NEPD Staff Writer: Mike Gerken
We come to the final offensive skill position of the series, the Tight Ends. It has been several years since there has been this much talent at the position and teams will be able to get guys who can contribute well beyond the first round. After the Patriots aquired Dwayne Allen, it has been all quiet on the Tight End front. In the past however, we have seen the Patriots use multiple picks on the position, and with this much talent, it may be hard to pass up on getting a young player to groom for the future.
Position: Tight End
Rob Gronkowski (age 27, signed through 2019)
Dwayne Allen (age 27, signed through 2019)
Matt Lengel (age 26, signed through 2017)
Rob Housler (age 29, signed through 2017)
Michael Williams (age 26, signed through 2017)
There are a lot of names on the roster right now, but in reality, only Gronk and Allen have roster spots locked up. The rest of the guys are on the final year of their contract and could easily be replaced by a rookie draft pick. Gronk is the best Tight End in the league, and maybe ever, but the reality is is that he struggles to stay healthy. Allen has his injury concerns as well, so adding a young player that is more dynamic than the other three Tight Ends currently on the roster seems like a realistic move, and a smart one.
Prospects With Draftable Grades:
Adam Shaheen, Ashland (6’7″, 278 Lbs.): I wrote up Shaheen earlier http://www.nepatriotsdraft.com/2017/02/scouting-report-adam-shaheen-te.html, so I won’t bore you with too many more details, but this guy is really impressive. For a guy his size to move as smoothly is something else. You just do not see guys his size with his athleticism on the offensive side of the ball. He needs work as a route runner and more seasoning as a blocker, but his upside is tremendous. If he can develop like I think he should, he has a chance to be one of the dominant Tight Ends in the league. Grade: 2nd/3rd round
Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech (6’6″, 257 Lbs.): Hodges has an impressive combination of size, athleticism, and speed for the position. Basically, he is a Wide Receiver in a Tight Ends body. He is a smooth runner, not a rumbler like you might expect at his size. He is physical with defenders and will box them out to create a large target for his QB. Hodges uses his height,strength, and large hands well to win contested throws. He plays with good body control, timing his jumps well to high point the ball. He can take a hit and deliver one as well. His route running needs work and while he has the size, he is not a refined blocker at all. Like I said earlier, he moves and plays much more like a Receiver than a Tight End. He has the potential to be a real headache for Defensive Coordinators. Grade: 3rd round
Jake Butt, Michigan (6’5″, 246 Lbs.): Butt is what you think of when you are thinking about a classic Tight End. He is not the freak athlete like the guys that will be drafted before him, but he makes up for it in other ways. He is a great route runner with good footwork. He is quick off the snap and attacks defenders. He has developed the use of subtle movements to get defenders off balance and create separation. He knows how to use his frame to create an inviting target for his QB. He is a reliable pass catcher that is fluid after the catch. Butt is a physical player with the ball in his hand and requires multiple defenders to bring him down. He is a willing blocker, but could use some refinement in his technique. Butt is coming off a major injury and has been forgotten in this talented class. He could be a steal if he slips down the draft board. Grade: 3rd round
Jordan Leggett, Clemson (6’5″, 258 Lbs.): Leggett is yet another big bodied guy with great athleticism. He is smooth route runner that shows good burst to get on top of defenders and create separation. He has long arms and big hands, making him a big target with a large catch radius. He has soft hands and attacks the ball, rarely allowing the ball into his pads. He is productive with the ball in his hand, forcing defenders to sell their body to bring him down. He has good vision and enough wiggle to be a threat after the catch. Leggett has decent technique as a blocker, but needs to get bigger in his lower half to be more effective. Effort is not always there when he is asked to block, which is a concern. Leggett is another one of these Tight Ends that is more of a pass catcher than a true inline Tight End. Grade: 3rd round
George Kittle, Iowa (6’3″, 247 Lbs.): Kittle showed up on the scene after his performance at the NFL Combine. His speed shows up on tape as well. He is a smooth mover with refined footwork in and out of his cuts. Kittle is as competitive as they come, especially as a blocker. He latches on and drives his opponents out of the play or into the ground. Does not have ideal size for the position and looks to be maxed out. You have to wonder why Kittle was not more productive given his athletic abilities. Kittle is raw from a route running standpoint and was only asked to run a very simplified tree. He struggles to create separation because he just does not know how to set up defenders. He will get drafted because of his blocking and a team will hope he can develop as a pass catching option. Grade: 5th round
Eric Saubert, Drake (6’4″, 253 Lbs.): A guy from my neck of the woods, he is probably unknown to the casual draft fan. He is a fluid athlete that is more Wide Receiver than Tight End at this point. He has insanely long arms and huge hands, making him a big target. He is a threat after the catch with his speed and good change of direction skills. Saubert does not have to gear down to get in and out of his breaks. He tracks the ball well, can high point the ball and made some really tough catches look easy. Saubert has some of the best highlight catches of any of the Tight Ends in this class. He is coming from a much lower level of competition and will have a big adjustment to make. He was not a great blocker even at the lower level of competition and will need a lot of work to improve in that area. He will have the occasional mental drop, trying to run before securing the catch. Grade: 5th/6th round
Interesting UDFA Prospects:
Pharaoh Brown, Oregon (6’5″, 255 Lbs.) At one point, was probably a Day 2 pick before a major knee injury. Can he get back to that guy?
Billy Brown, Shepherd (6’3″, 255 Lbs.)
Phazahn Odom, Fordham (6’7″, 251 Lbs.)
Final Thoughts: Another talented group that required some tough decisions. Gerald Everett(3rd/4th round), Cole Hikutini(4th round), and Jeremy Sprinkle(4th/5th) were names I seriously considered putting in. I would be surprised if the Patriots didn’t grab a Tight End because this is just too talented of a group to not find value. The team does have other, more pressing needs, but I could see the team shocking its fanbase and taking a Tight End earlier rather than later.