1. David Njoku, Cle
Drafted: 1st round, 29th overall
Scouting Report: Njoku is the most intriguing TE prospect in this year’s draft because he’s incredibly raw and a freakish athlete. In high school, Njoku played wide receiver and was a national high jump champion with a 6’11” leap. He averaged 16.2 yards per catch and scored on 18.6% of his receptions (8 of 43) last year at Miami. Njoku needs plenty of polish as he comes to the league with just 9 career starts under his belt as a redshirt sophomore. In 2016, he worked in a TE committee and posted 43/698/8. He checked in with freaky long arms at 35¼”, and he measured out at at 6’4”, 246 pounds with 10” hands. It was no surprise that he killed the jumps with a 37½” vertical and a 11’1” broad jump. According to mockdraftable.com, Njoku ranks in the top 10% at the position in arm length, broad jump, and vertical jump. It’s no surprise that Njoku can go up and get the ball in jump-ball situations with his leaping ability. He’s also pretty graceful in the air, with good body control to come down with contested catches. He is a scary deep threat because of his vertical speed and his ability to track passes downfield. Njoku is quick out of his breaks and can quickly eat up yards after the catch, and he can be used all over the formation. He does have pretty strong hands but does have some drops on tape. Njoku won’t be confused for a developed blocker at this point, but he’s competitive at the point of attack and held his own despite a lack of experience. He needs refinement throughout his game, and he’ll look to fill out his body to become a better blocker. He was at least asked to block plenty in Mark Richt’s offense last season, so he has some experience coming into the league. He reminds us a bit of Eric Ebron coming out of Maryland in 2014 because of their incredibly high ceilings.
Fantasy Analysis: Njoku should develop into a better pro once he gets a little more playing experience, and he has arguably more upside than top TE prospect O.J. Howard. Njoku is everything that any team would want in terms of athleticism for the position, and he should be able to make an impact as a receiver in 2017 since the Browns immediately cut Gary Barnidge after they drafted Njoku. He’ll need to make progress as a blocker to be a three-down TE as a rookie, but the potential for stardom is certainly there. The big question will be if Njoku can get reliable enough QB play from the likes of Cody Kessler, DeShone Kizer, and Brock Osweiler to make a consistent fantasy impact as a TE2 during his rookie season. He certainly has the potential to be one of the best at the position in the future if the Browns can finally find their franchise QB.
2. O.J. Howard, TB
Drafted: 1st round, 19th overall
Scouting Report: The Crimson Tide criminally underused Howard as a receiver the last two years, but we’ve still seen enough of him to believe he can be cornerstone in a good passing game. He blew away most scouts away at the Senior Bowl by looking like a man among boys. He also shined the brightest in the last two national championship games. When they needed him the most in two shootouts against Clemson, Howard posted 5/208/2 receiving in 2015 and 4/106/1 in 2016. Those were the only two games in which he eclipsed 100+ receiving yards, and he ended his career with just 114/1726/7 in four seasons. He came to Alabama as a five-star recruit, and he played and started right away as a freshman for the best and deepest program in the NCAA. Top RB prospect Leonard Fournette ran an impressive 4.51 40-time at 6’1”, 240 pounds. Howard ran the same time despite checking in 11 pounds heavier and 5 inches taller. He also posted the best times at the position in the 3-cone drill (6.85 seconds), 20-yard (4.16), and 60-yard shuttle runs (11.46). According to mockdraftable.com, Howard ranks in the top 15% at the position in height, 40-yard dash, broad jump, 3-cone drill, 20-yard shuttle, and 60-yard shuttle. He also has the frame to get even bigger once he gets into a NFL weight room. That’s bad news for defenders because he’s already a good blocker, which he needed to be in Alabama’s run-heavy offense. He accelerates like a receiver and is more of a speed guy than a power guy at this point. He will be a nightmare for linebackers to cover because of his speed and quickness, and defensive backs will struggle against him because of his size. Heck, he can run away from defensive backs too. Howard creates separation as a route runner and has good hands to be a dominant receiver for the position. We see a little bit of Greg Olsen because of the way he moves and his ability to lineup all over the field. The fact that he underperformed at Alabama is a little worrisome, and there are concerns that he could be passive or lacks passion for the game.
