Wednesday, April 22, 2015

DMN Print: Top Tight Ends

Former Texas A&M tight end Cameron Clear. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Former Texas A&M tight end Cameron Clear. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
While everyone wants a well-rounded tight end, the traits that get you drafted highly are those that present matchup problems and passing-game opportunities. Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski are the industry leaders, and they both destroy coverages that do not give them enough attention. There are only a few who can do that this season.
Spotlight player
Devin Funchess, Michigan
Funchess is an example of a player who seems to project as one of the best tight ends in this class but prefers to be a wide receiver, where he is hard pressed to crack the top 10. That said, Graham taught us last season that the NFL pays salaries to wideouts at a much higher rate than tight ends, so many “tweeners” use that as a tiebreaker, especially if they are not inclined to block in-line as traditional tight ends are asked to do.
What was interesting about his production is that in 2012 and 2013 at Michigan, as a full-time tight end, his yards per catch were up at 15.5. Then in 2014, he moved outside to wide receiver, and while he caught more passes, his yardage went down and his yards per catch went way down, to 11.8.
This is easily explainable just from the types of matchups a tight end sees against linebackers and safeties. On the outside, there are quicker cornerbacks who can close the gaps much more effectively.
He still is an exceptional athlete with great size and a 381/2-inch vertical leap, providing a catch radius that should make him a dominating red-zone threat. But, with average speed for a wideout and blazing speed for a tight end, I will disagree with his personal evaluation and place him with this group as a very intriguing TE prospect.
The best
Maxx Williams, Minnesota
There may not be many elite tight end prospects this year, but Williams is an impressive young player who looks to be a red-zone and open-field threat with amazing hands and an athletic build. The idea of balancing the offense is what makes teams target versatile threats like Williams at this spot, and without much company, he could be taken quite early. Because of ordinary speed, he is not the “can’t-miss” type like Vernon Davis who requires top-10 consideration, but he’s surely a guy who would be expected to play a decade in the NFL as a very strong starter.
Nick O’Leary, Florida State
Once the highest-recruited tight end in the country, O’Leary — known as the grandson of Jack Nicklaus — was plenty productive as one of Jameis Winston’s main targets. Unfortunately for him, he tested very poorly in all speed (4.93-second 40) and power traits in the spring and may last well into the draft. However, he is a candidate to overcome these limitations and continue to make impressive catches with his competitive mentality and deceiving ability.
Best of Texas
Cameron Clear, Texas A&M
Texas is incredibly low on TE prospects, with only reasonable candidates in the “priority free agent” neighborhood. Perhaps most intriguing is Clear, who started at Tennessee, was dismissed following an arrest, transferred to Texas A&M and had little impact as a tight end in Kevin Sumlin’s offense. He features just enough promise and athleticism that he may get a chance to catch on at the bottom of some team’s roster with a solid camp.
Bob Sturm's top five
Click on the highlighted names for Bob Sturm’s individual analysis of players or here for his complete list of 2015 NFL draft profiles.
Rk., playerCollegeNoteworthy
1. Maxx WilliamsMinnesota6-4249Amazing highlight tape catches
2. Devin FunchessMichigan6-4232He much prefers to be considered a WR
3. Clive WalfordMiami6-4251Improved each year as solid prospect
4. Jesse JamesPenn State6-7261Massive tools to take a chance on
5. Jeff HeuermanOhio St.6-5254Perhaps best catch-and-block prospect

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