1. Eric Ebron – Tight End – North Carolina
In the "Year of the Tight End," Ebron has set himself apart from the pack. Coming in at 6-foot-4 with a sculpted 250 pound frame, Ebron provides size that has the potential to be a quarterback's best friend at the next level. But what really makes Ebron the No. 1 tight end in this class is his 4.6 speed. The combination of his height, weight, and speed draws comparisons to another fellow physical specimen, Vernon Davis. The similarities between the two are astonishing as both are combine stars, with a proven track record to back up their gaudy measurements. While being an excellent athlete, Ebron is a fundamentally sound blocker with room to improve, much like Davis coming out of Maryland. The comparisons still don't end there, as both players feast off their ability to create mismatches with their speed, stretching the seams of the defense.
As the NFL is evolving, the elite level tight ends have created a living using their athleticism rather than brute strength. In the past few seasons we've seen a new breed of tight Ends. Tight end's such as Julius Thomas, Vernon Davis, Jimmy Graham and Jordan Cameron have all had tremendous success as tight end's that stretch the field. The new breed has essentially dominated the NFL, and Ebron looks to continue the trend. The comparisons bode well for Ebron, and I expect him to be a top 15 pick, and the best tight end this class has seen since Davis left the Terps in 2006. HIs fast-twitch explosiveness and athleticism above the rest of the class makes him possibly the best playmaker in this draft. (Draft - 1st Round)
While Ebron has been gained popularity off his highlight reel catches, he has made a bit of a habit of dropping balls due to mental lapses. Most view these drops as concentration issues, as he has shown the ability to make tougher catches, while struggling with easier balls. His blocking needs some work as well, but that's mainly due to a lack of bulk on his body. With the technique there, Ebron has the potential to be a sound blocker with an extra 10-15 pounds of muscle. Once he refines his blocking ability he has the potential to be a complete tight end.
Pro Comparison– Vernon Davis
2. Austin Serafin Jenkins | Washington
After bursting onto the scene with over 850 yards and nearly 70 catches during his 2012 campaign, "ASJ" was touted as the No.1 tight end in College Football and a future top 10 pick. Unfortunately, in 2013 ASJ didn't have the same success, as the offense went with a more up-tempo approach, and relied on HB Bishop Sankey more than ever. However, with a basketball background, many executives have drawn comparisons with his game to another former basketball star, Jimmy Graham. ASJ possesses the same ability to "post up" opposing defensive backs, using their bodies as shields to get balls over small defenders. At 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds, his game translates well as an elite red zone target in the NFL. With 21 Touchdowns in three years with the Huskies, his efficiency in the red-zone has become an integral part of his game. His red-zone efficiency works well with his extremely soft hands, as he is a great security blanket for a young QB. ASJ is also a very sound blocker, while not always competing at the highest intensity, his combination of sound technique and great size makes him a very good blocker, with potential to become elite at the next level. Serafin-Jenkins is a guy with all of the talent and physical ability in the world, it's just a matter of how badly he wants to become the elite player that he has shown flashes of becoming. He may also be the most complete player in this tight end crop with his ability to play inside as well as split out wide and create mismatches. (Draft 1st-2nd Round)
ASJ has some really amazing tape, displaying the ability to become an elite level tight end. The thing is there are so many inconsistencies in his game. An amazing 2012 campaign was followed up by a disappointing 2013 season. Earlier in the season he also was faced with a DUI charge, earning himself a one-game suspension. The NFL doesn't take off field issues lightly during the draft, and while he may be an elite level talent, his off field issues may cause him to drop some. Possibly the biggest boom-bust in this draft.
Comparison– Martellus Bennett
3. Jace Amaro | Texas Tech
Amaro is a physically imposing athlete that uses his overwhelming strength to create mismatches in the defense. Amaro, while standing in at 260 pounds, plays split out most of the time. His 260 pound frame along with his excellent ball skills makes it extremely difficult for defensive backs to make a play on. Amaro's greatest strength (other than his strength) is his ball skills. Comparable to Tyler Eifert in last year's draft, Amaro has the niche to catch balls at its highest point, a trait that most young receivers lack. Most receivers that have the ability to catch balls at their highest point have worked out well in the NFL, with a low bust potential. Add that along with his ridiculous size for a player split out wide, and you have a real weapon. His abilities were utilized perfectly in Texas Tech, as he posted a 1,352 yard campaign with over 100 balls caught and 7 touchdowns. His mouth watering stats comfort the minds of most GM's as his bust potential is rather low.
As a blocker, Amaro leaves much to be desired. Despite having such tremendous size, Amaro's blocking ability is extremely disappointing. While his technique leaves much to be desired, his effort isn't shown at all. He doesn't create leverage in his blocks, and they often lack explosion. You also are hard pressed to find Amaro lock onto an assignment on film. He also may fall under the category of being a 'system player,' as Texas Tech's Air-Raid offense promotes padded stats that often don't reflect the skill of the player. While being a good athlete, he's not on the same level as an ASJ or Ebron, and lacks an elite skill like they possess.
