Tight end is one of the deepest positions in the 2017 NFL Draft. It's been a long time since we've seen this kind of talent from top to bottom at this spot. No matter your personal taste, whether it's traditional in-line players; long, lanky seam stretchers, or supreme athletes who can run any route in the book from any position on the field, this class is full of them. Let's see who you all should be watching at the Combine.
For a primer on what each category below means, check out the running back preview which offered a full explanation. The Mr. Average chart will give you a snapshot of what the average prospect drafted at his specific position has looked like over the span of the last five years to give you some context when the numbers from Indy start pouring in.
Top Pick: O.J. Howard (Alabama)
I do believe Howard is the best this tight end class has to offer because not only is he a marvelous athlete, but he's also a proven blocker, a skill he's improved in each of his four seasons with the Crimson Tide. At 6-6, 249 pounds, Howard has NFL size. He can also be a factor in space with his speed and overall athleticism. Entering the Senior Bowl, some draft analysts questioned how good his hands were. He responded by catching nearly everything thrown his way. Howard was underused in the Tide's offense, so his numbers aren't staggering, but he can be an every-down player right away in the NFL and has the look of a top-20 selection.
Workout Warrior: David Njoku (Miami)
Howard is well-rounded, but this kid is a bit of a freak of nature. Njoku only caught 64 passes at "The U" where he only started nine games in two seasons, but he's an unbelievable athlete. The North Jersey native is a scary prospect with speed to stretch the field, quickness and fluidity in and out of cuts, and the wiggle and shake to be a factor in the open field with the ball in his hands. Keep in mind that Njoku participated on the Miami track team and was a high school national champion in the high jump (leaping 6'11" as a senior).
Don't get it twisted though. Njoku is more than just an athlete. He's a pretty crafty route runner and gives good effort as a blocker too. He'll also figure to hear his name called in the first round if he can prove that he has consistent hands. I'd also factor in Virginia Tech's Bucky Hodges as well as Ole Miss' Evan Engram into the mix as players who will wow us with their workouts.
Stopwatch Shocker: Billy Brown (Shepherd)
If you're looking for Brown with the tight end group, stop looking, because he will be working out with the receivers in Indianapolis. However, I think the small-school star projects best inside as a tight end in the NFL. What surprised me most about his game is how much better of a route runner he is than most players from that level of competition.
Brown will probably test on the poor side for wide receivers, but I expect him to test pretty well within the tight end group, so keep that in mind when you see his scores roll in! Two others prospects whom I expect to run very well include Pitt's Scott Orndoff and Washington's Darrell Daniels. Orndoff made a ton of plays down the field this year and averaged 15.5 yards per catch in four years with the Panthers). Daniels was a high school receiver who I think will run somewhere close to 4.50 in the 40-yard dash.
Trust The Tape: Jordan Leggett (Clemson)
In almost any other class, we'd be talking about Leggett as the best or second-best tight end in the class. However, he is a bit of a forgotten man in this group because of the slew of names at the position. He's got above-average size at 6-5, 257 pounds. His numbers are pretty darn good (112 catches for 14.3 yards per reception in his career), and he was a two-time finalist for the John Mackey award as the nation's best tight end. I do think Leggett's athletic numbers will probably be closer to average than outstanding, but don't let that fool you. The senior is a fluid athlete who can make plays at every level of the field, and he's got some of the most reliable hands in the class.
Will Kill The Drills: Eric Saubert (Drake)
Speaking of reliable hands, this small-school star is as solid as they come at the catch point. Saubert tore up the week of practice at the East-West Shrine Game, and I expect him to look good once again in Indy. Not only do I think he'll test well, but Saubert is a really easy catcher of the football. I think he'll prove that on the biggest stage of his career after catching 190 passes in the Pioneer League over the last four seasons.
Most To Prove: Pharaoh Brown (Oregon)
People may forget Brown's name, and that OK. He's one of the most talented prospects at his position in this class. At 6-5, 246 pounds, Brown is a competitive blocker, a good athlete, and a reliable receiver. He grew up in Lyndhurst, Ohio as a family friend of Jason Kelce and his brother Travis. So why don't we hear more about him?
He suffered an extremely serious knee injury that almost cost him his leg in 2014. He tore two ligaments that day, and missed the rest of that season along with all of 2015. He came back in 2016 and put up fine numbers, catching 33 passes for 426 yards, and five scores, but reports of a disturbing trend of violence off the field were made public in November. He will have his medical report scrutinized in addition to answering questions about what is going on away from the gridiron as well.
Most Productive College Player: Evan Engram (Ole Miss)
A first-team All-America and two-time, first-team All-SEC player, Engram caught an astounding 162 passes in his career for the Rebels (more than any other tight end in this class from the Power 5 schools), averaging 14.3 yards per catch. Engram failed to reach the end zone in a game just three times this year, and his game-breaking speed and sneaky route running make him a true threat in the open field. I expect him to test well and interview well in Indianapolis.
Best Story: Adam Shaheen (Ashland)
When a player gets compared to Rob Gronkowski you pay attention, even if he comes from the Division II ranks. Adam Shaheen absolutely tore up the competition for Ashland for the past two seasons. He set a D-II record this year with 16 touchdown receptions after leading the entire NCAA in catches at the tight end position in 2015 with 70. With great size at 6-6, 277 pounds, and surprising athleticism, Shaheen began his career as a basketball player for D-II Pittsburgh-Johnstown, but when he decided he wanted to play football he transferred closer to home at Ashland. After a redshirt year, he came into their pro-style scheme, lined up all over the field, and made plays from day one. Shaheen has natural hands, but how explosive is he? How well will he test? That will be one of the biggest storylines in Indy.
Philly Connection: Jonnu Smith (Florida International)
One of the most productive tight ends in the country the last four years, Smith reminds me a bit of Trey Burton. Both are undersized and athletic, but competitive as blockers. Burton was a better route runner coming out of Florida, but it's not the similarity to Burton that connects Smith to our city. He actually was born and raised in the City of Brotherly Love, starring for the Northwest Raiders during his Pop Warner days. After the passing of his father, Smith's mother thought it best for him to move to Florida for a better life, and Smith is now on the doorstep of reaching his NFL dream.
|Height||6-4||Official 40||4.76 seconds|
|Weight||252 pounds||10-Yard Split||1.65 seconds|
|Hand Size||10"||3-Cone Drill||7.12 seconds|
|Arm Length||33 1/8"||Short Shuttle||4.41 seconds|
|Wingspan||80 1/8"||Broad Jump||9'9"|
|Unofficial 40||4.71 seconds||Vertical Jump||33"|
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.