Fantasy Analysis: HC Dirk Koetter will use Howard as a mismatch nightmare at 6’6”, 251 pounds, with long arms and big hands. The Buccaneers see a player who was underutilized by Lane Kiffin and Nick Saban in the passing game. Howard is actually an unfinished product, which is a bit of a rarity for Alabama prospects. He projects to be a much better pro than college player, and he could thrive playing with up-and-coming QB Jameis Winston. He also should have plenty of room to make plays in the middle of the field with stud WRs Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson garnering plenty of attention on the outside. Howard will have to contend with last year’s breakout TE Cameron Brate for playing time, which slightly dampers his fantasy outlook for 2017. Howard will likely work as the inline TE while Brate plays as the move guy in 2-TE sets. Like many rookie TE prospects in the recent past, it won’t be easy for Howard to make an immediate fantasy impact, but he certainly has the best chance for 2017 as a potential high-end TE2. He also has an elite ceiling for the future with all of his athletic tools, but Brate could steal some of his future production.
3. Evan Engram, NYG
Drafted: 1st round, 23rd overall
Scouting Report: Engram’s performance at the Combine locked him in as a first-round pick. He ran a blistering 4.42 in the 40-yard dash, which was the third-fastest time for the position since 2006. He actually had a better time than WRs A.J. Green and DeAndre Hopkins, and only 4 WRs from this class timed better than him. Engram didn’t disappoint in the jumps either, with a 36” vertical and 10’5” broad jump. It’s not surprising that he also fared well in the receiving gauntlet because of his athletic ability. Engram was a highly productive, four-year starter at Ole Miss, finishing his career with 162/2320/15 receiving in 43 starts. He led all TEs in receiving as a senior, posting 65/926/8 to earn first-team All-American honors. Engram was a two-time team captain, and he led the nation with 17.4 yards per catch back in 2014. He missed the final five games of his freshman season because of a high ankle sprain, which eventually needed surgery. Engram is just 6’3”, 234 pounds, so there are questions if he’s big enough to be a three-down TE. He’s been compared to Jordan Reed in the draft process, and he’s certainly athletic enough to be a matchup nightmare no matter where he lines up. He’s basically just a huge WR, separating with ease with his speed and dynamic route running. Engram is a natural receiver who stretches the middle of the field as a vertical threat. He skies to high-point jump balls, which makes him a threat in the red zone, but he does have some concentration drops. Engram certainly needs to improve as an inline blocker, and he’s never going to be known as blocker because of his size. Still, he improved as a senior in pass protection, and he showed willingness to block. He also actually fared well as an inline blocker at the Senior Bowl.
Fantasy Analysis: Engram is a jack-of-all-trades for the position because of his athleticism. He can lineup as an inline TE, as an H-back, as a move TE, as a slot receiver, and as an outside receiver. Hopefully, HC Ben McAdoo has a plan for how to effectively use him, but it should only be a matter of time before he’s a mismatch nightmare. The best-case scenario is that he turns into a Jordan Reed type, and at the very least he should be in the same vein as Charles Clay. Engram landed in a great spot to play right away with this lean Giants TE depth chart, but he’ll be in a battle for consistent targets with one of the better trios of WR in the league in Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall, and Sterling Shepard. Engram should be on the TE2 radar this season, and he could easily develop into one of the better fantasy TEs in the coming years. He has the chance to be the #2 receiver here in the near future behind OBJ, with Marshall nearing the end of his career and the Giants making it clear they think Shepard is just a slot receiver.
