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 2 of this two part series; check out Part 1 here.
The list below contains the next 15 tight ends on my 30-player watch list. The names are in no particular order and do not represent a ranking of the prospects. If you see a few big names missing, I’ve likely placed them in Part 1 of this series.
Jaylen Samuels, North Carolina State – Junior
At 5′ 11″, 223 pounds, Samuels won’t play tight end in the NFL, but he might have the opportunity to be an intriguing offensive weapon at the next level. Analysts may be frustrated by their inability to define his specific position, but Samuels has been exceptionally productive per touch with the Wolfpack. He carried the ball just 56 times last season for only 368 yards, but scored nine times on the ground. Samuels’s biggest impact comes in the receiving game, where he reeled in 65 passes for 597 yards and another seven touchdowns. Is he explosive and dynamic enough to make an impact in the pros though? It’ll be a shock if he declares for the draft early.
Temuchin “Bucky” Hodges, Virginia Tech – RS Junior
In terms of physical and athletic gifts, Hodges doesn’t leave much to be desired. He’ll get the big receiver label also given to Evan Engram, not because of Hodges’ size, but rather due to a lack of traditional usage at the position. Hodges can stand to add some weight to his 6′ 7″, 245-pound frame, which should help him with in-line blocking assignments and handling edge defenders at the NFL level. A converted quarterback, Hodges is a towering threat with the long strides and unique athleticism to threaten defenses vertically. He’s not a stereotypoical tight end but, in the right situation, he has the traits to be a playmaker that can create mismatches all over the field.
Jeremy Sprinkle, Arkansas – RS Senior
Sprinkle will have the chance to emerge from beneath former teammate Hunter Henry’s shadow this season as the big tight end looks to improve on his 389-yard, six-touchdown campaign in 2015. Sprinkle isn’t a twitchy athlete, but he’s aggressive and physical in his routes, posting up defenders and showing the ability to reel in difficult grabs outside his frame with a strong pair of mitts. In the Razorbacks pro-style offense, Sprinkle will see his blocking responsibilities increase as the team’s top tight end, giving the fifth-year senior the opportunity to prove how complete his game really is.
Jeb Blazevich, Georgia – Junior
Blazevich’s stock may not soar if he enters what looks to be a terrific tight end class next spring, but the third-year player has started consistently since his freshman season at Georgia and has the chance to make a major impact in 2016. Where Blazevich really needs to improve is as a blocker, where he was manhandled too often last season. He has the ability to be a contributing depth tight end in the NFL, but he may hold out for a higher billing in a weaker 2018 class.
Josiah Price, Michigan State – RS Senior
Three years of fairly consistent production has Price’s name on the lips of many draft pundits heading into the 2016 season, but the 6′ 4″, 260-pound tight end is a methodical mover who won’t offer much juice down the field. He has the potential to be a strong blocker and reliable underneath threat at the next level, but there are three or four tight ends like Price every year in the draft.
Jonnu Smith, FIU – Senior
Two years ago, Jonnu Smith was really turning heads with a 61-catch, 710-yard, 8-touchdown season. The 2015 campaign, however, saw his production dip to just 36 grabs for 397 yards and four scores while he missed four games with a sprained knee. Still, Smith has drawn plenty of comparisons to the Bills’ Charles Clay, given his smaller stature for the position (6-3, 230) and playmaking ability. I’m intrigued by Smith as an athletic, move tight end that can give defenses matchup issues, but he’ll probably never fit the traditional mold at the position. He’s fun to watch though.
Mark Andrews, Oklahoma – RS Sophomore
It’ll be a surprise if Andrews leaves early to enter a pretty strong class, but either way it’ll be interesting to watch his progress this season. Andrews was All-Big 12 First Team as a redshirt freshman, posting 19 catches for 318 yards and seven touchdowns as one of Baker Mayfield’s favorite red zone targets. The 6′ 5″, 245-pound pass catcher has the size, athleticism, and speed to challenge defenses down the field from an in-line or flexed position. If he can continue to improve technically, Andrews has a chance to be one of the better prospects at his position in a year or two.
