(Okay, okay...so I kinda bit the title from my TE draft preview last year. But it's cool to plagiarize yourself, right? Unless you're John Fogerty. Plus the title seemed apropos today.)
This week I'm taking a look at the tightends available in this year's draft...from the Jokers to the in-line blockers, from the 1st to the UDFA. Contrary to commonly expressed opinion in the draft community, this draft has plenty of depth at TE. And depth is important, because the biggest joke of the TE group is the misconception of draft writers that TE is valued as highly by NFL GM's as it is by the fantasy football trained amateur GM's in the draft media.
In actuality, in the last three years, we've only seen one TE drafted in the 1st round (Eifert-#21 in 2013). Why? Because in 2010 Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham were drafted in the 2nd and 3rd round, respectively. Copycat league. More facts: only three TE drafted in the 1st in the last five drafts (Gresham-#21 in 2010, Pettigrew-#20 in 2009). We haven't seen two TE drafted in the 1st round in a single year since 2006. In the last seven years, the 1st round drafted TE have become pro bowlers only once. In that same time frame, TE drafted in the 2nd-4th rounds have produced 7 pro bowlers (for the inevitable comment nerds: 20% of 1st rounders hit pro bowl, 25% of 2nd rounders in the same timeframe).
The pro bowl number includes an interesting sidenote: two of this year's pro bowl TE's were drafted in the 4th round of the same class: 2011 (Jordan Cameron and Julius Thomas). Does it take 3 years for some of these mid-round TE to develop? Not a question I'll answer today, but it is worth noting if you want to have conversations of cutting Zach Miller and NOT draft a TE early.
Speaking of Miller; he's the highest-drafted TE on the Seahawks roster, and no TE John Schneider has personally drafted has ever been taken before the 5th round.
So that's a bit of recent history on drafting TE's. Statistically, it actually makes more sense to not even consider a TE until the 2nd round. The TE sweet spot league-wide really seems to reach from 2nd through 4th, with a LOT of really talented TE actually come off the board on the back end of that range.
How does this relate to this year?
A) Contrary to popular opinion, one of the the top three TE in this class (if not two) will drop beyond #32 overall.
B) I CAN'T fathom Hawks actually drafting ASJ at #32. If the Hawks can pull off a trade-back into the 36-45 range and he's there...not my favorite idea, but it would help in renegotiations with Miller.
C) I think some of the TE getting 5th or 6th round projections might be undervalued in the media, and will actually be drafted up in the 4th round part of the sweet spot.
Oh, and D) this TE class is much deeper than people realize, which should come in handy if the Hawks continue their trend of drafting TE from the 5th back.
Now let's look at this class.
Before talking about the guys I have at varying levels of "draftable", I'd like to point out two I'm not going to talk about: Colt Lyerla and CJ Fiedorowicz.
Lyerla is just a walking landmine to me. For all of the guys that PCJS have given "second chances" to over the years, I cannot recall one of them having an arrest for cocaine, controversial social media presence, AND having quit his college team. And the last offense is the worst. Drafting Lyerla is like cutting in line on the Aaron Hernandez career trajectory ride. Just, please stop.
Fiedorowicz I don't want to talk about because I just think he is terrible. His lone redeeming quality is his ability to block in-line, but even that is overstated. As I've joked before, I'd rather keep only 2 TE on the 53-man roster and then use more of Alvin Bailey at TE than draft CJ. BUT IT'S NOT A JOKE. If you want to approximate CJ's athletic ability, go put some diving fins on a robot and have it run 30 feet. Here's the only stat on Fiedorowicz you need to know: 9.97 ypc. See how that stacks up as we go.
By the way, I already feel guilty about mocking CJ. I REALLY don't like slamming players. I'd sooo much rather spend time talking about the players I'm psyched about than talking about the ones I don't like. So here are some I like...
Tier 1 (1st-2nd round): Eric Ebron, Jace Amaro, ASJ, and Troy Niklas.
Ebron and Amaro are the two most likely to be gone by #32, so we won’t talk much about them. ASJ should be fairly well-known around these parts. He’s a huge guy for a TE at 6’6"/276 with above-average athleticism for his size. His basketball background is hugely desirable for a TE, especially as a redzone target, but ASJ’s off-field problems are an undesirable redflag.