4. Gerald Everett, LAR
Drafted: 2nd round, 44th overall
Scouting Report: Everett grew up as a basketball player before he started football as a high school senior and went to community college for a year. He then transferred to UAB before heading to South Alabama after UAB decided to cut their football program. Everett doesn’t have a ton of experience playing against top competition, but he played well against much tougher competition at the Senior Bowl and against Mississippi State (8/95/1 receiving) last year. He led South Alabama in receiving the last two years with 91/1292/12, as they lined him up all over the field. He’s small for the position at 6’3”, 239 pounds, and he might be more of a move TE or an H-back type than an inline TE. Everett lit it up at the Combine in just about every test, including the in the vertical leap (37½”), the broad jump (10’6”), and the bench press (22 reps). He’s a controlled, smooth athlete, and he might be the most dynamic TE after the catch in the class. His basketball background shows up when he uses his body to shield away defenders at the catch point. He’s a weapon down in the red zone and isn’t afraid to go over the middle. Everett lined up all over the field at South Alabama, but his route running is still raw and lazy at times. He made some spectacular catches, but he has some of the smallest hands we’ve ever seen for a receiver (8½”), and they show up on tape with some bad drops. He’ll need to get stronger and develop as a blocker if he wants to become a three-down, inline TE, but he’s willing to stick his nose into the fray. We see a little Delanie Walker in him because of his size, movement skills, and his willingness to mix it up as a blocker.
Fantasy Analysis: New Rams HC Sean McVay had coached Jordan Reed since he broke into the league, and there’s no doubt he saw plenty of similarities between Everett and Reed, which is why they took him earlier than anyone thought he would go. Everett has a lot of raw skills right now because of his limited football experience, but he appears to be a moldable prospect for McVay. Everett only needs to beat out second-year TE Tyler Higbee for most of the playing time, who couldn’t make any kind of impact as a rookie. McVay is also likely to play more 2-TE sets this season to get Todd Gurley on track this year. It might be a bit of a stretch to expect Everett to make consistent fantasy contributions as a rookie with Higbee stealing targets and playing with a raw Jared Goff at QB. He could have a high ceiling for fantasy in the future with his receiving skills, as long as Goff takes some steps forward.
5. Jordan Leggett, NYJ
Drafted: 5th round, 150th overall
Scouting Report: It’s tough to find many TE prospects who were more productive than Leggett the last two seasons. He earned the nickname “Lazy Leggett” early in his Clemson career, but he really finished his career strong in his final two seasons. Leggett posted 86/1261/15 receiving in 2015-16, including 12/173/1 combined against Alabama in the last two national championship games. He was also nominated for the John Mackey Award for the nation’s top TE in 2015. Leggett skipped the 40-yard dash at the Combine, and he had just an average vertical jump (33”) and a weak broad jump (9’6”). He performed well in the receiving gauntlet but struggled a bit when he had to put his hand in the ground for blocking drills. According to mockdraftable.com, Leggett is an above-average athlete in most categories, but he ranks in the top quarter of TEs in just hand size (10⅜"). He has ideal size for the position (6’5”, 258 pounds) and soft hands. He makes plays at the catch point and has excellent ball skills. He stepped up on the big stage, including a couple key catches in the waning moments of the NCAA title game. He isn’t the fastest guy at the position, but he stretched opposing defenses down the seams at Clemson. He’s a reliable target in the middle of the field, finding soft spots against zone coverage. Leggett lined up all over the field and runs every route as a former high school WR, but he is a bit stiff getting in and out of his breaks and could struggle against man coverage. He got better as a blocker during his career, but he still needs to improve in that area if he wants to be a three-down, inline player. Leggett is a well-rounded receiving prospect, and he reminds us a bit of Jace Amaro coming out of Texas Tech.
Fantasy Analysis: The Jets have abandoned the TE position in recent years, and they haven’t had a fantasy relevant TE at the position since Dustin Keller left back in 2012. The Jets retired former OC Chan Gailey and his spread offense, and they now actually need a TE. Draft bust Austin Seferian-Jenkins is the best TE on the roster, so Leggett clearly has a pretty clear path to playing time as a rookie. Leggett isn’t a quick-twitch athlete and needs to improve as a blocker to get on the field consistently early in his career, but he has the potential to be a solid receiver in the middle of the field. It’s not inconceivable that he’s on the streaming radar as a rookie, and he could develop into a fringe fantasy starter if everything breaks right.
