Browns, NFL Draft

WFNY’s 2017 NFL Draft Coverage: Joe Gilbert’s Top Five Tight Ends

Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports

After sifting through the trenches, we now shift our focus to the offensive skill positions, starting with tight ends. The Browns could be in the market for a tight end. The team is looking for a complete player who can block and go out for passers as an inline tight end. Cleveland already has receiving threats in Gary Barnidge and Seth DeValve and a blocker in Randall Telfer.

There are a ton of talented tight ends in the 2017 NFL Draft. It is one of the best and deepest positions in the draft and it could be one of the all-time best tight end classes. Overall, the group has filled with athleticism and a wide variety of playing styles. So with that, let’s take a look at my Top 5 tight ends in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Joe Gilbert’s 2017 NFL Draft Position Rankings: Safeties, Cornerbacks, Inside Linebackers, Edge Rushers, Interior Defensive Linemen, Interior Offensive Linemen, Offensive Tackles

1. O.J. Howard, Alabama

Stats: In 15 games last season, he had 45 receptions for 595 yards and three touchdowns.

O.J. Howard is the complete tight end that teams would love to have in their offense. Howard is a great athlete at 6-foot-6, 251 pounds. He has the speed of a receiver, showing that speed at the NFL Combine when he ran a 4.51-second 40-yard dash. He has the speed to gain separation in his routes and the speed to run away from defenders after the catch. As a pass catcher, he shows good hands, catching the ball away from his body. He is agile to get out of his breaks and change directions well in his routes. After the catch, he can use his speed and strength to break tackles and run for extra yards. Also in route running, he is good at faking or slipping blocks to roll out to run a route. As a blocker, he was asked and willing to do a lot in college, including as a lead blocker at times. The former Alabama star is a patient blocker, who is good at getting in a good position to shield the defender away from the ball. He has good strength that allows him to withstand the power of the defenders at the point of attack. His long arms are powerful, giving him the ability unload a good initial punch on defenders. He is a willing blocker downfield, too. Howard is a player who can line up anywhere on the field and perform many different tasks.

But, Howard has some things to work on in his game. As a receiver, his route running is not refined. He lacks the crisp and subtle body movements that can create separation. His separation at this point of career comes from his athleticism. After the catch, he does not possess the agile movement skills that can help him elude tackles. He uses more speed and power than elusiveness. As a blocker, he can better use his hands and arms to keep defenders away from his body and sustain blocks longer. Overall, he can continue to refine his blocking technique and add some more weight to his frame. His lack of elite production as a receiver can be something teams look further into. But in the end, he is a complete tight end, who can play all three downs and affect the play as a receiver and blocker.

2. David Njoku, Miami (FL)

Stats: In 13 games last season, he posted 43 receptions for 698 yards and eight touchdowns.

David Njoku is a freak athlete with the explosiveness to be a game changer as a tight end. He showed his explosiveness at the NFL Combine, jumping an impressive 37.5-inch vertical and a 133-inch broad jump, which both ranked in the top three of the tight ends group. He has great length, standing at 6-foot-4 and 35 ¼-inch arms. He also has good body control to position himself to make the catch. His explosiveness, length and body control shows up in his ball skills, leaping over defenders to outreach for a pass. His size and athleticism gives the quarterback a huge target with a gigantic catch radius, which makes him a redzone target. He runs like a receiver, able to run past defenders. He has fluid hips, which helps change directions well, which helps in route running and after the catch. As a receiver, he uses his speed to get separation from the coverage. He comes out of his breaks with good quickness and explosion. He is best after the catch. He has the speed, strength, balance and elusiveness to break tackles and extend a play. He is a big play receiver. Njoku is a willing blocker. He uses his arms well as a blocker, extending them against a defender to keep them away from his body.

Njoku has some flaws in his game. His biggest flaw is his blocking. He lacks bulk and strength in his frame and this shows up quite a bit in his blocking. He can struggle to keep his ground with the bigger defenders at the line of scrimmage. Even though he blocks with good arm extension, he struggles to put his hands in the right position on the blocker. He can aim too high or wide, causing the defender to get leverage on him or completely away from him. As a receiver, he can learn to better his route running and show more suddenness and crispness in the routes. Lastly, he has problems with drops, with most coming because of focus. He has strong and big hands. Nevertheless, he has the athleticism to be a mismatch and playmaker for a NFL offense.

3. Evan Engram, Ole Miss

Stats: In 11 games last season, he notched 65 receptions for 926 yards and eight touchdowns.

