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2020 Senior Bowl: Tight End Primer

@fatpoust previews this year’s crop of tight ends at the Senior Bowl.

With a little under three months, until the NFL Draft hits Nevada, dynasty football fanatics have been awaiting the Senior Bowl since the end of bowl season. The prestigious week of practices in Mobile, Alabama and the subsequent all-star game has provided the foundation for collegiate players to get an opportunity to showcase their on-field and off-field ability in front of NFL front offices.

The Senior Bowl has not been stocked with talent at the tight end position over the past few years, but there has certainly been a fair share of exciting young players to pass through in recent memory. Evan Engram, OJ Howard, and Mike Gesicki are just a few to have participated, and all of them have shown production capability at the next level. There have also been a number of lesser-known prospects that have risen up draft boards drastically with good performances in Mobile including Dallas Goedert and Josh Oliver.

This year’s assortment of tight ends is an interesting blend of well-known, unknown and under the radar. You have three guys battling for the chance to be the first tight end off the board with Brycen Hopkins, Jared Pinkney, and Harrison Bryant. You also have two small-school prospects – Adam Trautman from Dayton and Charlie Taumoepeau from Portland State – that are looking to get some exposure from teams after substantial production in the FCS. Then, you have Sean McKeon and Stephen Sullivan, two guys from prestigious programs that have some unique traits but are still works in progress. Finally, you have Josiah Deguara, a guy I have become increasingly intrigued with after diving into his film.

Let’s get into it.

Credit: jconline.com

Brycen Hopkins – Purdue

Height: 6’5

Weight: 245

Purdue fans knew from the very beginning Hopkins had the chance to be special after the instant production in his redshirt freshman campaign. The Nashville native only recorded ten receptions on the year, but he made the most of every catch with an incredible 18.3 yards per reception and four touchdowns. Hopkins’ continuous and consistent production throughout his career is the main reason so many are infatuated. His efforts this year landed him with First Team Big Ten recognition as well as being named Second Team All-American by USA Today.

Hopkins is an exceptional route-runner and has a ton of natural fluidity in his movements. His top-notch footwork allows him to stop and get out of breaks very efficiently, and his length and jump-ball proficiency create an incredibly intriguing vertical threat. He has also shown the ability to use his body to win 50-50 balls and displayed relatively strong hands for the most part. He is extremely versatile and can line up as an in-line tight end, bump to H-back or flex out wide. Purdue used him all over the field, and Hopkins was very comfortable running a multitude of routes from different alignments. He understands how coverage works and does a good job staying patient between zones. His acceleration and underrated long speed make it tough for linebackers tasked to cover him in man coverage, but he is way too physical for defensive backs to defend. Hopkins is not known as a player who is going to elude a player with a lateral move, but he does have enough functional strength to break a tackle and fight for extra yardage.

Despite his ability to win in contested situations, Hopkins’ hands were inconsistent throughout the entire season. He made some frustrating drops and had a tough time catching the ball away from his body at times. I believe that pigeon-holing Hopkins into an in-line position would not best suit his strengths as a player, as I think he would benefit going to an offense that will use him primarily in the slot. Because of this, a skill-set like the one Hopkins possesses would not be a fit for every team, and offensive schemes that require their tight ends to participate heavily in the run blocking game will not be proper fits for him. His frame is on the thinner side, and although he shows a willingness to compete in the run game, his lack of strength and inconsistent hand placement were apparent throughout the tape. His route-running was proficient, and his ability to gain separation is elite, but I wonder if Hopkins will have some trouble getting away from defenders in press-man coverage.

Credit: PalmBeachPost.com

Harrison Bryant – Florida Atlantic

Height: 6’5

Weight: 240

The John Mackey Award winner unquestionably saved his best season for the finale, as he led the country in receptions and receiving yards for tight ends. Bryant has been a reliable factor in the Owls’ receiving game since his sophomore year, and like Hopkins, one of the most intriguing aspects of his game is the consistent improvement in production year to year. The Macon, Georgia native transitioned from a two-star dart throw prospect to a guy who sits second in all Florida Atlantic’s career receiving records and will have his dreams come true in April. I am rooting for him.

Bryant’s profile matches the TE/WR hybrid that the league is seeming to transition to. His most successful routes tend to come when he is flexed out into the slot and gets vertical in the seams on go routes and posts. He is also useful in the short passing game with his ability to flip his hips quickly back to the ball on curl routes. Bryant’s speed causes some issues with linebackers in coverage, and he possesses enough bulk to give cornerbacks nightmares. He shows great patience in zone coverage and does a good job anchoring down into open lanes. Bryant has long arms and has shown consistency in catching the ball away from his body. Once he gets going, he has underrated deep speed, and his ability to break tackles with both strength and elusiveness is above average.