6. Adam Shaheen, Chi
Drafted: 2nd round, 45th overall
Scouting Report: Shaheen came out of nowhere to become the most intriguing prospect in this year’s TE class. He started his college athletic career as a basketball player at Division II Pitt-Johnstown before eventually transferring to Ashland for football. He set Division II TE records for catches in a season (70 in 2015) and TD catches in a season (16 in 2016). Shaheen started the last two seasons and absolutely dominated the lesser competition, with 127/1670/26 receiving. He is absolutely massive at 6’6”, 278 pounds with 33½” arms – that’s huge even for the position – and he ran a fairly impressive 4.79 in the 40-yard dash. He also led the group with 24 reps in the bench press and had an impressive 10’1” leap in the broad jump and 32½” vertical. Shaheen looked athletic against incredibly weak competition the last two years, and it was good to see some of the athleticism translate at the Combine. He moves well even with such a massive frame, and he has good ball skills and quick feet from his basketball days. Shaheen worked all over the field and ran a variety of routes, and his size helped him win in contested situations, which made him a real threat down by the end zone. It was a little troubling that he wasn’t physically dominating all the time in college. He wasn’t destroying defenders as a blocker like you’d think he would, and he needs some technique work as a run blocker. He also got tied up in press coverage at times, and he’ll need to learn how to use his strength better to fend off defenders. Based just strictly on his size, he was a weaker blocker than we thought he would be but a much better receiver than we imagined. It’s hard not to see a little bit of Rob Gronkowski when you watch Shaheen with the way he moves for his size.
Fantasy Analysis: Bears GM Ryan Pace said after the draft that he believes Shaheen can play early in his career, but the jump in competition is going to be a big obstacle for him as a rookie. He has some boom-or-bust potential because there is an element of the unknown with this completely raw prospect. Shaheen certainly has the size and tools to become a long-time starter and an impact receiver if he can handle the leap in competition. The Bears have two very capable TEs in the fold for 2017 in Zach Miller and Dion Sims, so they should take their time with Shaheen to prep him to be the starter in 2018. With that said, the Bears are likely to struggle this season, and he could get a mini-audition at the end of the season.
7. George Kittle, SF
Drafted: 5th round, 146th overall
Scouting Report: Iowa has a rich tradition of putting TEs into the league in recent years (Dallas Clark, Scott Chandler, Brandon Myers, Tony Moeaki, C.J. Fiedorowicz), and Kittle is poised to grow that list this year. Heck, his cousin, Iowa TE Henry Kreiger-Coble, entered the league last year with the Broncos. Kittle put up decent numbers the last two seasons in Iowa’s run-centric offense, recording 42/604/10 receiving despite missing six games because of injuries. Kittle raised his profile in an outstanding TE class by easily stacking up with the best tight ends at the Combine. He posted exceptional marks in the 40-yard dash (4.52), broad jump (11”), and vertical jump (35”). Like seemingly all Iowa TEs, Kittle is a strong blocker even for his smaller frame (6’4”, 247 pounds) for the position. We’ll see if he can hold up against bigger defensive linemen, but he has the technique and the willingness to make it happen at the next level. He actually played WR in high school, which explains why it took him three years to become a starter, but it also shows in how he plays as a receiver. Kittle has good hands and can make some tough catches on passes that are off the mark. He has room for improvement as a route runner if he improves his technique, but he has the quickness to separate from linebackers. Kittle stretches the field down the seams and worked all three levels as a receiver, and he makes plays after the catch. Kittle reminds us a bit of another former Iowa TE Dallas Clark because of their size and athleticism.
Fantasy Analysis: Kittle joins a pretty crowded group of TEs (Vance McDonald, Blake Bell, Garrett Celek, and Logan Paulsen), but it’s not exactly a Who’s Who Among National Football League Tight Ends. We think Kittle could play inline or as a move TE, and new 49ers HC Kyle Shanahan could view him as an “offensive weapon” like newly signed FB Kyle Juszczyk and deploy him a number of different ways. The 49ers have been shopping McDonald this off-season, and his departure would be good sign for Kittle as a rookie. Kittle has the potential to develop into an effective receiver at all levels of the field, and he’d be fantasy relevant if he can be the #1 TE in the 49ers offense at some point early in his career.