Evan Engram is a mismatch in the passing game for opposing defenses. The thing that separates him from the rest of the tight ends group is his receiver-like athleticism. He ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash, jumped a 36-inch vertical, ran a 6.92-second 3-cone drill and ran a 4.23-second 20-yard shuttle, with all ranking in the top five of the tight ends group at the NFL Combine. He runs faster than a lot of receivers, showing the ability to get separate from the coverage and to than run away from the defense after the catch. He has deep ball speed, making him a huge playmaker for an offense. He shows good quickness and fluidity. These traits, along with his speed, help him elude defenders and be a good runner after the catch. The former Ole Miss star has great explosion in his game. This particularly shows up in his ability to leap above a defender and snatch a pass. He will be a great endzone target because of his ability to go up and get a ball at its highest point. As a route runner, he shows some good skills including using suddenness and subtle movements. Finally, he is a willing blocker, who will put his body in the way to make a block.

Though, Engram has some weaknesses in his game. The number one negative of his game is his smaller size at just 6-foot-3, 234 pounds. He has the size of a bigger wide receiver. Is he a receiver or a tight end? His lack of size and overall strength will most likely negate his ability to be a serviceable in-line blocker at the next level. His blocking technique is not great either, leading often times with his head. His route running has a lot of good aspects, but he can still be more crisp and also learn some more routes from the route tree. His hands can be a question mark. When he is catching the ball around traffic, he can have a case of the drops. Still, Engram is a huge mismatch in the passing game, who can line up all over the field, no matter what position he is listed at.

4. George Kittle, Iowa

Stats: In 11 games last season, he had 22 receptions for 314 yards and four touchdowns.

George Kittle is a really good blocker, who has the athletic ability to be a receiving threat. His game starts with his blocking ability. He is more than a willing blocker. The former Iowa tight end is a relentless blocker, who on multiple occasions has driven defenders out of the play and finished with a pancake. He fires up into a block with good leverage. He has very good strength and power to drive players back and create holes for the run game. Iowa used his blocking ability quite a bit, both in pass and running plays. But he is more than just a blocking tight end. He showed his athleticism at the NFL Combine, running a 4.52-second 40-yard dash and jumping a 132-inch broad jump, which both ranked in the top three of the tight ends group. He is has good speed, allowing him to get separation in coverage and run after the catch to gain extra yardage. His speed will allow him to be a deep threat, probably mostly doing his work down the seams. His explosion might not have been fully utilized in college, but he has the leaping ability to be an endzone target. Lastly, Kittle has strong hands, which make him a very reliable pass catcher for the quarterback. He has the talent and athleticism to make the tough catch.

But, Kittle has some weak spots in his game. Overall, he is not an elusive or quick player, lacking the ability to elude defenders. His route running needs improving. He comes out of his breaks slower than you would want, hurting his ability to separate from coverage. He did not run an expansive route tree in college, so he will need to refine his route running to learn more routes and the finer details of gaining separation. As a blocker, he can sometimes be too forward in his stance, leaning his upper body over his feet, causing balance problems. His size of 6-foot-4, 247 pounds may be an issue for him as a blocker in the NFL, when he has to face the bigger defensive lineman. But in the end, I have higher outlook for him than others because of his combination of blocking ability and outstanding athleticism.

5. Gerald Everett, South Alabama

Stats: In 13 games last season, he posted 49 receptions for 717 yards and four touchdowns.

Gerald Everett is a tight end, who can make plays after the catch and be a mismatch for defenses to defend. When the ball is in his hands, big plays can happen. He has the speed to separate from linebackers and safeties. When he is approaching a defender he can use strength or elusiveness. He can fight through arm tackles and keep going or he can make a quick, elusive move to avoid the tackle and continue down field. His balance allows him to do take on defenders and keep going forward through contact. He moves very well for a tight end, showing the movements of a receiver. His speed allows him to gain separation in routes, especially linebackers. The former South Alabama tight end shows the ability to make the tough and amazing catch through contact. As a blocker, he is willing to take on defenders and get in the way to help his team. He is able to line up all over the field and be a versatile weapon for an offense looking for a mismatch to exploit the defense.

However, Everett has some flaws to his game. He has a lot of work to do in his route running. He sometimes lacks urgency in routes, almost running in a slower pace. He does not run crisp routes, rounding routes off. The tight end also needs to be stronger on staying on his route line and not get pushed off and forced away from his route by defenders or traffic. He can make some tough catches, but he suffers from drops and has really small hands at just 8 ½ inches. As a blocker, he lacks technique, strength and size. He can lunge at blockers and attack a defender inaccurately, causing him to fall off or completely miss block attempts. His size at 6-foot-3, 239 pounds also hurts his strength at the point of attack. Nevertheless, Everett has the talent to make big plays after the catch, which teams would love to have in their tight end.