Bryant does not project much as an in-line tight end currently, and his limited strength will cause some issues with maintaining blocking leverage against more physical defenders. His long arms give him the upper hand, but he does not seem to have a ton of strength in his upper body when blocking. He is kind of a ‘tweener’ prospect because he is too slow to be a wide receiver but not strong enough in the blocking game to be relied on consistently in-line. He has a finite amount of snaps with his hand in the dirt which might cause some issues if he is asked to play a more traditional role.

Credit: DownTheDrive.com

Josiah Deguara – Cincinnati

Height: 6’3

Weight: 240

I am not sure there is a tight end in this class who has flown under the radar more than Josiah Deguara. This season, he became Cincinnati’s all-time leader in receptions from the tight end position. This might not sound too impressive at first glance, the Bearcats have been surprisingly solid in producing NFL-level tight ends. While I do not think Deguara is on the level of Brent Celek and Travis Kelce, I do believe he has the tools to have a productive career at the next level. He is not flashy, and I am not sure that he does anyone thing spectacular, but Deguara is too well-rounded to not be someone to watch this week.

Deguara lined up in a variety of alignments for the Bearcats this season spending time at H-back, slot receiver, X receiver and in the traditional in-line position. Despite being on the shorter side, Deguara is extremely thick, and his weight is very proportional to his body. He has shown comfort catching outside of his body and displayed great concentration along the boundary. He does not have a ton of deep speed, but Deguara has proven he is fast enough to get into the second level in a hurry. His releases in play-action are incredibly sneaky which allowed him to get behind sleeping secondaries. As a route-runner, Deguara is surprisingly sharp coming out of his breaks and has shown the ability to separate at the top of his routes in a variety of ways. He had limited snaps where he was relied on as an important run-blocker, but Deguara has displayed enough energy and willingness for coaches to work with. He has a ton of strength in his upper body which caused defenders trouble breaking away once engaged.

Because of his shorter arms and squatty frame, Deguara does not possess an incredible catch radius and will likely not be a guy to bring down 50/50 balls with consistency. Deguara was not asked to block much from an in-line position. Other than a willingness to block, he is pretty raw in terms of technique and might take a little more time to transition than expected. Deguara has plenty of strength, but he was thrown to the side by defenders at times because of his inability to stay balanced. He might be best in a role similar to Kyle Jusczcyk, where he is utilized as more of a full-back/H-back but gets some opportunities in the passing game. While I do think his skill-set would be intriguing, he does not seem like a guy that could land in any offensive scheme and produce positive results.

Credit: MGoBlue.com

Sean McKeon – Michigan

Height: 6’5

Weight: 246

Sean McKeon broke out as a sophomore, as his 31 receptions and three touchdowns led the Wolverines’ receiving game. If I were to tell you that he only recorded 27 receptions and three touchdowns in his final two seasons, you might write off McKeon as a “one-year wonder”. However, he has proven to be a focal point of their offense without getting statistical production. McKeon only got a handful of targets per game but tended to make the most of them with an average of over 18 yards per reception. McKeon’s best traits do not show up on the stat sheet. He dealt with several injuries throughout this season, and you could tell Michigan’s efficiency in the run game and pass protection took a hit with McKeon missing. I expect McKeon to be the best blocking tight end in Mobile, but if he can show he is moderately capable in the receiving game, we may be shocked at how early he gets drafted.

McKeon has the frame to survive the transition to the NFL, and he uses his size well in traffic. He shows great concentration at the point of attack and consistently approaches the catch with soft hands away from his body. McKeon is not much of a game-changer with the ball in his hands, but he is tough to bring down with one defender. What makes McKeon different than the rest of the tight ends at Mobile is his excellence in the blocking department. McKeon is not just a willing blocker – he has shown consistently great technique and the ability to purely dominate once engaged. He shows great power on his initial punch and is extremely tough to disengage from. McKeon has a ton of experience in the three-point stance which will come in handy.

McKeon’s potential is capped due to his limited athletic profile. He ran a respectable 4.69 40 yard dash in high school, but at times, he showed that he will likely never be a player to win downfield with speed. His initial release off the line is fine, but McKeon’s lack of second-level explosiveness is one of the main reasons why he struggles getting separation from defenders in man coverage. Unlike Bryant, McKeon does not provide many advantages flexed out as a wide receiver, and he seems to be restricted solely as an in-line option. His routes are adequate, but he showed a level of clumsiness getting clean releases at the top of the stem. McKeon’s floor is higher than consensus belief because of his ability to contribute immediately in the blocking game, but his limitations as an athlete do not provide much intrigue from a fantasy perspective.

