The tight end position is more effectively used in the NFL than in college. The key is evaluating the talent available in college and projecting it to the NFL game. My series on evaluating each positional group in the NFL Draft continues with the tight ends. Who is the best player in the position group? Safest pick? Boom-or-bust pick? Underrated? Sleepers? Let’s dive in!
Best Player in the Position Group: O.J. Howard (Alabama)
Extremely talented, but wasn’t used effectively in college. You would figure that a school like Alabama would use a player like Howard anytime it can, but he lacked the production to match his skill set. The NFL game should be a perfect match. A willing blocker, athletic in space, physically a mismatch against defenders, and would thrive in the play-action game for any NFL offense.
Safest Pick: Jake Butt (Michigan)
It may be odd to put an injured player for “safest pick,” but if he didn’t have the ACL injury in Michigan’s bowl game, he would be an easy first-round pick. He is exactly want you want in a dependable tight end if he can stay healthy. Great hands, knows how to read zone coverage, and can win the ball in the air. He could be a dependable tight end for years like Jason Witten.
Boom-Or-Bust Pick: Bucky Hodges (Virginia Tech)
A team is going to draft him hoping he can be a player like Jordan Reed or Tyler Eifert. A big target for the red zone and over the middle as a mismatch against smaller slot cornerbacks. The problem that may hinder Hodges is his ability to be that type of player. He lacks consistent hands and being a player that can play every down due to lack of blocking skills. He has a chance to refine those skills and become the player most scouts think he can be, but he will need time and coaching.
Underrated: Adam Shaheen (Ashland)
Former basketball player turned football tight end. He has the traits to be a very talented tight end, but needs a lot of coaching of technique and fundamentals of the game. Making the jump from a small school program to the NFL is a big transition. A team will need patience, but it will likely pay off due to his natural ability to go get the ball like a basketball player getting a rebound. Teams will hope that he can follow the path of Julius Thomas, Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, Darren Fells and Martellus Bennett as former basketball players turned tight ends.
Sleeper: George Kittle (Iowa)
He is an above average college tight end who may be even better in the NFL game. He blocks well for his size, soft hands, is hard to bring down after the catch, and knows how to be an effective red zone target. The key for Kittle will be if he can fill out his frame a little more to become an every down player. An NFL strength coach will gladly take on that challenge.