Tight ends have become increasingly popular in the NFL Draft in recent years, and the recent 2014 class was a good example of that with four TE’s taken in the first 52 picks. Eric Ebron became the first tight end drafted in the top-10 since Vernon Davis in ’06, while Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jace Amaro and Troy Niklas represent the trend of elite athletes playing a position that used to be considered a glorified lineman. But when you look at the 2015 class, there could be a slight step back.
If you take a look at the senior class, there’s no dominant figure that runs away with top billing. Nick O’Leary is probably the most recognizable name due to his impressive performances with the National Champion Florida State Seminoles in 2013. He has very good production and strong hands, but is limited athletically and has relatively modest upside. Versatile yes, but reminds me of a James Casey-type of TE/H-back.
Jeff Heuerman (Ohio State) could wind up being the top senior on the board because of his impressive athletic gifts. 6-foot 5, 260-pounds, 36-inch vertical leap and 33 reps of 225 on bench show you the strength and explosion he’s capable of. He’s battled some injuries recently, but if he stays healthy and productive this fall he could push himself into early second round discussion.
Ben Koyack could be the latest standout TE from Notre Dame following Niklas (2nd rd, ’14), Tyler Eifert (1st rd, ’13), Kyle Rudolph (2nd rd, ’11), John Carlson (2nd rd, ’08) and Anthony Fasano (2nd rd, ’06). Koyack was a highly rated recruit coming out of high school and has been slow to develop in South Bend, but this could be his year to breakout. No one can deny his athleticism and pass catching ability, but his blocking is putrid. He could put up decent numbers with the Irish this fall in his first and only year starting.
There’s also underclassmen to consider. Tyler Kroft (Rutgers) and Devin Funchess (Michigan) fit the trendy role of athletic tight ends who spend most of their time split out rather than in-line. Kroft has good size (6-foot 6, 240-pounds) and is a very strong receiver (43 receptions in ’13 for 573 yards and 4 TDs). What separates Kroft from other athletic pass catchers with size is his ability to block. He reminds me of a Heath Miller-type at the next level, but with better athleticism and size.
Funchess almost shouldn’t be considered a tight end because of how rarely he’s in-line, but is a tremendous athlete with a very good size/speed ratio. He can stretch the defense and split the seams, just don’t ask him to block. He could switch over to WR full time at the next level.
No I don’t think this class will compare to that of ’14 or ’10 (which just might go down as the best TE class of all time), but I think as the season progresses, this class will grow in stature and favor.