2016 NFL Draft Preview Tight End Fantasy Football Prospects

By John Laub

 

 

With the escalation of the dominate pass catching tight end—Rob Gronkowski, Jordan Reed and Tyler Eifert—over the past decade, general managers and coaches are all seeking the next phenomenal power forward-like talent who can defeat Cover 2 defenses. There are an abundance of teams pursuing targets that can manipulate the middle of the defense and run the deep seams. 

 

Unfortunately, for organizations and personnel departments, the 2016 tight end draft class does not provide an elite difference maker. There is potential and aptitude among the prospects, and clubs can find valuable contributors after the opening salvo of the Draft.  

 

Benchmark College Stats for Draft Consideration

Receptions: 80

Yards per Reception: 13.0

Breakaway Ability

40-yard Dash: 4.75

3-cone drill: 7.00

20-yard shuttle: 4.40

 

Tight End Prospects: Position Grade C

 

1. Hunter Henry, Arkansas 

In 2015, named the John Mackey Award winner, First Team All-American and All-SEC. Declared for the Draft after junior season. Consensus top prospect available in April. Last year, grabbed 51 passes for 739 yards and three touchdowns. Tall and well-built athlete at 6’5” and 250 lbs. Creates separation in cuts, wins preliminary positioning and gains leverage against opponents. Manipulates defenders. Runs a spotless pattern with depth and timing. Works the middle of the defense well. Discovers vacant space in zone and provides a big target for the quarterback. Also, can attack the seam of the secondary. Raw blocking tools evident on film: Individual fortitude, physical ability and hand and arm technique. Employed as an end-of-line blocker in three-point stance. Nice body control and good hands—no drops last season. Fights for the football and dangerous after the catch. Struggles to gain position at the point of attack and gets pushed around sporadically. Lots of catches but only reached end zone nine times. Footwork needs development and lacks burst and lower body flexibility. Robotic movement and rounds off patterns. Among a weak crop of prospects, the former Razorback ascends to the top of the list. Likely, the first tight end drafted.  

Key Career Stats

Receptions: 116

Yards per Reception: 14.3 

Breakaway Ability

40-yard dash: n/a

3-cone drill: n/a

20-yard shuttle: n/a

Draft Potential: Second round

2. Austin Hopper, Stanford 

Another product of the Stanford tight end factory: Seven former Cardinals employed by NFL teams last year. Played only two seasons on campus, logging 973 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. In 2014, named Freshman All-American. At 6’4” and 254 lbs., a quick and strong athlete with terrific upside. A multipurpose weapon with size, agility and athleticism. Broad shoulders atop lanky frame. Natural pass catcher: Snatches ball away from frame. Runs hard after the catch. Good body control and adjusts to the football. Played in a pro-style system and employed as an in-line and move tight end. Strong and soft hands adorn long arms: Redzone target with leaping ability. Crisp route runner who high-points the ball. Worthy hand-eye coordination and snatches rock in traffic. Remains focused surrounded by bodies and posts up opponents like a power forward. Willing run blocker and can engage moving targets. Onlookers captivated with Combine performance. Does not threaten the seams of the Cover 2 defense. Lacks functional strength to consistently be employed as an in-line blocker. Not a sudden route runner and hand technique must improve. Lowers head at times when attempting to engage a defender and misses. Solid prospect in a weak group. A complete product but needs a patient coaching staff to allow time to develop in order to reach potential. 

Key Career Stats

Receptions: 74

Yards per Reception: 12.7

Breakaway Ability

40-yard dash: 4.72

3-cone drill: 7.00

20-yard shuttle: 4.32

Draft Potential: Second round 

 

TE Jerell Adams

TE Jerell Adams


3. Jerell Adams, South Carolina 

Former hardwood player who transformed into gridiron competitor. Unspectacular career as a Gamecock with less than 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns. Recorded best statistical season as a Senior with 28 catches for 421 yards and three touchdowns. Prototypical size at 6’5” and 247 lbs. A long strider with a lean and muscular frame. Very athletic with nimble footwork and builds speed quickly. Uses size to box out defenders and gains separation with spin moves and jukes. Deceptively fast: Can stretch the field down the seam and split Cover 2 safeties. Soft hands and a large catch radius. Tracks ball well downfield and snares high throws. Very good teammate and two-time member of the SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll. Stood out during Senior Bowl week and had an eye-opening Combine performance. At same stage in development, compares favorably to Ladarius Green. Willing blocker but gets pushed around at the point of attack and needs additional weight. A bit stiff athletically. A mid-round grade by most scouts, nevertheless in a weak class, a club likely to push the former South Carolina product up the draft board. As a rookie, a backup pass catcher on roster with potential as a starter down the road.    

