2017 NFL Draft Tight End Watch List: Part 1

The NFL offense is a passing league, but that’s not just for glory-hound wide receivers or even pass catching backs.  As the intermediate passing game becomes more important, expect more teams to look to the tight end for production through the air. Jon Ledyard assesses the potential tight ends for the 2017 NFL Draft class in Part 1 of this two part series.

The list below is the first 15 tight ends on my watch list of 30 as we head towards the 2017 NFL Draft. The names are in no particular order and do not represent a ranking of the prospects. If you see a few big names missing, Ive likely saved them for Part 2 of these rankings, which will be released shortly.

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Evan Engram, Mississippi – Senior

Analysts will be up in arms about Engrams lack of size (6′ 3″, 227 pounds) and will attach the big receiverlabel to him, but the Ole Miss playmaker is a solid blocker who doesnt shy away from in-line responsibilities. He is not dominant in the run game, but how many college tight ends are when entering the draft? Engram is already advanced in his overall route-running and ability to create after the catch – traits that will be coveted by NFL teams next spring. His aggressive playing style, strong hands, and ability to consistently get open at all levels of the field should make him one of the top targets in Mississippis passing attack this season.

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O.J. Howard, Alabama – Senior

Howard offers rare speed and agility for the tight end position and has plenty of experience as a blocker from his time in the Crimson Tide offense. The big tight end isnt powerful or nasty enough to be especially effective in a primary blocking role, but Howard makes his presence felt as a pass catcher – something Clemson learned the hard way in the national championship game. He fits the mold of Eric Ebron and Jimmy Graham, athletic playmakers who needed to improve as route runners and blockers, but both of whom had the physical gifts to post dominant production at the next level. The question remains, though: Will Alabama alter their offense to utilize Howards gifts more consistently?

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Jordan Leggett, Clemson – Senior

Leggetts size and movement skills are enticing for the position, but scouts will really covet his strong hands and ability to finish tough catches in traffic. The main question he needs to answer is: Is he explosive enough out of his route breaks to create separation at the NFL level? With Deshaun Watson at the helm of Clemsons offense, Leggett should have the opportunity to improve on his junior numbers of 40 catches for 525 yards and eight touchdowns, elevating his draft stock in the process. Like most of these guys, blocking remains a question mark.

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Darrell Daniels, Washington – Senior

Daniels moved from wide receiver to tight end in 2013, but the switch didnt exactly do wonders for his production. The big pass catcher looks the part at a rangy 6-4, 240 pounds, but moves methodically and struggles to create much separation in his route stems. Seldom-targeted in Washingtons offense (30 catches past two seasons combined), Daniels is asked to block frequently, but lacks not only the explosiveness to cut quicker defenders off at the line of scrimmage, and also the power to generate movement in the run game.

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Trent BuckCowan, Idaho – Senior

The Vandals have not had a player drafted since 2012, but currently boast two of the nations more productive tight ends heading into the 2016 season. Cowan is built more like an H-back at 6-3, 224, but was 4th in the nation amongst his position group last season with 624 yards on 48 catches. His lack of size and strength is a significant issue, however, and I dont think Cowan is impressive enough as an athlete to make up for his physical deficiencies.

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Deon Watson, Idaho – Redshirt Senior

Two Idaho tight end prospects? Watson is utilized more like a wide receiver with his wide splits and backside isolations, but youll occasionally find the rangy tight end in-line as well. At 6′ 4″, 222 pounds, Watson is your typical small-school, slight-of-frame tweener at the position, but cranked out 42 catches for 551 yards and seven touchdowns last season. If he can raise some eyebrows with his pre-draft workouts, Watson has a chance to be a late round selection next spring.

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Jake Butt, Michigan – Senior

It was a surprise when Butt shunned a weak tight end class to return to Michigan, but the Wolverine playmaker will garner plenty of attention this season as NFL scouts decide whether he deserves first round hype. Butt is a strong athlete with the ability to go up and battle for contested catches in the air, but his detailed routes are what truly set him apart. Where Butt leaves much to be desired is in his blocking, not from an effort standpoint, but from a technical perspective. I trust hell improve in this area, but scouts will be paying close attention to how Butt handles himself in the trenches this season.

