Round-by-round ranking of 2016’s best TE prospects
After working through the top quarterback, wide receiver, and running back prospects in the nation, it’s time to turn to tight ends. The SEC features a few top-end players, while Western Kentucky’s Tyler Higbee is worthy of a second-round pick behind Arkansas’ Hunter Henry.
Here are the top tight ends entering the 2016 NFL draft:
1. Hunter Henry, Arkansas
As far as tight ends go, Henry checks a lot of boxes. Speed, athleticism, hands, route-running—he has it all. The biggest knock is simply that he’s not necessarily “elite” at any of those things. Henry was our highest-graded pass-catching tight end in all of FBS a year ago after not dropping a single pass.
He’s no Vernon Davis, but Henry would regularly run past linebackers on drags and seam routes. After the catch, though, he leaves a bit to be desired. On 51 catches, he broke only four tackles and averaged 4.7 yards post-catch. As a blocker, Henry is more than willing, although he took a step back a little in that area in 2015. He’s a tad undersized to ever be a truly dominant in-line guy, but he took 79 percent of his snaps in a wing position and graded out right around average as a run-blocker last season.
2. Tyler Higbee, Western Kentucky
As a receiver, there isn’t much that separates Higbee from Henry. Higbee looks slightly superior from an athleticism perspective, and shows it after the catch. Higbee busted through 10 tacklers on only 38 catches a year ago, and he has the ability to make you miss with speed, body control, or strength. The issues with Higbee mainly deal with his inexperience. He started out as a receiver at WKU and over the past two seasons only tallied 813 snaps. If Higbee can continue to fill out his 6-foot-6-inch frame, he’s worth a high pick.
3. Jerell Adams, South Carolina
Adams first caught my eye with his run-blocking work at the Senior Bowl. With the tight end position as it is today, run-blocking only creeps into my evaluations if it’s an outlier in either direction, and Adams has the potential to be a true in-line blocking tight end in the NFL. His size (6-foot-5-inches, 247 pounds) doesn’t suggest it, but Adams locks in on defensive ends better than any other tight end in the upper half of the draft. Adams has the speed (4.64 40-yard dash at the combine) and body control (10 broken tackles) of a top-tier tight end, but he’s a body-catcher who could struggle to make plays in traffic (five drops).
4. Thomas Duarte, UCLA
A tight end in projection only, Duarte was a glorified slot receiver in the Bruins’ offense, lining up in-line on only 32 snaps all season long. So any team drafting the 6-foot-2-inch, 231 pound Duarte realizes that they may have to carve out an H-back type role for him. That being said, there is little need to project his receiving skills to the NFL, as he’s already produced the most yards and highest receiving grade of anyone in the class. As far as shiftiness and route-running, Duarte has no equal in this class. He can stop and start on a dime, killing college defensive backs on double-moves. Duarte’s complete inexperience as a blocker and limited size push him down the board a bit, but in the right situation, he could easily develop into the top receiving threat in this class.
5. Jake McGee, Florida
McGee is already a very polished receiver who produced the highest receiving grade on Florida’s roster, despite the disastrous quarterback situation. He’s a bit of an average athlete for the position, though, and his run-blocking is non-existent at the moment. McGee was easily the lowest-graded run-blocking tight end on this list. He has the size and strength to develop, but it’s difficult to see him being effective in that area any time soon.
6. Austin Hooper, Stanford
The Stanford tight end factory continues. Hooper is a solid athlete, yet isn’t nearly as polished of a receiver as Zach Ertz or Coby Fleener before him, though he’s made some eye-popping contested catches in his career. Along with those highlight-reel plays, however, you’ll have to live with some frustrating drops (10 in 84 opportunities over the past two seasons). Hooper looks awkward attacking the ball and after the catch he offers little creativity, breaking one tackle in 2015.
7. Devon Cajuste, Stanford
Another “move’ tight end, Cajuste played his four years as a receiver at Stanford. In fact, he hasn’t taken a single snap at tight end over the past two seasons. At 6-feet-4-inches, 234 pounds, though it looks like his future in the NFL is under the tight end designation. Even though he tested off charts at the combine, he didn’t separate against cornerbacks nearly as much as his counterpart, Thomas Duarte. That will likely change, though, if he’s able to work against linebackers more. He’s purely an athletic projection at this point, but there are enough tools there to mold him into an effective receiving weapon.
8. David Morgan, UTSA
The dynamic receiving threats are gone by this point, so that means the tight end that offers the most as a blocker comes up next on our big board. Morgan can walk in immediately and be a competent No. 2 tight end in the league. His +31.5 run-blocking grade blew away the rest of the FBS. Physically, he’s the ideal No. 2 tight end, and could even have some upside as a developmental tackle. Morgan is a solid safety blanket, as well, with only two drops in 47 opportunities. He drops down this far, though, because he looks like he’s running through mud. He ran a 5.02 40-yard dash at the combine and shows little ability to separate on routes.
9. Henry Krieger-Coble, Iowa
Krieger-Coble is one of the most fluid pass-catchers in the class, but his average athleticism puts a ceiling on his potential. Combine that with his lack of size (6-foot-3-inches, 248 pounds) and negative grade as a pass-blocker, and you have a potentially average tight end.
10. Matt Weiser, Buffalo
Another limited athlete (they almost all are this late in the draft), Weiser still has two straight years of production as a receiver. He has the body control to make contested catches, and his 10 broken tackles are tied for tops in the class.
11. Nick Vannett, Ohio State
Vannett has an NFL-ready frame (6-foot-6-inches, 257 pounds) and hands (two drops over last two years), but he offers almost nothing from an athleticism standpoint. His 4.85 pro-day 40-yard dash at Ohio State’s fast track is very telling, and it showed with only two broken tackles over the past two seasons. If he was a dominant run-blocker, the athleticism concerns could be overlooked, but Vannett was around average in that regard.
12. Ben McCord, Central Michigan
A late-round flyer type prospect. McCord reminds me of Jordan Reed at times with the shake he has at the top of his routes. Unfortunately, McCord isn’t near the caliber of athlete as Reed, and his five drops last year on 44 attempts are concerning. This late in the draft, though, you’re looking for anyone that might do something well, and McCord was one of the most productive receiving tight ends in the FBS last year.