Key Career Stats

Receptions: 66

Yards per Reception: 14.8 

Breakaway Ability

40-yard dash: 4.64

3-cone drill: 7.05

20-yard shuttle: 4.31

Draft Potential: Third-round prospect

  

TE Tyler Higbee

TE Tyler Higbee

 

4. Tyler Higbee, Western Kentucky 

Prospect outside of the Power 5 Conferences. Enrolled at school as a receiver and gained 60 pounds over four years. As a Senior, fashioned his best crusade with 38 catches for 563 yards and eight touchdowns. Not an elite athlete, but owns a very good all-around skill set. Beats defenses with good vertical speed and threatens the seam in Coverage 2.  Nice body control, hip flexibility and huge hands to make difficult catches. Endowed with an idyllic NFL body at 6’6” and 249 lbs. A long strider with quick steps. Ensnares passes outside of frame with large catch radius. In man coverage, enough speed and elusiveness to detach from defender. On film, illustrates tenacity and physicality. A stupendous YAC competitor. Boxes out opponents on stop routes in the middle of the defense. Injured knee last season and played in only nine games: Also, missed Senior Bowl. Limited production before final season. Still learning the nuances of the position. Not likely to handle powerful defenders on the edge as an in-line blocker. Needs to upgrade route running. Early during career, projects as a backup with the potential to emerge as a starter in the future. 

Key Career Stats

Receptions: 68

Yards per Reception: 15.5

Breakaway Ability

40-yard dash: n/a

3-cone drill: n/a

20-yard shuttle: n/a

Draft Potential: Third-day talent

 

5. Stephen Anderson, California   

Stupendous Pro Day performance catapults the Golden Bear product among the top prospects. During last two seasons, snagged 87 passes for 1,135 yards and seven touchdowns. Very good pass-catcher. Short-area explosion with vertical speed. Good footwork and hip fakes. Eats cushions and fights through traffic. At top of route, hits a second gear to gain separation. Noble movement skills and fires off the line. Mismatch vs. heavy linebackers. Tough over the middle and absorbs big hits. At 6’2” and 230 lbs., lacks prototypical bulk and physicality for a tight end. Usually flexed off the line of scrimmage. A tweener prospect who can me employed to create mismatches. A below average blocker, but willing to engage defenders. Astute personnel departments and fantasy diehards taking a closer look. 

Key Career Stats

Receptions: 101

Yards per Reception: 12.5

Breakaway Ability

40-yard dash: 4.63 (Pro Day Results)

3-cone drill: 6.95 (Pro Day Results)

20-yard shuttle: 4.13 (Pro Day Results)

Draft Potential: Third-day talent

 

6. Nick Vannett, Ohio State   

Another Saturday Buckeye icon available in April: On a roster littered with offensive talent, skills not often employed on the gridiron. Logged only 55 catches and six touchdowns during residency at Columbus. A reliable blocking tight end, who seals the edge and uses leverage well. Huge football IQ in the ground game: A technician with excellent hand placement and long arms. Moves feet and drives defenders off the line of scrimmage. Can be employed as a move blocker and uses vision to identify opponents. An above-average pass protector. At 6’6” and 257 lbs., owns the physical tools—long arms and large hands with a vast catch radius—to be an effective catcher in the NFL. Must embrace the challenge of mastering route running against faster linebackers and safeties. Possibly a vertical threat if the fine distinctions of route management are developed. Untapped potential in the aerial assault; nonetheless, blocking ability will provide snaps on the field immediately. A creative offensive coach can utilize blocking skills in the red zone and create opportunities in the passing game. A long-term fantasy football asset in Dynasty drafts. 

Key Career Stats

Receptions: 55

Yards per Reception: 10.6

Breakaway Ability

40-yard dash: n/a

3-cone drill: 7.05

20-yard shuttle: 4.20

Draft Potential: Third-day prospect

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