Perhaps Arizona Cardinals fans should have seen it coming. With a need at tight end and head coach Bruce Arians‘ infatuation with tight ends who can block, Notre Dame‘s Troy Niklas landing in Arizona during the 2014 NFL Draft should have been highly anticipated, if not a full gone conclusion.
Niklas, while not the productive receiving threat scouts would have liked him to be in South Bend, was one of the class’ most polished in-line blockers. What makes Niklas, who was pick No. 52 overall last month, particularly intriguing, however, is he’s far from merely a blocking tight end.
Sure, his floor is just that, but with impressive athleticism and size, Niklas has a high ceiling as a seam threat and red-zone target. He’s just not nearly as NFL ready as a receiver as he is a blocker.
First and foremost, Niklas’ route running needs considerable refinement. Running crisper routes and consistently displaying the aptitude to separate during his first training camp will be vital to Niklas’ chances of contributing in Arizona’s passing game as a rookie.
John Carlson and Rob Housler, the incumbents at the tight end position, will be Niklas’ competition as he looks to earn a starting role this summer. Neither veteran excels in pass protection or as a run blocker, so Niklas is more than capable of jumping the two on the depth chart.
Still, putting to rest the persisting doubts about his receiving prowess during training camp is in order to fully garner the coaching staff’s trust. If Niklas can prove to be just as proficient running routes and catching passes as he is as an in-line as a blocker, he’ll continue to make the case for Notre Dame’s perpetual ability to produce successful pro tight ends.
Cody Strahm is an NFL Senior Writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.