Credit: VanderbiltHustler.com

Jared Pinkney – Vanderbilt

Height: 6’4

Weight: 260

Jared Pinkney had extremely high expectations coming into the season, as he was named to many of the preseason All-American teams. He was heavily featured in the Commodore passing game as a redshirt junior compiling 774 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. His 50 receptions were the most by a Vanderbilt tight end since Chuck Scott in 1984. Pinkney fell out of the discussion for the top tight end of the class with a disappointing 2019 season, where he only recorded 20 receptions and two touchdowns. However, it is hard to judge Pinkney’s potential as a prospect on his results this season when taking into account Vanderbilt’s erratic quarterback play throughout the year. With a great performance this week, Pinkney could vault into my tier two of the tight end class.

Pinkney already possesses adequate NFL size, and his mammoth frame creates quite the catch radius. Combining this with his strong hands and his ability to box out defenders, he has the skillset to be a very dangerous option in the red zone. Pinkney seems to adjust well with the ball in the air and possesses great concentration at the point of attack. He has had his most success on crossing patterns over the middle and showed comfort catching the ball in traffic. Pinkney’s routes are not necessarily sharp, but he does a solid job getting out of his breaks quicker than expected. His technique in the blocking game needs some work, but Pinkney has flashed the potential of being a dominant in-line blocker with his tenacious energy. He also has a ton of experience coming out of a three-point stance which should allow for an easier transition than most.

His overall athleticism is only slightly above average, and other than his physical measurements, he does not possess any eye-popping traits. His limited lateral mobility and agility are apparent after Pinkney catches the ball. While he is capable of getting some yardage after the catch with his strength, this will never be a huge part of Pinkney’s game. Pinkney seemed to have trouble against defenders that were not afraid to get physical with him. He is great in contested catch situations, but Pinkney rarely gets clean separation from defenders. He is pretty raw as a route-runner and needs to learn how to stay patient to uncover passing lanes in coverage. While he does possess the frame and experience to suggest he is a great in-line blocker, Pinkney’s inconsistent results have been disappointing. He does show he is willing to get physical one on one, but Pinkney tends to get too high in his approach and does not get much leg drive on his defender.

Credit: TheAthletic.com

Adam Trautman – Dayton

Height: 6’6

Weight: 253

Dayton has only had six players in history to compete at the Senior Bowl, and Trautman is the first Flyer to participate in Mobile since Gary Kosins in 1972. As the all-time leading receiver in school history, Trautman ended his career with extraordinary production recording 70 receptions and 916 receiving yards. His 14 touchdowns were tied for third-most in the FCS and had five more touchdowns than the next tight end (Devin Cates – Drake). Not many people have had the opportunity to see him play, but Trautman possesses a ton of traits that seem like they will translate to the next level. With a good showing this week, Trautman could rise into a position where a team would be comfortable taking him on day two.

Trautman is the total package. Trautman possesses an NFL-ready frame entering the league on day one and physically dominated his FCS counterparts on a routine basis. He is a gifted athlete and moves incredibly smooth for a guy of his size. He has more long speed than you would expect, and he is at his best working in the short and intermediate area, where his explosion off of the line of scrimmage catches defenders off guard. However, he has shown he is capable at winning down the field as well on vertical routes. Trautman consistently showed good concentration with the ball in the air and used his body to shield off smaller defenders. He attacks the ball at peak height and shows good strength coming down with possession in traffic. In terms of route-running, Trautman maneuvers off of the line of scrimmage fluidly and utilizes quick feet to change direction at the top of his routes.

I do not see too many flaws in Trautman’s game, but questions regarding the adjustment coming from the FCS are completely fair. At Dayton, he was certainly in a class of his own from an athletic standpoint, but this week will give us a pretty good indication of what to expect from Trautman. Personally, I will be watching how well his blocking translates this week against premier college talent. He possesses plenty of initial power and displays the ability to recognizes blitzes and second-level blocking, but Trautman could improve by driving his feet after the initial punch. He gets to the second level quickly, but he could improve his hand usage in getting separation.