Keith Rucker, Georgia State – Senior
Rucker exploded onto the national scene last season, with 39 catches for 522 yards and six touchdowns in just ten games. He’s undersized at just 6′ 3″, 235 pounds, but has lined up all over the Georgia State offense and shown a knack for making big plays at the right time. Hard-working, smart, and highly competitive, Rucker’s NFL bloodlines come from his father, who played six years in the league. Rucker might be an h-back at the next level, but one way or another he’s an intriguing prospect who could earn a draftable grade if he’s able to stay productive and open some eyes with his pre-draft workouts.
Cethan Carter, Nebraska – Senior
24 catches for 329 yards and two touchdowns were all career-high numbers for Carter in 2015, as the 6′ 4″, 240-pound tight end inched his way onto the national radar. Carter is mostly used as a blocker, but leaves a lot to be desired in his fundamentals and technique. He needs to stop trying to launch himself at defenders and instead bring his lower half into each block. Carter’s effort is impressive, but he needs to make major strides as a blocker and route runner in 2016 to get draftable consideration this spring.
David Njoku, Miami – RS Sophomore
Njoku reminds me a lot of Ladarius Green: Long, sky-scraping targets with enticing athleticism and raw technique. You can tell that spatial awareness and route-running details are still coming slowly to Njoku, but when his understanding of the game catches up with his raw skills, the results should be impressive. Unless his game takes bigger strides than expected this season, however, he’s probably a 2018 class prospect.
Gerald Everett, South Alabama – Senior
One year ago, Wes Saxton was the South Alabama tight end posting impressive workout results and vying for an NFL draft slot. In 2017 it will be UAB transfer Everett, who looks to improve on a penultimate 41-catch, 575-yard, eight-touchdown campaign last season. He looks taller on tape than his listed 6′ 3″ height and, if he can test well enough, NFL teams may see him as a wide receiver rather than a tight end. Everett’s production should be among the best in the nation at his position if he can stay healthy this season.
Cam Serigne, Wake Forest – RS Junior
Consistent production is hard to come by for tight ends at the college level, making Serigne’s back-to-back 54 and 46-catch seasons extremely impressive. The 6′ 3″, 245-pound tight end could stick around for two more years and become the top performer at his position in school history, but Serigne may declare early given that he’ll be 23 years old by the start of his rookie season. He doesn’t look like a great athlete on tape, but Serigne could be an effective blocker and depth tight end if he can pack on a bit more weight.
Terry Pettis, Middle Tennessee State – RS Senior
Pettis is a tight end in a wide receiver’s body who posted some of the most eye-popping per catch numbers in the nation last season. The 6′ 5″, 228-pound pass catcher had 29 grabs for 612 yards, resulting in a ridiculous 21.1 yards per reception. I’ve seen enough highlights to be intrigued by Pettis’s athleticism and high-point ability, but I’ve got to get my hands on more of his full game tapes to get a better idea of his all-around skill set.
Brandon Lingen, Minnesota – Junior
Maxx Williams’s successor at tight end in the Golden Gophers’ offense, Lingen has the typical size and strength of an in-line player at 6′ 5″, 250 pounds, as well as the blocking acumen and experience. His routes can certainly stand to be more crisp and precise this season, as Lingen looks to have the type of year Williams did in 2014 before declaring early for the NFL draft. However, I’m not sure Lingen offers enough athletically to be comparable to his former teammate.
Hayden Plinke, UTEP – RS Senior
When I pulled up UTEP tape to watch Plinke, I expected to see a large, slow-moving tight end used almost exclusively as a run blocker. So, given those low athletic expectations (I blame former UTEP tight end Eric Tomlinson), I was pleasantly surprised to see the 6′ 4″, 255-pound Plinke moving fluidly within his routes, even threatening the perimeter of the field on pivot and out routes. He’s bounced around a couple of colleges before landing in El-Paso, but managed to reel in 37 catches for 405 yards during his first season with the Miners. If he can improve on those numbers, Plinke should get draft consideration this spring.