8. Bucky Hodges, Min
Drafted: 6th round, 201st overall
Scouting Report: Hodges looks more like a huge WR and Virginia Tech essentially used him like a WR, splitting him out wide most of the time. He finished his career with 133/1747/20 receiving, and he earned Freshman All-American honors. He’s a converted dual-threat QB out of high school before moving to TE in college and playing out on the perimeter, so he’s an exceptional athlete for the position. Our guy Greg Cosell watched every one of Hodges’ targets in five games last season, and he didn’t see a single play with him lined up inline (yes, you read that correctly). However, he played a little more inline in the old offense before Justin Fuente’s spread system showed up in 2016. Hodge is yet another freak TE in this class, setting a new position record for the broad jump with a leap of 11”2’ at the Combine, and he was the top TE in the vertical with 39” jump. Hodges also ran an impressive 4.57 in the 40-yard dash. He struggled a bit in the gauntlet and blocking drills, and he had surprisingly short arms (32½") for his frame. He ran WR routes at Virginia Tech – even WR screen passes – and he’s elusive after the catch. Hodges was a big-play and red-zone threat with 20 TDs in three seasons, tracking passes well and showing good body control. He needs to refine his route running, and he struggles to come down contested catches at times despite his size advantage because he lets passes get into his body. Hodges has a ridiculous frame to build off (6’6”, 257 pounds) to transition inside, but he obviously needs a lot of work as a blocker as he’s much more comfortable on his feet than with his hand in the ground. He reminds us a lot of Julius Thomas because of his combination of size and athleticism as a receiver with similar concerns as a blocker.
Fantasy Analysis: Hodges slipped in the draft because of some off-the-field concerns and some on-the-field concerns about his ability to play TE – he’s more of a wideout than a TE at this point in his career. The Vikings will use him as a classic mismatch piece for LBs and DBs next season while he develops into a three-down TE, which they can afford to do with Kyle Rudolph clearly locked in as the starter. Hodges is certainly athletic enough to develop into an average blocker, and he has a really high ceiling as a receiver. He could eventually become a red-zone and big-play threat for non-PPR formats, but he’ll need to develop as an in-line player to get enough snaps to do so.
9. Jonnu Smith, Ten
Drafted: 3rd round, 100th overall
Scouting Report: Smith comes into the league with a ton of experience as a four-year starter out of Florida International, posting an impressive 178/2001/18 receiving. He led all college tight ends with 61/701/8 in 2014, but he ran into some turmoil in his final two seasons at FIU. He missed four games as a junior with a sprained knee, and he then missed the end of his senior season, suffering severe burns after his pregnant girlfriend dumped boiling water on him during an argument. Smith rebounded to post a great Combine workout, recording a 4.62 40-time, a 38” vertical, and a 10’7” broad jump. He uses his athleticism as a seam buster and to make plays after the catch. He’s also a strong route runner, creating plays all three levels. The main concerns about him coming into the league are his size (6’3”, 248 pounds) and his suspect hands. Smith would be categorized as a body catcher, dropping far too many passes and double catching other throws. He makes up for his lack of size with his competitiveness as a blocker and his play strength – he was actually a competitive weight lifter in high school. He also did a lot of work at FIU as an inline TE in zone-blocking schemes.
Fantasy Analysis: The Titans went out of their way to make the weapons around Marcus Mariota better, taking WR Corey Davis, WR Taywan Taylor, and Smith in the first three rounds. Smith drew Delanie Walker comparisons in the pre-draft process, and he’ll now be backing him up for at least this season. Walker has somewhat quietly been one of the best TEs in the league since he came to Tennessee in 2013, so we can’t expect Smith to make too many contributions in 2017. At least the Titans will run plenty of 2-TE sets for Smith to potentially get on the field. Walker is entering his 12th season at 33 years old, and he’s in the final two years of his contract, so the Titans are likely grooming Smith to be his replacement in the near future.
