Without question, the 2017 NFL Draft tight end class is one of the most athletically talented groups ever. Not only are they athletically talented, but they all shown the skills to produce on the highest levels of college football, something that should translate well to the NFL. The following are my rankings of the top five tight ends in this year’s class, with an unsurprising name at the top of the list.
1) O.J. Howard, Alabama
Howard is at the top of this list not just because of his high level of production while in college, but also as a result of his stellar workout at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Howard is not your typical tight end. The Alabama product is not just a big target with secure hands that will be able to move the chains in short yardage or redzone scenarios. Howard is a big target, standing at 6’6”, but he has the athleticism of a wide receiver. At the combine, Howard ran the 40 yard dash in 4.51 seconds, and had a 30.0 inch vertical leap.
As he showed in both the 2016 and 2017 National Championship games, Howard has the ability to get behind the defense, and take a catch in the open field to the house. Here is Howard against Clemson in 2016.
Linebackers will not be able to cover him, and he is too big for most cornerbacks. Howard has the potential to be a Pro-Bowl player early in his career.
2) David Njoku, Miami
Njoku is yet another athletic freak. The Miami product is a bit smaller than Howard, but he has similar athletic traits. Njoku had a slower 40 time than Howard with a 4.64, but a higher vertical with a 37.4 inch jump.
Lance Zierlein compared Njoku to Greg Olsen, who, while a high standard, is in fact a similar type of player to Njoku. Neither Olsen or Njoku have elite size, but both excel as receivers. Njoku is almost guaranteed to be a first round selection.
3) Evan Engram, Ole Miss
Engram shocked the NFL world with his time in the 40 yard dash at the combine. His time, a 4.42, vaulted the Ole Miss product up draft boards.
Of the tight ends on this list, Engram is the smallest, standing at 6’3”. He has always looked to be a wide receiver trapped inside a tight end’s body. Engram weighs 234 pounds accoridng to NFL.com. If he is able to cut down weight, he has the height, speed and agility to become a wide receiver. For now, he is a big play tight end with unusual speed for the position.
4) Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech
Hodges is very raw, but has a lot of potential. The Virginia Tech product was one of the stars of the Combine, running a 4.57 second 40 yard dash, and a 39 inch vertical leap. On top of that Hodges is 6’6”. That physical speciman is very appealing to NFL teams.
However, Hodges doesn't yet have the full skill set of other players at the position. He isn't able to finish tough catches, and he isn't a great blocker. He has the athletic talent to be a star, but he needs to refine his skills as a tight end.
5) Jake Butt, Michigan
Jake Butt has received very little attention in the lead up to the draft because of an ACL injury he suffered in Michigan’s bowl game against Florida State. However, it was Butt that won the John Mackey award given to the nation’s top tight end, not Howard who is ranked number one on this list.
Butt is a prototypical tight end compared to the other athletic freaks at the position on this list. Butt has strong hands and a big frame, and can make the contested catches. In addition, he is a big-time threat in the redzone. His skills are refined and he could have a strong impact on his NFL team once he is fully recovered. If not for the injury, Butt would likely be ranked number two on this list.
This is a very talented tight end group, all of whom could become NFL starters. It's not often to have two tight ends projected to go in the first round, and in the case of Howard, possibly going in the top-10. How would you rank this year's tight ends?
The next position I will feature in these rankings will be offensive tackles.