If you look down at the list before reading this, you’ll notice I’ve just gone with four tight ends in my NFL Draft rankings this time. This shouldn’t be considered a slight to the other top-ranked tight end prospects on the list. In fact, it means the exact opposite.
When I check out the tape on the small school guys, Adam Sheehan from Ashland and Gerald Everett from South Alabama, I see the same things everyone else sees. Huge, athletic targets that look like they can play in the NFL. I see the same thing from Bucky Hodges from Virginia Tech, Jake Butt from Michigan and Jeremy Sprinkle from Arkansas. Big, physical, NFL-ready tight ends that can block and make catches with their hands. They’re all good and they’re all playmakers and that’s the problem. I don’t see a big difference between any of them.
The four men I put on this list are just a cut above. While Sheehan and the rest are all legit-looking NFL tight end prospects, the guys I’ve ranked before are next-level players. Guys that will not only impact a team next fall, but for years to come. It’s the difference between a Martellus Bennett and a Clive Walford. Walford is good. Bennett is a game-changer.
4. Jordan Leggett, Clemson (6-5, 258)
2016: 46 catches, 736 yards, seven touchdowns
When you see Leggett play, it’s almost impossible to believe he’s 6-5, 258. He moves and controls his body like a much more slender player. That’s what makes him such a deadly weapon, especially in the red zone. He’s caught 15 touchdowns over the last two seasons.
Leggett has played on the NCAA’s biggest stages and delivered against elite-level defenses and individual defenders. Leggett’s not as fast as the other men on this list (he ran a 4.78 at Clemson’s Pro Day), but he can get open and pile up first downs. He averaged 16 yards a catch for Clemson last season. Against Alabama in the national title game, Leggett caught five passes for 78 yards and a touchdown and I guarantee every defender that lined up across from him runs a 40 faster than 4.78. He beat them all.
Leggett can run block with the best of them, especially out of the shotgun. He has soft hands, can run receiver routes and out-muscle/jump defenders for the ball.
Ideal situation: Los Angeles Chargers, New England Patriots, New York Giants, Cleveland Browns
3. Evan Engram, Ole Miss (6-3, 234)
2016: 65 catches, 926 yards, eight touchdowns
Engram isn’t a classic tight end and what he was asked to do as a blocker makes him No. 3 on the list. But you don’t draft Engram to block. He’s a game-breaking tight end and at the NFL level, he will have an immediate impact on an offense that doesn’t expect him to close off an edge on the strong side. Send Engram down the seam and you can count the safeties in the league that can run with him on one hand.
Ole Miss didn’t care how well he could run block. Engram can run the entire route tree, control his body and catches the ball with his hands. He also knows how to use his size to his advantage and can keep his feet after a collision to knock defenders backwards.
Ideal situation: Los Angeles Rams, Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears
2. David Njoku, Miami (6-4, 246)
2016: 43 catches, 698 yards, eight touchdowns
Njoku, like Engram, is a freak athlete and knows how to use it on the football field. In Miami’s offense, Njoku was asked to be a complete tight end, so he can deliver all the blocks off the edge you want and run by safeties on pass plays when you need it.
Njoku was the United States long jump champion as a high school senior and hasn’t lost his legs as he’s worked on his football skills. If the dude gets to the five yard line, his end zone dive is all but unstoppable and he’s not afraid to turn on the jet boots with men in his face.
Ideal situation: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins, New York Giants
1. O.J. Howard, Alabama (6-foot-6, 251 yards)
2016: 45 catches, 595 yards, three touchdowns
Alabama may have consistently been in the national title picture while O.J. Howard was a member of the team, but there’s no doubt Howard was underutilized at tight end for the Crimson Tide. NFL Scouts and GMS know it and in this case they are not wrong.
Howard has all the tools, both on film and on the over-hyped exercise field to not only be the first tight end taken in this draft, but to become one of the best tight ends in the NFL right out of the gate.
Ideal situation: Buffalo Bills, New Orleans Saints, Arizona Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts
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