10. Jake Butt, Den
Drafted: 5th round, 145th overall
Scouting Report: Butt may have been the third TE off the board before he tore his right ACL in the Orange Bowl against Florida State in January. He went from being the third TE off the board to being selected on the third day of the draft. Butt has been a victim of some circumstances out of his control. He’s obviously plummeted because of his knee injury, but this TE class was also one of the best in recent history. He was incredibly productive the last two seasons in Jim Harbaugh’s pro-style offense, posting 97/1200/7 receiving and earning second-team All-American honors in back-to-back seasons. He started all four seasons at Michigan and racked up 138/1646/11 overall. Butt obviously missed the Combine workouts, but he measured in at 6’5”, 246 pounds. He has great size (6’5”, 250 pounds) and strong hands, which helped him to be a reliable target in the middle of the field. He could be a QB’s best friend as a short-to-intermediate receiver, turning up field quickly after the catch and making catches in traffic. He’s not going to make a ton of big plays downfield, but he will make some plays in the red zone. He’s certainly not a burner and is more of a traditional in-line guy, which is a bit of a problem since his work as a blocker has been exaggerated a bit. He didn’t hold up at the point of attack nearly enough as a run blocker, and he struggles to get to the second level as a blocker. At least he was asked to block inline in a pro-style offense the last two years, which wasn’t the case for many of this year’s top TEs in this class. We see a little bit of Jason Witten in Butt because of his strong hands and his work as a chain-moving TE in the middle of the field.
Fantasy Analysis: Butt is obviously a bit of a long shot to be a contributor for the Broncos this season, at least early in the season as he recovers from his ACL injury. The Broncos have plenty of bodies at the position and some talent, but nobody emerged as a real threat between A.J. Derby, Virgil Green, and Jeff Heuerman. Butt could certainly come in and eventually win the starting job, but it’s more likely to happen in 2018. The Broncos picked him in the fifth round and he’s coming off an ACL injury suffered in January, so they could be looking to essentially redshirt him this season. Butt has the chance to develop into a rock-solid target in the middle of the field for many years, but he needs to improve as a blocker to realize his full potential.
TE Dynasty/Keeper Rankings
- O.J. Howard (TB, 22) – Howard will be a much better pro than college player. He landed in a great spot with Jameis Winston, but he’ll contend with Cameron Brate for targets early in his career.
- David Njoku (Cle, 20) – Njoku has arguably more upside than O.J. Howard. Njoku has ideal athleticism for the position, and he should be able to make an immediate impact as a receiver.
- Evan Engram (NYG, 22) – The best-case scenario is that he turns into a Jordan Reed. It should only be a matter of time before he’s a mismatch nightmare, but he’ll need to improve as a blocker.
- Gerald Everett (LAR, 22) – HC Sean McVay hopes that he found his new Jordan Reed. He has the athleticism to be a headache in the middle of the field, but he’s still a raw prospect.
- Adam Shaheen (Chi, 23) – Shaheen certainly has the size and athleticism to become a long-time starter and an impact receiver if he can handle the leap in competition from Division II Ashland.
- Bucky Hodges (Min, 21) – Hodge is similar to Julius Thomas coming out because of his combination of size and athleticism as a receiver with similar concerns as a blocker.
- Jake Butt (Den, 21) – Butt is a long shot to be a contributor this season because of his knee injury. He has the chance to develop into a rock-solid target in the middle of the field.
- Jordan Leggett (NYJ, 22) – Leggett isn’t a quick-twitch athlete and needs to improve as a blocker to get on the field, but he landed in a great spot to play right away.
- George Kittle (SF, 23) – Kittle has some similarities to another former Iowa TE Dallas Clark because of their size and athleticism. He still has the potential to develop into an effective receiver at all levels of the field.
- Jonnu Smith (Ten, 21) – Smith is a good athlete who compares a lot to starter Delanie Walker, who will obviously cap Smith’s fantasy value for the next couple years.
- Michael Roberts (Det, 22) – Roberts is huge (6’4”, 270 pounds) but has limited athleticism to ever be a receiving threat. The best-case scenario is that he develops into a red-zone threat.
- Jeremy Sprinkle (Was, 22) – Sprinkle is unlikely to be a fantasy stud because he won’t command a ton of targets, but he has the chance to eventually get on the non-PPR radar as a red-zone specialist.
- Eric Saubert (Atl, 23) – Saubert has the size and athleticism to eventually make an impact, but he’s a bit of project jumping from the FCS to the NFL.
- Mason Schreck (Cin, 23) – Schreck will have a tough time making the Bengals 53-man roster, and he’s just an average athlete coming from a small school.