It’s not a great class, but there should be a few gems here. Scroll down for the tight ends.
The full ratings here:
John Ross: Speed kills, and no one in history has displayed more at the combine (4.22 forty yard dash). He also has elite agility and is the most dangerous playmaker in the draft. Defensive coordinators are going to need a plan for him from day 1. Look for whomever drafts him to teach him how to draw DPI flags from cornerbacks who can’t keep up with him. He plays a more physical game than might be optimal given his size and injury history. That injury history is the only red flag on an otherwise elite receiver.
Mike Williams: Very productive against tough competition at Clemson. Where Ross wins with speed, Williams wins with power. He has an excellent catch radius, and has shown an ability to muscle cornerbacks away from the football. He caught an absurd 81% of his contested targets last season. He’s shown elite vision, which helped make him dominate in the red zone. He’s also been effective as a blocker in the run game, although his technique is going to need to improve here. There are two issues with Williams. The first is he broke his neck in the opening game of the 2015 season. That’s an injury that scares teams. The second is his lack of top end speed means he is going to need to become a much more precise route runner to achieve success at the next level. Because of his success at Clemson, Williams is expected to be the first wide receiver off the board, but I know I’d prefer Ross.
Corey Davis: Dominated the MAC. Ohio State made him look bad, but he held his own against Wisconsin. It’s hard to judge the film when most defenses had no one who could match up with him. I wonder if he’s the best receiver in the class, or if his ceiling is a #2 WR in the NFL. His preparation skills are exceptional. The test will be if he can win battles at the line of scrimmage and achieve separation. I have him higher than where he’ll be drafted. The dream scenario is that he falls to the Jets in round 2. Here’s hoping. (Note: There is a lot of variance in his draft range, as it’s possible some teams have him as the #1 WR on their board. His film is eye-popping, and it really is tricky to know how much of that is due to the competition.)
Curtis Samuel: It appears there is a law that every evaluation of Chris Samuel must compare him to Percy Harvin. He’s a WR/RB/KR. Excellent speed, although not as elusive as you’d expect. Despite numerous highlights, he was never dominant at Ohio State. My concern is that he doesn’t have great hands, and a few high-profile drops may end up stunting his development. The speed is seductive, but I think I’d prefer to look elsewhere.
JuJu Smith-Schuster: Tremendous power. He’s a former safety and has no concern about playing an unusually physical brand of football. However, he doesn’t have great size or speed, so he doesn’t generally give his quarterback a large target to hit. Extremely competitive, to the point of being a loose cannon. I like him as a possession receiver working short-to-midrange routes. It occurs to me, he would be a great fit with Trubisky.
Zay Jones: Pulled off the excellent Senior Bowl-Combine duo. Tremendously productive at East Carolina. Not a dominant athlete, but looked fast on film. It’s tough to judge how much one should read into the Senior Bowl, but at this point I’d feel comfortable saying that whomever drafts him is getting no worse than a competent #3 WR.
Cooper Kupp: If it’s tough to judge film from receivers in the MAC or other lower level FBS conferences, it’s downright brutal to try and project from FCS film. Kupp was awesome at Eastern Washington, with one exceptional skill: Great hands. He caught a ton of balls that were off target. Doing that repeatedly builds trust, even if you don’t have great playmaker ability. Going to be an effective slot receiver, if not much more.
Taywan Taylor: Polarizing prospect. I felt like he had great hands, but the stats say he dropped more than his fair share. Just average speed, but makes up for it with exceptional quickness. He is likely to get a shot at being a return man as well. He dominated Conference USA, but it might take some time to adjust to NFL speed.
Carlos Henderson: He had the college version of a “contract year”, exploding last season for 82 receptions, 1,535 yards, and 19 touchdowns, plus a 25.0 average on returns (with one touchdown). He was Conference USA’s offensive player of the year, and its special teams player of the year. Nice combo. However, he ran a very simple offensive scheme. He’s also been injury prone, which is problematic as physicality is a major part of his game. I’m skeptical he’ll be able to stay on the field.
