It’s no secret that the New York Giants will be looking to the 2014 NFL Draft to find another tight end. After letting Bear Pascoe and Brandon Myers walk in free agency, the Giants are left with just Adrien Robinson, Larry Donnell and the recently-signed Kellen Davis. Aside from Davis, none of the three has any extended experience in live NFL action. Davis is simply a blocking tight end, so it makes sense to look to the draft to find a tight end who can become a threat in the passing game. I introduce you to Blake Annen, a player who wasn’t even a blip on most draft radars until he posted eye-popping numbers at Cincinnati’s pro day.
Annen checked in at 6-foot-4, 247-pounds and ran a 4.41 forty-yard-dash—the fastest of any tight end in this class. I headed over to Draftbreakdown.com to watch every snap of his I could find. In the two games I broke down from his 2013 season, against Purdue and Northwestern St., I quickly learned that Annen was not only speed and size.
Annen was not used much in the passing game until his senior year, and even then he was not a focal point of the offense. For the most part, we are asked to take a leap of faith when projecting Annen’s receiving skills.
Is that really such a bad thing, though? This kind of size and speed is unique to the tight end position. Using official NFL Combine results from the last five drafts, the only tight ends other than Annen to run a sub 4.5 forty-yard-dash were Ladarius Green, Rob Housler and James Hanna. This kind of speed allows a tight end to stretch the defense vertically down the seam and also in the short confines inside the red zone.
We’ve seen flashes of what this kind of skill-set can do from Housler and an even greater sample size from Green. Last season Green found a role in the San Diego Chargers‘ new offensive scheme and he became a seam-stretching playmaker. He finished with 30 catches for 376 yards and three touchdowns, averaging over 22 yards per catch.
It’s not all about projection with Annen either. In his game against Northwestern St., two plays stood out to me the first time I saw them. On one play, inside the opponent’s 12-yard line, he made a quick jump off of the line of scrimmage and bent inside to make a tough touchdown catch while getting undercut by the defender. On the other, he burst down the seam to beat his defender by several yards before allowing the under-thrown pass to catch up to him for a 40-yard reception.
However, what impressed me most about Annen weren’t even the plays he made in the passing game or his speed—it was his blocking. Against both Purdue and Northwestern St. he finished every block with tenacity and sealed off edges for the running game with consistency. In addition to inline tight end, Cincinnati used him as an h-back and at times in the slot. He maintained great leverage and displayed an additional punch on his blocks when lined up as an h-back.
His position versatility makes him even more intriguing for new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. As you know, McAdoo utilized fullback John Kuhn as a blocker and receiver in the passing game from everywhere on the field including inside the red zone. The Giants do not currently have any player on their roster with this kind of skill-set.
Because of Annen’s limited college production, which can also partly attributed to playing behind Travis Kelce for several years, it seems unlikely that Annen will be drafted before the seventh round. That doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t be. Annen fits a niche need for the Giants while also providing an incredible amount of upside. I can’t think of a better gamble with their final pick, No. 187 overall.
Position: Tight End/ H-Back
40-yard dash: 4.41 (unofficial, pro day time)
Bench Press: 25
Production: In just 10 games in 2013, Annen caught 16 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns. In his career, he finished with 19 catches for 218 yards and two touchdowns.
NFL comparison: A combination of Charles Clay and James Casey
Projected round: Seventh to Undrafted Free Agent