First-round tight ends are rare, in no small part because they’re not immediately productive: of the 16 tight ends taken in Round 1 this millennium, only one has scored more than four touchdowns as a rookie (Heath Miller, six in 2005) and only one has mustered more than 600 yards in their first NFL season (Jeremy Shockey, 894 in 2002).
And yet at least a couple names in the 2014 draft class are being bandied about as potential Day 1 selections. Keep those abysmal numbers in mind, but don’t lose sight of the dynasty upside either as we look at the top tight ends available in this year’s draft, along with selected quotes from both the USA Today Sports NFL Draft Guide magazine and the 2014 FRG Draft Guide digital magazine, a production of FirstRoundGrade.com, a USA Today Sports Digital Property.
Eric Ebron, North Carolina – 6-4, 246
Ebron’s name has been tossed around not just as a potential first-round selection but perhaps even a top-10 pick. He’s a rare athlete, and despite his large size and catching radius he has agile feet with the movement skills of a wide receiver. Ebron is too athletic for linebackers and knows how to use his frame to overpower defensive backs, with experience in the slot and as a standard in-line tight end. He’ll need to get stronger and more aggressive at the catch point, and both his route running and blocking technique need polish, but his tremendous upside makes him a Day 1 consideration for more than a few teams.
NFL Comparisons: Vernon Davis’ name comes up frequently, in part because Ebron could be the highest-selected tight end since Davis went sixth overall in 2006. The young (read: elite) version of Antonio Gates is also mentioned, as well as the current monster mismatch, Julius Thomas. That’s pretty good company.
From the USA Today Sports NFL Draft Guide: “Good athletic ability and tight end skill set.”
From the 2014 FRG Draft Guide: “The prototype modern-day tight end.”
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington – 6-5, 262
If you’re looking for your former basketball player-turned-tight end, you’ve found him in Seferian-Jenkins. Unlike many of those sports-switchers, however, Seferian-Jenkins is the most well-rounded tight end in this class. The body control, soft hands, outsized catching radius and athleticism are to be expected, but he’s also an improving blocker with plenty of strength. Seferian-Jenkins isn’t as physically dominant as you might expect, however, and his DUI from last year raises some character red flags. Ultimately Seferian-Jenkins has all the size and athleticism to be a good tight end, with the potential to develop into a great one.
NFL Comparisons: Seferian-Jenkins compares to another similarly-sized tight end out of the Pac-10, former UCLA Bruin and current Jaguar Marcedes Lewis—who, aside from one big season largely failed to live up to expectations. Any team picking Seferian-Jenkins within the first three rounds obviously hopes for more consistency at the NFL level; otherwise he becomes just another big body who’ll tease with the occasional red zone appearance.
From the USA Today Sports NFL Draft Guide: “Long, mobile prospect favored by NFL teams.”
From the 2014 FRG Draft Guide: “The most well rounded player at the position this year.”
Jace Amaro, Texas Tech – 6-5, 265
Amaro’s productivity last season was more due to Texas Tech’s high-octane offense; still, you have to be at least a competent receiver to rack up 106 catches and 1,352 yards. Operating primarily out of the slot, Amaro has size and athleticism, soft hands and impressive body control—essentially an oversized wideout. However, he’s a mediocre blocker and lacks elite speed; he also doesn’t play up to his size, and there are some character concerns stemming from incidents both off the field (arrest) and on (ejected from a bowl game). There’s plenty of upside here, especially if Amaro can become more physical and win more one-on-one battles.
NFL Comparisons: The upside comparison for Amaro is Jason Witten, but by all accounts he’s not there just yet; low-end comparisons ranged from Rob Housler to Brandon Myers, which do far less to set fantasy hearts aflutter.
From the USA Today Sports NFL Draft Guide: “Moves like a wide receiver.”
From the 2014 FRG Draft Guide: “Capable of being a consistent bail out option because of his ‘always open’ frame and body positioning.”
Troy Niklas, Notre Dame – 6-6, 270
The biggest of the top candidates in this year’s tight end draft class, Niklas is both a natural pass catcher and the nephew of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews—so yeah, he can block, too. Niklas uses his athleticism and large frame to full benefit, winning the physical battles to create separation. He may actually be a little too physical for the NFL, and he lacks the speed to truly stretch the field. Niklas also has some learning to do with regards to both route-running and blocking technique, but that’s the case for most first-year tight ends. He’s a somewhat raw prospect with enough upside to come off the board before the weekend.
NFL Comparisons: Niklas’ vast potential sets his top-end comparison at Rob Gronkowski, which ain’t a bad place to be. Even if he falls short, Niklas’ game has drawn comparisons to effective NFL tight ends such as Anthony Fasano and Kellen Davis.
From the USA Today Sports NFL Draft Guide: “Big man with strong hands, long arms and little man’s feet.”
From the 2014 FRG Draft Guide: “What he lacks in polish, he makes up for with natural traits that suggest a real red zone asset and matchup nightmare for defenses.”
Other wide receivers in the 2014 draft class to keep an eye on: C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa; Arthur Lynch, Georgia; Rob Blanchflower, Massachusetts; Xavier Grimble, USC; Jordan Najvar, Baylor; Crockett Gillmore, Colorado State; Joe Don Duncan, Dixie State; Richard Rodgers, Califonia; Jacob Pederson, Wisconsin; Trey Burton, Florida; Colt Lyerla, Oregon; Marcel Jensen, Fresno State.
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