Isaiah Ford: Sometimes a guy impresses you on film. Ford did just the opposite for me. I saw poor hands, no speed, a lack of quickness, and not much in the way of power. He wins with technique and execution. I wonder if he’s already maxed out. If so, he’s going to find it very hard to succeed at the next level. I’d pass on Ford.
ArDarius Stewart: Converted quarterback. Still capable of running the wildcat. Solid mix of speed and strength, with above-average hands. He’s capable of running pretty much any route in an NFL playbook. Should provide a good value to whomever takes him.
Amara Darboh: Like Stewart, he has a good mix of speed and strength. He also has huge hands, which makes his issues with drops even more puzzling. He really should have been more successful in college given his physical attributes. He’s shown an ability to run a full route tree, so I’d expect that with improved technique he should be a much better receiver at the next level. He isn’t a project as much as a work in progress. I’d expect him to be a #2 WR in a few years.
There’s a pretty big drop after the big three. Mike Williams has the pedigree, John Ross has the explosiveness, while Corey Davis is the wildcard. Once they are off the board, I’d probably roll the dice on Zay Jones. This isn’t a great class of receivers, although that will be somewhat mitigated by the quality of the tight ends.
O.J. Howard: Incredible talent. He’s an excellent receiver, and an above-average blocker. Huge hands, solid speed, excellent agility. He’s the complete package and the best tight end prospect in years. It’s unusual to have the top tight end be a potential top-10 pick, but Howard is that good. Sixth overall would be a little high, but I wouldn’t complain if the Jets snagged him early.
David Njoku: Where O.J. Howard is a great athlete, Njoku is a freak athlete. He was a bitch to tackle in college and should take that trait with him to the pros. Very long arms makes for an enormous catch radius. Most years he’d be the first tight end off the board. He has a lot to learn in regards to routes and technique, but his ceiling is the roof. Just have some patience with him.
Evan Engram: 234 pounds, 4.37 forty-yard dash. This tight end class is nuts. He’s more polished than Howard or Njoku. He’s not a great blocker, and may end up being used as a big wide receiver. He’s been described as a walking mismatch and defenses are going to need an elite safety or linebacker to match up with him. The Jets will likely pass on Howard, but Engram would be a nice consolation prize.
Gerald Everett: Everett looks the part, and had a decent combine. He dominated lower level competition at South Alabama. However, he has small hands, and hasn’t shown a great ability to block. He doesn’t have the pure receiving skills to make a living as a split end, so I’m not sure what his niche is. He’s kind of a tweener, and I think I’d pass on him.
Jake Butt: Good size, but unusually short arms (32 inches). He’s coming off of knee surgery and might start the season on the pup list. He lacks the speed to threaten the defense, so he’s limited to being a short range receiver. Given that, he really needs to become a better blocker to stay on the field. I feel bad saying this, but I’m just not a fan of Butt.
Bucky Hodges: Hodges offers a great mix of size and speed. He was a better blocker than I expected, although his technique is awful and will need to be relearned at the next level. Ditto for his pass catching technique, which led to far too many drops. If he doesn’t fix that, he’ll look great on the sideline. This is a high risk-high reward player. I’d gamble on him being better than Butt or Everett, but I think I’d rather avoid the dilemma entirely by taking one of the three gems earlier.
Jordan Leggett: A much higher floor than Hodges. Leggett impressed at Clemson. He has good hands and body control. He also has a good sense of how to get open despite not having great speed or agility. Where Hodges is a lottery ticket, Leggett should be a dependable annuity. If I had to choose between the two, I’d probably gamble on Hodges because he could end up being a star, and Leggett doesn’t have that kind of talent.
Overall this is an excellent tight end class. There are other players who should be available in the fourth round or beyond who can play in the NFL. The top three are tremendous and each should make their team happy if given time.