The 2017 NFL Draft will feature a number of talented tight ends. While two of them stand out among the rest, there will be a number of players teams could take a chance on in the later rounds that could become key contributors.
Here are the top five tight ends in the 2017 NFL Draft entering this week’s (Feb. 28-March 6) Scouting Combine in Indianapolis:
1. David Njoku, Miami
During his two seasons with the Hurricanes, Njoku flew under the radar party because Miami didn’t get a lot of national attention. But Njoku has not gone unnoticed by scouts and draft analysts, which is why he’s not only considered the best tight end prospect, but some view him as one of the best players in this draft period.
Last season, Njoku caught 43 passes for 698 yards and eight touchdowns. An excellent athlete, the Hurricanes used him not only as a tight end, but also as a slot receiver on the outside. A former New Jersey high school high jump champion, Njoku uses this athleticism to go up and get the football at its highest point.
Njoku has the size (6-4, 245) of an NFL tight end as well as the strength. Not only was he able to run away from defenders after making the catch, he also ran over his share. His hands are a little bit of a concern, as he struggled with drops. He also needs to improve in pass protection, but that’s nothing unusual when it comes to collegiate tight ends making the jump.
In the vast lineage of Miami tight ends, Njoku could be the next great from The U. He is still new to the position, but Njoku could turn into the next Greg Olson in the NFL.
2. O.J. Howard, Alabama
Howard is the most talented and gifted tight end in 2017. Many will point to his lack of production at Alabama as a negative, but that was more or less because of the type of offense that the Crimson Tide runs.
Last season, Howard caught 45 passes for 595 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games. In 2015, he had 38 receptions for 602 yards and two scores.
At 6-foot-6, 249 pounds, Howard is physically imposing and has the look of an NFL tight end. A large man, Howard still possesses good speed, which is something that should appeal to many teams.
A smooth pass catcher who is able to adjust after the ball has been thrown; Howard also is ahead of the curve as a blocker, which helps make him a well-rounded prospect.
Teams will probably ask Howard why he wasn’t more of a difference-maker while at Alabama, and he will need to get a little stronger and develop a more physical mind set at the line of scrimmage.
There’s no mistaking that Howards oozes potential and although he’s more polished than some of his peers, he’s not a finished product. With the right coaching, Howard can potentially become a Pro Bowl tight end for years to come.
3. Evan Engram, Ole Miss
Ole Miss’ disappointing 5-7 showing last season should not detract from the impact that Engram had on the field. One of the most athletic tight ends in the nation, Engram earned All-SEC and All-American honors after recording 65 receptions for 926 yards and eight touchdowns.
With Engram’s speed, he can run away from most linebackers, forcing teams to try and cover him with a nickel back instead. A matchup problem because of his combination of size (6-3, 236) and speed, Engram was a legitimate vertical threat for the Rebels.
He did have some issues with drops at time and wasn’t known for his blocking prowess. He may not have prototypical tight end size, but his athleticism and pass-catching abilities give him the potential to be a big-play threat in the right offensive system.
4. Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech
A towering presence (6-7, 245), Hodges looks more like a tall wide receiver rather than a tight end. Relatively new to the tight end position, Hodges was very productive in his three seasons with the Hokies.
Last season, Hodges caught 48 passes for 691 yards and seven touchdowns. With his height and athletic ability, Hodges has the ability to go get the football wherever it’s thrown. He also played quarterback in high school, which has helped Hodges understand and dissect coverages.
Hodges has played tight end only three seasons, so he still has a lot of room for improvement. His hands are less than ideal as he was prone to making catches against his body. He also doesn’t possess breakaway speed.
While still raw, Hodges could be a good value selection as early as the second or third round, as he has the tools to be a long-time starter in the league for years to come.
5. Jeremy Sprinkle, Arkansas
Sprinkle did not end his collegiate career on a positive note. Before the Belk Bowl, he was cited for shoplifting from a Belk store and was subsequently suspended for the game against Virginia Tech. Sprinkle will have to answer plenty of questions about this incident when teams sit down and talk to him in Indianapolis.
That aside, Sprinkle has good size (6-5, 256) as he caught 33 passes for 380 yards and four touchdowns last season for the Razorbacks.
Early indications are Sprinkle could be an every-down right end, as he is a sure blocker while also serving as a big target across the middle. He uses his size and length to his advantage to catch the ball over defenders.
His route running could use some work, but he should be able to contribute to an NFL team right away. Hopefully, the poor choice he made in late December won’t impact his NFL future too much.
Other tight ends to watch: Jake Butt, Michigan; Michael Roberts, Toledo; Jordan Leggett, Clemson, Jonnu Smith, FIU; Gerald Everett, South Alabama