Credit: TheAthletic.com

Stephen Sullivan – LSU

Height: 6’5

Weight: 242

Would you be surprised if I told you that Stephen Sullivan had the same amount of receptions and more receiving yardage than Ja’Marr Chase and Foster Moreau in 2018? Well, the Donaldson, Louisiana native only made one start last year, but he recorded at least one reception in ten of LSU’s thirteen games. This past season, Chase transitioned into a feature role, and with the emergence of Justin Jefferson and Terrace Marshall Jr., Sullivan was left in a tough situation. He transformed his body and made the transition to tight end, but his production took a major hit, and he was eighth in receptions on the year with only 12. It is incredibly tough as a competitor to go from a guy being featured in an offense as a receiver to being the secondary option as a tight end, so I respect Sullivan for sacrificing production to benefit the team. Sullivan will be working out at both tight end and wide receiver, and I think this is the right move. We will see if a team falls in love with his raw athleticism and ball skills enough to warrant a draft pick.

Stephen Sullivan has the frame to be an absolute mismatch at the next level, and his body seems like it can still add some muscle without sacrificing any athleticism. You can tell Sullivan possesses a wide receiver background by his ball skills, and his route-running ability is one of the best of this year’s group. He is entirely comfortable catching the ball away from his body going towards the boundary and in traffic over the middle. He shows good concentration with his hands and feet along the sideline. There are not many people that can legitimately challenge him on clean jump-ball situations. Sullivan does not take long to get up to top speed when getting vertical, but he is also capable of stopping fairly quickly on comeback routes.

A major knock on Sullivan’s game is his limited experience playing as an in-line tight end. He is the ultimate ‘tweener’. There were obviously some questions about his potential as a wide receiver to force him to change positions, but his limited amount of reps as an in-line blocker do not instill any confidence that he will be capable of producing at the next level. Even if he improves on his technique, he simply does not have the initial punch strength to be a major factor in the run blocking game. He gets away with a solid foundation and long arms in pass protection, but he has a hard time getting much drive at the point of contact and needs to work on staying balanced upon contact. This is not solely because he plays in the SEC; his blocking in their game against Northwestern State was not very inspiring. His balance seemed to be an issue when gaining separation from linebackers in the second level. I have questions about how he will handle press coverage because he seems to have trouble staying on his feet if a linebacker gets a piece of him.

Credit: GoViks.com

Charlie Taumoepeau – Portland State

Height: 6’3

Weight: 245

Charlie Taumoepeau is a confusing prospect to gauge for several reasons. Coming from a team that finished 3-5 in the Big Sky, it is difficult to properly assess how good a player will be at the next level. In 2018, he certainly showed his knack for making big plays with his 20.7 yards per reception. On the other hand, Taumoepeau only recorded more than 5 receptions in the first game of the season. He flipped a switch to finish his junior campaign, as he combined for eight receptions for 255 yards and four touchdowns in their final two bouts against Oregon and Nevada. You would be inclined to believe that a guy with Taumoepeau’s athleticism against the level of competition he faced should have some eye-popping statistics. Once again, he had a great first game of 2019, where he recorded four receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown against Arkansas. Yet, his 36 receptions for 474 yards and two touchdowns on the season leave a lot to be desired.

Charlie Taumoepeau is a little on the shorter side, but similar to Deguara, he possesses a sturdy frame that is built to take on contact. He has incredibly nimble feet for a guy his size, and his ability to consistently break tackles seems like it is good enough to translate to the next level. He showed consistency catching away from his body, and showed great flexibility in his hips. Whenever Taumoepeau got the ball in his hands, he was a threat to grab a solid chunk of yardage and seemed exceedingly comfortable trying to make something out of nothing. Although there have been some concerns with his speed, from what I have seen, Taumoepeau has plenty of giddy-up once he gets going. He does not possess elite burst off the line of scrimmage, but his acceleration is respectable relative to his size. When he is completely engaged and giving full effort in the receiving game, Taumoepeau is a force to be reckoned with.

It is tough to determine due to the limited film on Taumoepeau, but his inconsistent effort was alarming and showed up on many occasions. He seemed to pick and choose when he wanted to go 100 percent. Taumoepeau popped off the screen watching him with the ball in his hands, but a guy of his talent should be making more of a consistent impact from series to series throughout the season. Taumoepeau possesses the power and the willingness to break tackles with the ball in his hands, but that same strength and effort is not shown in the blocking game. At times, it seemed that he was reluctant to engage and rarely got much drive on defenders after the initial push. He spends a majority of his time flexed into the slot, but his limitations as a route-runner might force him into being an H-back and rely on play-action dump-offs. I am not sure what position Taumoepeau will play at the next level. Reports have said teams believe he is best suited him in more of an H-back/tight end hybrid, but I would not surprise if he gets molded into a defensive end or a linebacker.

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