Recent years in the NFL has seen the tight end position evolve from what could be considered an extra lineman, to now an essential moving part in an offensive attack plan. Nearly every team either wants or desperately needs a gamechanger at the position.
Squads with a solid first option would love to have another in hopes of replicating what New England had with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
The 2017 draft appears to be a treasure trove of top talent at the tight end position with potential starters abounding in the first few rounds. Tight end needy teams like the Bears, Broncos and Giants will be watching the combine closely.
Even teams that appear set at the position, but have aging or injury prone guys like Dallas, New England and Carolina would be wise to pay attention, too.
Here are five guys who have the potential to make an immediate impact if given the opportunity:
1. O.J. Howard- Alabama Crimson Tide
- Howard is the clear-cut number one prospect at the position, and likely would have been if he’d decided to come out last season after having the game of his life against Clemson in the 2015 National Championship. It’s well-known that he was underused during his time at Alabama as he only caught 114 passes for 1,726 yards and 7 touchdowns in four full seasons. His size alone at 6’5, 250 lbs., will make quarterbacks look his way in the end zone. He has tremendous body control when going up for a catch, and he’s deceptive with his ability to change gears after the catch. Expect his pro career to be much more exciting than his college days.
2. David Njoku- Miami Hurricanes
- Rarely do you see a redshirt sophomore tight end enter the draft, but when you see Njoku at the combine, you’ll see why. This kid is a physical freak in the mold of a Vernon Davis coming out of college. At 6’4, 245 lbs., he’s got the size teams covet, and his receiving ability is there, as evidenced by his 64 catches for 1,060 yards and 9 scores in just two seasons of play. He doesn’t lack blocking ability, but it is something he will need to mold to be a three-down tight end at the next level. Don’t be suprised if he sneaks into the first day if a team who missed on Howard is still itching for a tight end.
3. Evan Engram- Mississippi Rebels
- An AP All-American first team selection, Engram was a mainstay in the offense for the Rebels. In his four years on campus, he racked up 162 catches for 2,320 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has a way of making defenders lose him in coverage and doesn’t stop moving when a play breaks down. The blocking asppect of his game is already there as well, though there is always room for improvement when moving to the pros where you have the likes of Von Miller trying to get past you. The main thing his peers have over him is size as he’s only 6’3, 227 lbs. Expect him to be a mid-second selection, and possibly a steal at that.
4. Jake Butt- Michigan Wolverines
- Had it not been for suffering a torn ACL in the Orange Bowl, Butt would’ve likely been the second best tight end available and could’ve challenged Howard for top pick at the position. He earned second team AP All-American honors this year after a solid senior outing. Over his four years in Ann Arbor, Butt caught 138 passes for 1646 yards and 11 touchdowns. He’s more in the mold of a Jason Witten prospect, solid safety valve and first down producer. Not to say he can’t be the game breaker, but it isn’t his specialty. Great blocker on running downs. Depending on how teams view his recovery from a successful surgery in January, he could climb his way back into the late second or early third round.
5. Gerald Everett- South Alabama Jaguars
- Everett is an interesting prospect, and is becoming more known throughout the pre- draft process. After jumping from community college to a JUCO to a UAB program that shut its doors, he finally landed at South Alabama where he played a key role in their offense. In his three years of D-1 competition, Everett caught 107 balls for 1,584 yards and 13 touchdowns. He performed well in the shadows of Howard and Engram at the Senior Bowl. Some anaysts refer to him as a wide receiver with a tight end designation, think Marques Colston when he came on the scene in his rookie year. It seems scouts either love him or don’t see anything special in him. With a good showing at the combine, Everett may slip into the third round. If not, some team may get a steal on the final day of the draft.
Others to keep an eye on: Clemson’s Jordan Leggett (who certainly could’ve, and maybe should’ve made this list) and Bucky Hodges from Virginia Tech.
Regardless of where all of these guys go, it’s looking like a great draft for any team in need of a tight end regardless of what type of end that may be.