The off-field DUI has contributed to his stock dropping, but probably not as much as his unproductive 2013 season (36/450/8TD as compared to 69/852/7TD in 2012). Sefarian-Jenkins' YPC have remained fairly consistent his entire college career, finishing between 13.12 and 12.35. The one positive of his Junior campaign has been the large spike in TD%. ASJ's touchdowns have increased from 10% last year to over 22% in 2013. And his 8 TD this year are the 2nd most by a TE in college football this year. Basically, ASJ does well what Seattle will likely be drafting a TE for: blocking, redzone-threat, to eventually replace Zach Miller, TE. I just don't like the price.
Niklas I am not that big of a fan of. He’s also 6’6"/270+, but carries it completely different than ASJ. And his game is also completely different. Much more of a split-out receiver, I really don’t trust Niklas’ blocking except when he gets matched up with a much smaller corner/safety. When he’s in-line, he just looks like he can’t wait for the run play to be over.
From a production standpoint, he pulls numbers like you’d expect from a split-out TE: 32/498/15.56ypc/5TD. At his size, I’d really like to see some more redzone success, but that’s kind of a void in the entire college game.
2nd tier (3rd-5th): Arthur Lynch, Richard Rodgers, Marcel Jensen, Crockett Gillmore. I REALLY like this tier.
Artie Lynch is possibly my favorite TE this year. His size (6’5"/254), makeup, blocking, and receiving skills are so reminiscent of Zach Miller that he’d be the most seamless transition. If you polled draft media on the best blocking TE this year, you probably get Fiedorowicz followed by ASJ, but I think it’s Lynch. I just watch his game against Auburn and marvel at how he handled Dee Ford and LaDarius Owens. Let’s marvel together:
Production-wise, Lynch was criminally underused by Aaron Murray. In fact, Lynch’s biggest receiving game this year came when Murray was out injured and backup QB Hutson Mason helped Artie to 6 catches. Overall, Lynch finished with 30/459/15.30ypc/5TD. Let’s recap: he blocks (arguably) better than ASJ and he posted almost an identical stat line with Niklas…and we’re projecting him AFTER those guys (#131 overall)? Whatever. Personally, it reminds me of the 2012 QB conversation…the conversation that preceded Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden, and Brock Osweiler getting drafted before RW. The loss of the other 31 is the gain of the 12.
Richard Rodgers is an interesting player. Ranked at #213 overall by draftscout, I think Rodgers will actually get picked closer to the 3rd round. He is as close to this year's Jordan Reed as I have yet found. Reed measured 6'2"/243 before getting drafted at #3.85 by the Redskins. Rodgers is listed (pre-combine) at 6'4"/245. My eyes suggest Rodgers might be more in the 6'3" range. My eyes also tell me he gets used similar to how Reed was used at Florida. Gets more of the Joker/H-back role; even seeing snaps as a ball-carrier. Rodgers' final line: 39/608/15.59ypc/1TD, plus 7 carries for 9 yards.
I think Reed had better shake than Rodgers, but Rodgers has better hands. Regardless, I don't think this is the type of TE the Hawks are looking for. If not looking for a neo-Miller, I would assume they're at least looking for a younger Kellen Davis with upside. Rodgers probably gets overdrafted in the 3rd by a team consciously thinking they're getting a Jordan Reed.
Marcel Jensen I’ve been tracking since early in the college season. At 6’6"/264 he just caught my eye watching Fresno State. Tough target to miss. Then there was the research phase that revealed he was a hooper. Like ASJ, Graham, Gates, Gonzalez...we enjoy a TE that knows how to box out, rebound, block shots. And Jensen surely knows how to block shots. He put that skill to good use this year, blocking a FG try on special teams.
In terms of the other requirements of a future Hawk TE, I find Jensen's report card incomplete. As much as Derek Carr threw the ball this year, it wasn't at his TE. Like, ever. 26/353/13.58ypc/3TD. Jensen's receiving game log literally looks like this: 2, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 0, 1, 3, 0, 0, 3, 2. And yet, they also weren't lining him up as a run-blocker so that we could evaluate his blocking skills. Bottom line, I think Jensen has insufficient tape, he'll have an average combine, and I still won't be disappointed if Schneider buys him up in the 5th.
Crockett Gillmore is pretty new to me. He first caught some buzz and drew more of my attention from his appearance at the Shrine Game. That performance led to Gillmore’s invitation to replace an injured Marcel Jensen at the Senior Bowl (believed to have been personally requested by either the Atlanta Falcons or Jacksonville Jaguars’ coaching staff). As research for this story, I finally got a chance to watch a featured cut-up of Crock on draftbreakdown.com. I liked what I saw immediately.