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Johnny Mundt, Oregon – Senior

Mundt is a high-character prospect who plays with toughness despite his lack of desirable girth. He leads with a shoulder when blocking to throw a heavier blow, but Mundt will get eaten alive by NFL defenders if he doesnt learn to use his hands more effectively when engaging opponents at the line of scrimmage. Only seven catches over the past 26 games is disappointing, but Mundt appears to have the measurables to get attention if he can post some production in 2016 at Oregon. But will he be buried behind Pharaoh Brown and Evan Baylis on the depth chart?

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Evan Baylis, Oregon – RS Senior

The production hasnt always been there for Baylis (16-229-1 last season), but the 6′ 6″, 250-pound tight end has the desired build and length for the position. Baylis isnt an explosive athlete by any means, but he is a solid blocker who is capable of being a steady #2 or #3 tight end who can do the little things right in the NFL.

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Pharaoh Brown, Oregon – RS Senior

A broken leg during the 2014 season left Brown facing possible amputation and an end to his football career, but the once-tantalizing prospect has miraculously recovered and returned to the field for spring practices after sitting out the 2015 campaign. If Brown can stay injury free and once again conjure up visions of the prospect he once was, there will be plenty of teams interested in the 6′ 6″, 250-pound pass catcher next spring. So the only question is: Can he eat enough glass and pack on enough muscle to play an in-line role as a blocker?

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Jarred Gipson, Nevada – Senior

Gipson is a 6′ 1″, 240-pound H-back-type who played a heavy role as an in-line blocker for Nevada, but may not have the size or strength to handle battles at the line of scrimmage in the NFL. Hes a reliable underneath receiver who is physical enough to post up over the middle, but will have to make his mark on special teams at the next level.

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Wyatt Houston, Utah State – Senior

Utah State has been churning out NFL prospects of late, but most have come on the defensive side of the ball. Houston is the first athlete in his high school’s history to accept a D-I scholarship in any sport, and with good reason, as the 6′ 5″, 255-pound tight end has had some impressive moments during his three years at Utah State. Houston is a sharp route runner with strong hands and an impressive catch radius, and while he may only be an average overall athlete, he shows a knack for getting open efficiently, especially against zone coverages. If were selecting long-shot sleepers that could work their way into the drafts third day, Ill nab Houston.

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Billy Freeman, San Jose State – RS Senior

Billy Freeman isnt exactly a household name, but the Spartans tight end is coming off a career season in which he caught 48 passes for 586 yards and six touchdowns. The stocky tight end is physical and aggressive, but a lack of ideal size and athleticism should significantly lower his draft stock.

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Taylor McNamara, USC – RS Senior

McNamara has had a largely uneventful college career, but the Oklahoma transfer will have the opportunity to start this season for USC. He is technically sound and relentless in his approach as a blocker, but there probably isnt enough skill or upside for McNamara to be anything more than a camp body at the next level.

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Blake Jarwin, Oklahoma State – RS Senior

Jarwin is tough and scrappy as a blocker, but doesnt pack much of a punch in his long-legged frame. He could see an increase in targets this season, but Jarwin has a lot to prove with just 22 career receptions and relatively unimpressive athletic tools.

Follow Jon on Twitter @LedyardNFLDraft. Check out his article on impact running backs from the 2016 Draft Class.

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One thought on “2017 NFL Draft Tight End Watch List: Part 1

  1. I understand the number of reviews given the number of total athletes to cover. However, wondering if there’s anything we can do to help get our son Jordan Rose, Idaho Vandals, #76, three year start and selected to AP, Athlon and Phil Steele’s 2017 All Bowl Teams at the Famous Potato Bowel as he dominated the CSU Rams DL all day long and helped protect his OB to he could have a product day.

    In fact, he started at SG as a Freshman (Sunbelt Newcomer Award) but was moved to ST (blindside) due to number of sacks given up and started his first game at ST vs. USC – great game tape to watch as he dominated their DE all day long. He’s continued to improve his play each year and reduced the numbers of sacks Year to Year by @40%, as well as lead his OL teammates building a strong unit. We understand he’s playing in a smaller program but he’s performed well against larger programs like U of W, WSU, USC, Auburn, UNLV, etc. Appreciate all you do for these young dedicated athletes. Be safe and thank you for your consideration.

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