CFF Overview: TE – Top of the Crop
Next up in our positional overview we take a look at the tight ends, which doesn’t have any elite, high first round prospects this season to offer. However, there are still some players that have the talent to become at least solid NFL contributors. Here are a few players at the top of this TE group who we think should hear their names called on day one or two of the draft.
Maxx Williams, Minnesota
We already looked at Williams more extensively in our CFF Player Profile, but he was the highest-overall graded tight end in this class by a solid margin, faring well as both a receiver and blocker while playing from a variety of positions in Minnesota’s offense. As his grade indicates, he was very productive in the passing game and came down with a pair of the most spectacular catches we saw from tight ends last season (Iowa 2Q 8:34, 0:35).
Similarly, Williams is a very willing blocker and played well in the run game, though he wasn’t often asked to block play side against defensive ends. He found and engaged targets well, positioning himself effectively to seal players at the second level.
Signature Stat: Gained 1.39 Yards per Route Run from the slot, the ninth-best mark in this class.
Clive Walford, Miami
The Miami product finished the season as our highest-graded tight end in the passing game, both overall and among draft-eligible players. He had exceptional production playing in a Power 5 conference, catching 77.2% of his targets and gaining 675 yards (first in the class). His eight forced missed tackles ranked in the Top 5 and he gained a first down or touchdown on 32 of 44 receptions.
As we highlighted in our look at the TE Signature Stats, Walford was fairly dominant in some of our per-snap metrics, including Yards per Route Run. His 3.26 overall YPPR was far ahead of second place and also bested Rob Gronkowski’s NFL-leading 2.53 mark by a wide margin. He was even better in that category in games against Power 5 opponents. With two drops during the regular season (he had a third in the Senior Bowl at 1Q 3:10), he had one of the best drop rates at 4.35%. Of the players with a better rate, only FSU’s Nick O’Leary saw more targets than Walford’s 57.
One of the negatives watching him is that he often looked like a different athlete with the ball in his hands than while running routes. He still had plays of impressive separation and avoiding contact getting into his route, including against Florida State (2Q, 11:48) and North Carolina (2Q, 5:23). He also showed the ability to extend away from his body and makes catches in traffic (Nebraska 2Q 13:57, UNC 2Q 5:23), though there were some occasional body catches.
As a blocker, Walford graded positively, but ranked 35th in the run game, particularly struggling against Louisville, Nebraska, and UNC. He pulled to the backside often, either sealing or cutting to open up cutback lanes, and generally fared better blocking in space vs in-line (Virginia 3Q 7:25). There were impressive flashes (VT 4Q, 13:13), but overall he wasn’t quite as aggressive in run blocking as you’d like to see.
Signature Stat: Walford spent 40 snaps in pass protection last season (including Senior Bowl) and allowed just one pressure.
Jeff Heuerman, Ohio State
A case where his overall grade was below that of some other prospects in this class, in part because he graded negatively as a receiver and wasn’t a significant part of Ohio State’s passing game. Heuerman saw a pass go his way on just 11.3% of his routes and for the season he accounted for less than 6% of the team’s total targets. Therefore you might have to project a bit more when evaluating his ability as a receiver.
He has the athleticism to threaten the seam, which is backed up by his testing numbers and a 17.9 yard per catch average in 2013, but that hasn’t necessarily translated to route running yet. When he was targeted, Heuerman displayed the ability to extend away from his body and adjust to sub-optimal ball location. Take a look at his catches against Maryland (3Q, 6:51), Cincinnati (1Q, 11:40), and Indiana (3Q 6:04, 4Q 10:15) for examples of this. He certainly looks like a natural catcher – one who didn’t drop a single pass last season and gained a first down or touchdown on 10 of his 17 receptions.
What’s most impressive about Heuerman is his blocking, where he graded very well on both screens and runs. Probably the best inline run blocker in this class, he routinely solo blocked opposing defensive ends and held his own. This was evident in games against Cincinnati (4Q 5:51), Michigan State (4Q, 7:58), and Illinois (1Q, 11:30). There were issues in pass protection at times (mostly against Virginia Tech) and letting more powerful players into his chest (Illinois 2Q, 14:24), but he also flashed the strength to not only seal defenders but drive them off of the ball for vertical movement (Rutgers 1Q 7:36, 2Q 15:00).
Signature Stat: Heuerman gained just 0.99 Yards per Route Run last season, ranking 26th among his peers.
Follow Thomas on Twitter