The modern day TEs have had a resurgence and have become key components to the air raid NFL we have now. However Injuries and the lacking depth of talent makes it hard to find a ‘Stud’ TE in dynasty. It’s the position that can be a huge difference maker each week, having that guy is crucial. Looking back on TEs picked since 2007 in the top three rounds, produces familiar names for us all. Since 2007 45 TEs have been selected in the top three rounds of the NFL draft. 6 of the 45 were first round picks. All 6 appear in the table as the top 20 scorers at TE that were picked in the top 3 rounds. This points favorably to new tight ends coming into the league like OJ Howard, David Njoku, and potentially Evan Engram. Who all are in the conversation for being first round picks in the NFL and your dynasty rookie drafts.
|Player||Year||RD||PK||Average Fantasy Points per games played|
OJ Howard is seen as the ‘Safe’ player this year. He comes from a blue blood program in Alabama with an insane pedigree. An established blocker who proved his skills facing SEC edge rushers at times 1 on 1, he’s going to see the field often and early. Did I mention he’s also an athletic freak? OJ ran a 4.51 at the combine in the 40 yard dash at 255 pounds, the same time Leonard Fournette ran 20 pounds lighter. He also led all TEs at the combine in the 3 cone(6.85) which would have been 3rd for RBs at the combine. On top of all of this he’s 6’6 and has consistent hands. He is guaranteed to be a first round pick Thursday. The only concern I have with OJ is his lack of total production at Alabama despite having the attributes to dominate collegiately. These can be explained by the way he was horribly utilized under Lane Kiffin combined with a heavy run first attack. It makes you wonder that either Lane Kiffin is crazy, or as a community were not seeing the whole picture. With a skillset that OJ has, I’m willing to take that small risk.
David Njoku as a prospect is a bit different then OJ. If I had to summarize him it would be, freakish athleticism, raw ability, and youth. Measuring in at 6’4 and 246 pounds he has the size to be difference maker in the NFL. He is still only 20 and one of the youngest players in the draft at a skill position. What makes Njoku so appealing is his athletic skillset and the potential that could bring to an NFL passing attack. He was a national high jump champion in high school, tied for the 3rd highest vertical jump for TEs at the combine with a 37.5 inch jump, and 2nd for broad jump among TEs with a 11’1’’ leap. His three cone while not as astonishing as OJ’s, still was an elite time of 6.97 seconds. His 40 time came in at 4.64 at the combine, which seems to be consistent with his tape. At his pro day, he increased his vertical jump to 40 inches, which is bonkers. That with his arm length being 35 ¼ makes his catch radius insane. For comparison, he was one of only three TEs at the combine with an arm length over 34 inches. Njoku on the field isn’t as polished as OJ and will likely need more time to truly reach his potential. He shows that he is willing to get dirty and block when asked. His arm length will be a tremendous asset in developing as a blocker throughout his career allowing him to be an every down player. As a receiver he is going to be a dominant red zone player. In his game against Pitt he showed this as he scored 3 touchdowns with one being nullified by a penalty. His first included him flipping over a defender into the end zone and his last showed his strength securing the ball while being interfered with. Overall Njoku has the highest upside within this class from a pure athleticism point of view, combined with the great success past Miami TEs have had in the league I expect him to be a top 25 pick.
Lastly of the potential 1st round TEs is a player some don’t view as a TE. Evan Engram out of Ole Miss has the makings of a PPR monster. He’s 6’3, 234 pounds, and has potentially the best hands out of any of the TEs in this class. He runs excellent routes and has good speed getting out of his breaks. He mostly played in the slot or in the backfield for Ole Miss which has brought forth questions on whether he will be a WR in the NFL. His blocking ability he showed in the three games I watched of him, (FSU,UGA,TAMU) was inconsistent. There was a span during the Texas A&M game where he managed to go 1 on 1 with their DEs and hold his own, including blocking presumptive #1 overall pick Myles Garrett twice and holding his edge. He did flash an ability to block, but for every successful block he seemed to have a failed cut block or a whiff at an incoming rusher. Lucky for us he isn’t going to be drafted with the expectation to be a blocking TE. What makes him exciting is his size, speed, and hands combo. He ran a 4.42 at the NFL combine at 234 pounds, which puts him tied for 6th out of all RBs, WRs, and TEs who attended the draft. He possesses a 36 inch vertical and a 6.92 three cone drill. Add in the fact that in the gauntlet drill, he by far looked the most natural at catching the ball away from his body. Engram has the makings of a premier pass catcher, at whatever position he’s used at. If he retains his TE eligibility in fantasy, but plays a high volume receiver role he might possess the highest fantasy ceiling of all TE prospects this year. His expected draft range is 20-40.
The 2nd and 3rd Herd:
We have had 18 guys selected in the 2nd round and 21 in the third round since 2007. An interesting fact I found is of the top 20 TEs selected in the 2nd and 3rd rounds, all are from a Power 5 Conference with the sole exception of Travis Kelce(Cincinatti). This is particularly interesting as this year’s draft has a few players who could be picked in this range who didn’t attend one. Guys like Adam Shaheen(Ashland), Gerald Everett(S.Alabama), and longshot Jonnu Smith(FIU) all are potential top 100 players. After the 3rd round we’ve had 102 TEs picked in that range. The results for those players has been brutally bad. The notable players from that group include Julius Thomas(4), Dennis Pitta(4), Jordan Cameron(4), Jacob Tamme(4), Ladarius Green(4), Brent Celek(5), Gary Barnidge(5), and Charles Clay(6). If that group doesn’t get you excited about drafting late TEs then I don’t know what will! In all seriousness, if you’re desperate for a TE, draft one that gets taken in the first three rounds. Perhaps the fourth if you truly love the player. Otherwise prepare yourself for a wasted roster spot, as the hit rate post round 3 for a contributor is worse than the Browns at selecting QBs.
As I mentioned before, injuries seem to be killing top tier TE production these past few years. The Fantasy points per game played isn’t a good representation of that, as it only shows production when they did play. Which boosts a guy like Brandon Pettigrew or Dustin Keller who were effective when on the field, but seemingly have had short careers. So I formulated an extra proponent to the points per game played. I made it with the expectation that the player plays in 12 games a year each year since being selected. So this weeds out players who had short careers or just weren’t available consistently. I also made a 14 games a year expectation for players who debuted since 2011, in order to balance the wear and tear the NFL has on older players. The results changed the ordering of the top TEs. This obviously inflates the statistics of a guy like Greg Olsen but as the great Bill Belichick preaches “Dependability is more important than ability”. Some notable players not listed like Tyler Eifert and Kyle Rudolph were dinged for missing a significant amount of games in there career. More so for Eifert as he has missed 27 games out of 64. Kyle Rudolph has missed 16 in his 6 year career, effectively missing a season.
Key Takeaways: Entering the 2017 NFL draft we have an extremely strong and deep tight end class. Mike Mayock called it the best group he’s seen, and he’s not alone. We could potentially see three TE’s taken in the first round and potentially 8 or more in the top 100, something we haven’t seen since 2006. In a league needing depth and talent at the TE position, it couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Keep your eyes on guys selected in the top three rounds as most could see impactful play time early on. Some of my personal favorite guys that will go in the 2nd to 4th range include Jake Butt(Michigan), Bucky Hodges(VT), Adam Shaheen(Ashland), and Cole Hikutini(Louisville). All could be worth stashing on your bench if you’re in need of some TE help. If you’re interested in checking out more information on some other guys check out @JonGlosser’s piece on TEs from 1/20/2017.
Statistics taken from profootballreference.com