass-catcher who needs a system that plugs him into a role that plays to his strengths.
From USA Today DraftWire:“The idea is more attractive than the actual product, as the UCLA tight end is really little more than a big, slow wide receiver with average athletic ability and minimal attention to detail as a route runner. Doesn’t really offer the mismatch traits that flex tight end prospects need to possess.”