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Senior Bowl preview: Tight ends to watch for the Seahawks

Florida International v Massachusetts Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks enter the 2018 offseason with just one tight end under contract for next season, Nick Vannett and his 15 career catches. Both Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson are set to hit the free agent market, and at least one of them will certainly be moving on from Seattle. The inexperienced Vannett starting for the Seahawks in Week One is unlikely and not ideal, so they’ll look to free agency and the draft to add one or two players to the position group. Graham is a rare body type and skill set, but more traditional, in-line tight ends are aplenty at this year’s Senior Bowl.

Adam Breneman (TE, UMass)

Height: 6040

Weight: 241

A former highly touted Penn State recruit, Adam Breneman was apart of the Christian Hackenberg-led recruiting class that remained at the school after punishments for the Jerry Sandusky scandal came down. Four years and a major knee injury later, Breneman is one of the nation’s best and most complete tight end prospects.

As a receiver, Breneman gives his quarterback an option from the slot, both vertically up the seam and horizontally underneath. He has a good understanding of leverage on inside routes, using his big frame to get in front of his defender and winning with inside position. He’s a reliable target with strong hands, reaching out and plucking the ball away from his body. A surprisingly good mover for a tight end with a history of knee injuries, Breneman was used on a variety of routes, from screen passes to post corner routes downfield.

Breneman is strong in the run game, able to hold up at the point of attack and even finish blocks against bigger defensive linemen. He has a long enough frame to keep lanky defensive ends engaged, and holds his blocks well. His medical past will give teams a reason for concern, but Breneman is a complete, modern tight end. Capable of playing out of the slot as a receiver or in-line as a blocker, he would be a departure from the type of role Graham played for Seattle.

Troy Fumagalli (TE, Wisconsin)

Height: 6047

Weight: 247

If the Seahawks want to return to a more traditional tight end with their new hybrid blocking scheme under Mike Solari, Troy Fumagalli could be a terrific fit. While not an overly special player in any facet of the game, he’s a well rounded player capable of helping in both the run game as a blocker and in the passing game as a receiver.

As a blocker, the Badgers would pull Fumagalli on power runs, using him as the lead blocker for star running back Jonathan Taylor. He’s technically sound and has functional strength; against stout defensive tackles he did a good job sealing them out of the play without having to square up and engage them one-on-one. On the edge, Fumagalli is able to hold up and block at the point of attack, or move laterally on stretch runs.

Fumagalli isn’t a special athlete in the open field, but he gets good burst off the line and into his route. He isn’t going to stretch the field vertically from the tight end position, but he absolutely provides a safe option underneath and on intermediate throws. In the red zone, he’s a similar threat to former Seahawk Zach Miller. While he doesn’t have the leaping ability to come down with jump balls, he has a good feel for space against zone coverage and will find pockets to sit in, especially after the quarterback has left the pocket.

Fumagalli isn’t an explosive athlete or a dominant red zone player, but he is a steady, reliable player in both the run and pass game. After three years of Graham struggling as a blocker and running cold in the passing game, a more consistent - if not as special - option could be what Seattle looks for, and Fumagalli fits the bill.

Ian Thomas (TE, Indiana)

Height: 6033

Weight: 256

The tight end with the highest ceiling at the Senior Bowl, Ian Thomas is a curious case, with only 28 catches, 404 yards and five touchdowns in his college career. Thomas has a great build for the position, but like Fumagalli, doesn’t seem to be particularly explosive as an athlete.

As a receiver, Thomas has the ability to stretch the field vertically down the seam and shows flashes of having a real feel for the passing game. He adjusts to the football like a wide receiver and he has big, strong hands capable of plucking the ball (or palming it, which was the case on a touchdown against Rutgers). He’s raw, both in terms of route running and playing in space, but he has the potential to be a special player in the passing game if he refines his route running and is able to consistently win on contested passes.

Thomas isn’t a consistent blocker, but is willing and competitive in the run game. For an unfinished prospect with the physical traits Thomas has, that’s good enough at this stage. Senior Bowl week will be a good opportunity to see Thomas blocking in one-on-ones, and showing teams he’s committed to improving his entire game.

Thomas may not be a great fit for what the Seahawks need heading into 2018. With just Vannett on the roster and Graham looking unlikely to return, a tight end needs to be added and able to play meaningful snaps as early as Week One. Thomas isn’t the complete product yet, but he could be a highly intriguing prospect in the middle rounds of the draft.

Mike Gesicki (TE, Penn State)

Height: 6053

Weight: 242

If Seattle is going to go back to a more traditional type of tight end in 2018, Mike Gesicki will not be on their radar. The former volleyball player is a terrific leaper, and a great red zone threat as a result. He has the ability to win above the rim on contested catches, and has strong hands at the catch point, making him a difficult cover when he’s isolated. Gesicki will do the majority of his damage inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. However, lining up in the slot, he’s an intelligent route runner and finds space on underneath routes, giving his quarterback an option. After the catch, he’s a fluid mover in the open field.

As a blocker, Gesicki closely resembles the reputation Graham had before arriving (and during his time) with the Seahawks. Penn State would rarely line him up in-line or have him blocking at the point of attack, instead hiding him as an H-back and having him block the backside on run plays. He’s easily overpowered by linebackers, defensive linemen or even defensive backs. Technically he is poor as well, too often trying to grapple his defender and getting thrown aside rather than setting and trying to engage.

Gesicki is a legitimate red zone threat both out of the slot and isolated out wide. He has the ability to out-jump smaller defensive backs, and that’s a skill that translates to the NFL. However his poor blocking ability makes him a limited prospect, and one that Seattle likely won’t target, unless they want a like-for-like replacement for Graham.