The fantasy history for rookie tight ends is easy to remember – there have been none that mattered. The position is primarily about blocking and requires a year to become a receiver of any note. But there can be one or two with minor relevance as a first-year player and it’s always good to know them before their more typical break-out in Year 2.
There are three tight ends that will draw the most fantasy attention from the early rounds of the NFL draft. These players are good to know but again – first year fantasy results should carry lower expectations. Hunter Henry’s rookie season produced 36 catches for 478 yards and eight touchdowns to rank around 18th last year. That’s high side for a rookie tight end in the best case. Where these players land will be very critical to forming expectations.
O. J. Howard – 6-6, 251 lbs. Alabama
Should be the first tight end selected as an early first round pick. Howard brings a huge frame and is one of the tallest and heaviest tight ends. But he also ran a 4.51/40 at the combine as the second fastest in his position. That makes him too tall for a defensive back to cover and too fast for a linebacker. He offers an obvious red-zone advantage but is dangerous anywhere on the field due to his speed.
A four-year starter at the offensive machine known as Alabama, Howard would be attractive for his receiving skills alone. Howard was the Offensive MVP in the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship when he posted five catches for 208 yards and two touchdowns.
But Howard is also an accomplished blocker. He’s a great addition to any rushing game which makes this dual purpose player very coveted. His statistics in college are not eye-popping due to the style of offense the Crimson Tide used but he is expected to become much more productive in the NFL. He’s a lock to see action in his first season.
David Njoku – 6-4, 246 lbs. Miami
Starting for the Miami Hurricanes is usually enough of a calling card to merit being drafted. Tight End U. serves up Njoku this year after playing for just two seasons. He gave up two more years of eligibility to declare for this draft. He’ll turn 21 in July so he’s young and has only 64 career catches but comes from a program that uses the position as well as any college in the country. Njoku played as a wide receiver in 2015 before switching to tight end last year.
Njoku has better than average speed and enough size to gain an advantage over smaller defenders. He’s noted for having good hands and can catch the contested passes. He’s not considered as a good blocker however which is still fine in fantasy terms. His role will be as a receiver on whichever NFL team drafts him. His fantasy value will be contingent on how often that offense uses the position.
Njoku is young and should need at least a year to get on track in the NFL. But he brings as good or better skills and measureables as any other rookie tight end. And his acquiring team will be drafting him for use as a receiver much more than a blocker.
Evan Engram – 6-3, 234 lbs. Ole Miss
This is the most interesting tight end in this draft. Engram will be the expected “sleeper” of the bunch and could hear his name called on Day 2. Even more so than Njoku – this is a receiving tight end. Not a blocker. Engram was the lightest tight end at the combine at just 234 pounds but he was also the fastest when he ran a 4.42/40. That was a faster time than all but four wide receivers. Engram could end up a hybrid player able to play either position.
Engram was a big part of the Old Miss offense and caught 65 passes for 926 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior over just 11 games. He was a four-year starter who can bring down the high pass and yet stretch the field with his speed. He’ll command coverage like a wide receiver and will cause mismatches for the secondary. He’s much more than a short yardage receiver and caught ten passes over 20 yards during the last two years.
Engram is not a good blocker and his smaller size suggests he’ll never fit in that capacity. Being more of a hybrid player is also concerning since he’ll have to heavily rely on landing in the right offense that can best use his skills. But Engram carries the production history and receiving skills to produce on the NFL level.