4. Troy Niklas | Notre Dame
Put the three former Fighting Irish that have gone pro into a melting pot, add water, stir, and you have Troy Niklas. Coming into Notre Dame, he was a blue chip prospect, except as a defensive lineman rather than a tight end. However, his defensive minded intensity shines through his offensive prowess. Niklas, a tough minded athlete, is a rare commodity among the futuristic evolution of the Tight End position today. He is a very physical player, using his entire 6-foot-6 270 pound frame as a blocker, providing an immediate impact in the run game. Niklas, while displaying the ability to play as a hybrid tight end, is a throwback type player. His athleticism is comparable to Rob Gronkowsi. While lacking elite 40 times, both display elite balance, quick hips, and the ability to turn up the field with their bulldozer approach to smaller, weaker, defensive backs. While Niklas lacks the route running polish, and extremely soft hands that Gronk possesses, he has the potential to use his combination of size and athleticism to become an elite tight end. Keep in mind, Niklas only has two years under his belt as a tight end, and has room to grow with his fiery demeanor, elite blocking skills, and underrated athleticism. He's also shown the ability to line up in the slot, outside, in line, and even in the backfield at times. A Swiss Army knife type player that can stay on the field all three downs. (2nd-3rd Round)
His hands are somewhat suspect. A tight end should be a security blanket for any Quarterback. He has unreliable hands in traffic, and has not shown the ability to make a tough catch with defenders bearing over him. A drop rate of 8.57 isn't very encouraging from your Tight End. Again, that may be in part to his lack of experience as a Tight End, and may grow in time, but as of now his hands need work. Also, while having great hips, you are hard pressed to find Niklas run tougher routes. Can he run the entire route tree? He hasn't proven the ability as of yet. His 40 yard dash time was a 4.84 which is pretty mediocre, and he has had issues creating space. In my mind he has an NFL ready blocker, with potential to grow as a receiver, and should be picked anywhere during the 2nd day of the NFL draft.
Comparison – Anthony Fasano
5. Colt Lyerla
A halfback turned tight end, the college football superstar with a drug addiction problem may be one of the most intriguing stories in this year's draft. He is an elite talent that had exhibited overwhelming success with the Ducks, only to take a leave of absence, missing the entire 2013 season due to his cocaine arrest. Talent alone, Colt should be a 1st or 2nd day pick, as an h-back that can line up all over the field. As a former halfback, Colt has "make you miss" shiftiness, providing elite shiftiness and "make you miss" speed, as shown in his 4.6 40 yard dash time. To go along with his excellent speed, Colt is a very willing blocker, despite his lack of size. He's shown solid bend in his blocks and stays on his assignment throughout the entirety of the play. Colt is also a reliable target with soft hands, and is someone you can trust on 3rd down or even stretch the seams of the defense. Lyerla will make his bread and butter as an H-Back in the NFL lining up all over the LOS, creating mismatches for opposing defenses. (Round 4-5)
The drug issue is a major red flag, especially during the draft process. Dismissing himself from the entire 2013 campaign also raises a question for his passion of the game. His off the field issues ultimately become his biggest weakness leading up the draft. As a player, he has never put up the gaudy numbers that his tape suggests, failing to post even a 400 yard receiving season with the Ducks. Add to that his lack of size may be a cause of concern as a blocker, inside. On tape, bigger, stronger defenders have pushed him into the backfield, so he may need to get a bit stronger in the weight room, and his lack of reps on the bench correlate with the issue. A team drafting him must have a plan, on the field and off, as there must be a stable locker room in tact as well as an offensive coordinator creative enough to play to Colt's strengths.
**Wildcard**A.C. Leonard | Florida
The NFL Scouting Combine killer himself, Leonard posted a 4.43 40 time this past weekend, which is the 2nd highest 40 time for a TE, just falling short to the manimal that is Vernon Davis. AC had little shot at even getting drafted coming into this weekend, but his showing has shot himself up the draft board, and comes in as my sleeper candidate at Tight End. Outside of the combine, Leonard has shown serious skill on tape. He has an extremely quick release off the line, can get off press easily, and can certainly stretch the field with his blazing speed. In 22 games at Tennessee State, Leonard posted 85 catches and 1,174 yards, showing that he is more than a combine killer. Also, it's well known that he faced multiple arrests at Florida, but he comes from a Florida pedigree that just feeds the NFL explosive-pass catching Tight Ends. His game is very comparable to Jordan Reed and Aaron Hernandez, both of whom have had success in the NFL as Gator alumni.
Is he Aaron Hernandez 2.0? Hernandez, much like Leonard had a red flag next to his name as a former Gator product with elite platymaking ability, while lacking the street smarts or overall intelligence of how to carry himself as a pro. Facing a charge for domestic battery as well as assaulting his former girlfriend, Leonard is extremely gifted on the field, but is a question mark upstairs. However, If he can get his act together, he can be a real playmaker on offense.