At 6’6"/255/10.25"hands/33.88"arms, Crockett showcases big hands and fantastic catch radius. He’s not exactly an overpowering blocker, but there’s a certain aggressiveness to the way he goes about his blocking that I like. And if this game against San Jose is any indication Gillmore just flatout makes catches. Does it get any better than a TE high-pointing a frozen rope on a seam route?? If Hawks draft a WR that can own backshoulder throws on the redline, pick/use a guy like Gillmore at TE up the seam, and any combination of Golden high-pointing, Doug toe-tapping, Marshawn stiff-arming, and Percy needing a spy-and-a-half wherever the F you want to line him up; HOW DO YOU DEFEND THAT? So sexy. Gillmore was one of the more productive TE in the country catching 47/577/12.28ypc/2TD.
3rd Tier (late 5th-UDFA): Jake Murphy, Alex Bayer, Justin Perillo
If we're looking at the national perspective on this tier, they're literally all projected by draftscout after #270 overall, which means all undrafted. But I'd take any of these three over guys like Rob Blanchflower and Xavier Grimble.
Alex Bayer first came to my attention when I was watching Bowling Green take on Northern Illinois live on tv. I joined the game right at the end of the 2nd quarter when Bayer caught like three consecutive passes, including a really nice hand-snatched pass down the middle for a TD. Then Bayer opened the 3rd quarter with an impressive catch and run showcasing solid speed. So I did my usual research and found he was a senior, he measured up at 6'4"/258, and he was averaging 16.03ypc on his 37/593 catches this year (and 4TD). That 16.03 ypc is 61st in the nation in receiving average for ALL receivers, and an even more impressive 3rd in the nation amongst TE. That number is even better than Ebron, Niklas, and Lynch.
Go back and watch the catch at 6:34 and the replay at 6:50. Bayer is running a checkdown route into the left flat, expecting the ball over his left/outside shoulder, but the ball comes to his right inside shoulder…Bayer, without losing a step or his balance, adjusts all the way back to the inside and makes the catch (plus a few extra yards after catch). Pretty impressive body control at 258lbs.
After only noticing Bayer’s receiving abilities in the NIU game, I kind of pegged him as a Joker/Move TE, but when I revisited the game cutup weeks later, I was a little shocked by his blocking. It’s pretty damn good. I also liked how he was used as a hybrid fullback/lead blocker in the running game. Interesting stuff. I wouldn’t mind taking a flyer on him in the 6th.
Jake Murphy is a 6’4"/254 target out of Utah that also happens to be the son of longtime MLB outfielder Dale Murphy. He also happens to be one of my favorite players in this position group in the rarely evaluated interview tape. Remember a couple paragraphs ago when I broke down how Alex Bayer was one of the best TE in the country in YPC?? Well…asterisk. That stat only considered "qualifying receivers". There are receivers that didn’t have the catches/gm to be counted on the YPC leaderboard. Murphy is one of them.
Murphy only caught 25 passes this year...but he averaged 16.58ypc on those 25 balls. And 5 of those 25 catches went for scores...which is in itself an impressive 20% TD rate. For comparison: Amaro-6.6%, Ebron-4.6%, Niklas-15.6%, Lynch-16.7%, ASJ-22%, Gillmore-4.3%, Bayer-10.8%, Jensen-11.5%. This may be the most important statistic in this whole story. If this year's Hawk offense moves into 2014 with the same philosophy, our TE will not see many touches, but they will be needed in the redzone. Murphy has to be considered in the 6th. (Both Bayer and Murphy I'm moving up into the 6th because the Hawks' 7th round pick is basically the last pick in the draft except for compensation picks, which haven't been announced.)
Justin Perillo is a TE I literally never looked at, never even heard of until I was researching this piece and just watching every TE cutup I could find. Listed by Maine’s website as 6’4"/250 and finishing the year with 39/490/12.6ypc/4TD. There’s nothing in his tape that is amazing, but most things look really solid; he definitely highpoints well. Perillo really looks the definition of a guy you’d like to get in UDFA. Could be this year’s Sean McGrath.
I could talk about Wisconsin's Jacob Pedersen, but he's a little undersized (we do have to consider his ties to Russell though). I should probably talk about Tennessee State's AC Leonard, but his character redflags are a bit too much. I'm pretty happy with my list. There's at least one guy we could target in every round that would bring some good things to the Seahawks in 2014 and beyond. Question will be: how many other positions can we fortify before pulling the trigger on our newest gangster of love?!
Happy Valentine's Day 12s!
Photo credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports