Tight ends are becoming more and more important chess pieces in the NFL game, specifically big and fast tight ends that can create mismatches for opposing defenses. This year’s crop of tight ends has several of the big/fast TEs teams desire, with varying opportunities based on the NFL-readiness of their respective games and the offenses they find themselves with.
Here’s an overview of the fantasy prospects for this year’s draft class of tight ends.
ERIC EBRON, LIONS
When talking about Eric Ebron, names like Vernon Davis and Antonio Gates and Julius Thomas are bandied about. That’s pretty good company—almost enough to convinced fantasy owners that this is finally the guy to snap the first-round rookie tight end curse. What curse, you may ask? The one that notes only tight end taken in the first round has topped four touchdowns as a rookie, and only one has exceeded 600 receiving yards in their first NFL season.
Ebron’s expected role in the slot in Detroit could work for or against him, depending on whether you’re a glass-half-full person. He certainly won’t see excessive defensive attention in that offense, but you also know Calvin Johnson will be Matthew Stafford’s primary target at all point along the field. Still, if there was enough spillover for Joseph Fauria to score seven times last season, you have to think a defensive mismatch like Ebron can get work done as well. And despite the Lions’ offseason acquisition of Golden Tate, this is still a team with a vacancy as a true number two opposite Megatron; why not the rookie TE?
AUSTIN SEFERIAN-JENKINS, BUCCANEERS
The Buccaneers retooled their coaching staff in the offseason, and they used the 2014 Draft to continue reshaping their offense. After taking Mike Evans in the first round, Tampa Bay added another big target in Austin Seferian-Jenkins in Round 2. Seferian-Jenkins is a former basketball player a la Tony Gonzalez, with the athleticism, body control and extended catching radius you’d expect from a former hoopster. But he’s also considered the most well-rounded tight end prospect in this class, and serviceable blocking skills should get Seferian-Jenkins on the field sooner rather than later.
The jury is still out on just what new Bucs OC Jeff Tedford will do with his tight ends. He’s been a run-first coordinator in the past but more recently has taken on a spread look to his offense, which would devalue the typical tight end. Given Seferian-Jenkins’ ability to create mismatches, however, he could find himself lined up in the slot or out wide when the Bucs spread the field while still seeing in-line work in standard sets. He’ll compete with Vincent Jackson and fellow rookie Evans for looks, but if the Bears are modeling their attack after the 2013 Bears—big pass-catchers and Josh McCown at the helm—then Martellus Bennett’s 65-759-5 is a reasonable guesstimate.
JACE AMARO, JETS
The Jets’ passing game needed a complete overhaul this offseason, a makeover that included taking Jace Amaro in the second round. At first he doesn’t seem like the typical fit for this offense, as he’s more of an oversized wideout than a true blocking tight end; in other words, he’s not a particularly strong blocker. But be it Michael Vick or Geno Smith, Jets quarterbacks will appreciate his ability to use his frame to get open and provide a security blanket across the middle of the field.
At present Jeff Cumberland stands between Amaro and the starting job, but even if Amaro isn’t officially the starter there will be plenty of opportunities for him to see the field—perhaps in the slot or even split out as a mismatch problem for defensive backs. His upside, of course, will be capped by the run-first Jets and their quarterback questions.
TROY NIKLAS, CARDINALS
The upside to Troy Niklas is a Rob Gronkowski-like bull with natural receiving ability, which is why the Cardinals spent a second-round pick on him. His game is a bit raw, both as a blocker and a route-runner, but coaches have no problem playing teacher when you’re starting with an athletic 6-6, 270 pounder.
Typically Bruce Arians offenses don’t do much with the tight end position, but when you consider the four Arizona tight ends combined for 99 targets last year and the hope that eventually Niklas will hoard the majority of those there’s definitely upside to his game. It isn’t likely to come this season, not with Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd seeing the bulk of the targets and Rob Housler still trying to live up to the hype, but Niklas makes an intriguing dynasty investment.
COLT LYERLA, PACKERS
Extremely athletic, Colt Lyerla was at or near the top of the tight end leaderboard at the Combine in the 40, vertical jump, and broad jump. However, the focus was on his interviews as Lyerla has some ‘splaining to do with regards to a litany of off-the-field issues ranging from drugs to suspensions to academics to arrests to some off-the-wall views expressed via social media. The Packers were able to land him as a UDFA, with a risk-free contract that calls for no guaranteed money.
Without question Lyerla has the talent to be not just a starter but a fantasy factor in the high-octane Green Bay offense. However, he’ll need to put his troubled past behind him and stay on the field—as well as prove he’s more worthy than another rookie, third-round pick Richard Rodgers.
DEEPER DYNASTY CONSIDERATIONS
Even with the regime change the Texans still have a penchant for Big 10 tight ends, an itch they scratched in Round 3 with the selection of C.J. Fiedorowicz out of Iowa. He’s another big body who can both block and catch, but remember this is a different offense than the one that made Owen Daniels a fantasy helper. Fiedorowicz will also have to leapfrog Garrett Graham and Ryan Griffin on the depth charts to become a factor… Before they signed Colt Lyerla as a UDFA, the Packers spent a third-round pick on Richard Rodgers out of Cal.. He’s an athletic prospect who battled injuries, weight issues and coaching changes in college but who has the talent to take off in the Jermichael Finley role—especially if Lyerla can’t keep his nose clean off the field… The Ravens love collecting tight ends, and they added Crockett Gillmore to their collection in Round 3. The Colorado State product has NFL size and excellent leaping ability, but he’ll need to refine all aspects of his game to stick in the pros. Fortunately for him—and unfortunately for those looking for a fantasy contribution any time soon—he’ll have the opportunity to learn behind Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels.