To be a successful tight end in the NFL, you have to both be able to block pass-rushers and be able to catch the ball. As the NFL becomes a more pass-happy league each year, the receiving skills of a tight end prospect are more important than ever.
The rankings for the 2014 NFL draft tell that story. Troy Niklas, C.J. Fiedorowicz, and Arthur Lynch all have blocking as their strong suit, yet are not polished as receivers. As such, their draft projections are in the third- to fourth-round range.
Conversely, the three top tight ends in this draft all excel at receiving. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Eric Ebron, and Jace Amaro all should have little trouble catching the football in the NFL.
What is it about them that makes these three players such good options at tight end?
Austin Seferian-Jenkins had a down year numbers-wise. After 852 yards his sophomore season, he managed only 450 this past season. Despite the lack of any breakout games in his final season, there's a reason he remains a top draft option.
Seferian-Jenkins brings ideal size to the table. The 6'6" tight end has great hands that, combined with his physicality, makes him tough to cover. That combination makes him a dead ringer for Marcedes Lewis, tight end for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
In the case of both tight ends, they did not put up huge numbers in college, nor do they have elite speed that more and more tight ends seem to have. Instead, their size and physicality makes them prime red-zone targets, first and foremost.
This highlight reel, in particular the play at the 20-second mark, shows exactly what he would bring to an NFL team. He's not a flashy target, but if you need someone who can shrug off a smaller defensive back and gain a few yards in the process, he is your guy.
He's currently projected as a second-round pick, and given his skill set this seems accurate, since, while he has a good foundation, he's not going to be an All-Pro at the position.
Eric Ebron has established himself as the top tight end in this class, thanks to a combination of his blocking and receiving abilities. His 973 receiving yards this past season, second among tight ends, show he can spread the field.
First and foremost, Ebron is an athlete. He can run routes quickly, can make leaping, acrobatic catches and plays like a wide receiver, using more finesse and athleticism than strength to make plays.
Bleacher Report compares Ebron to Julius Thomas of the Broncos, but Dane Brugler of CBS Sports compares him to the 49ers' Vernon Davis. He says of both, "freaky athletic specimens, both Ebron and Davis move like wide receivers."
In this past season's matchup against Duke, he had a 79-yard catch and run. As evident in the film of that game, Ebron has good vision and anticipation and can overpower defensive backs when he has the ball in his hands.
Ebron is projected to be a first-round pick, and could easily go in the first half of round one. He has the highest ceiling of any tight end prospect, and is enough of an athlete that it would be difficult for him to be a bust.
Jace Amaro, meanwhile, became a force simply through a great deal of production. This past season, he had seven touchdowns and 1,352 receiving yards. The latter was not only first among college tight ends but just missed finishing in the top ten for receiving yards overall.
Amaro spent most of his junior year in the slot position, and as a result most of his collegiate experience was spent as a receiver as opposed to being an in-line tight end. He's sure-handed and is at his most dangerous after the catch, since he has the strength and balance to ward off defenders and pick up tough yardage.
He draws comparisons to Jordan Cameron of the Browns. Both needed some time to develop their blocking game coming out of college, but both have receiving ability, and Amaro is a lot further along in his development than Cameron was, making him look like a much safer pick.
He had six games where he had over 100 receiving yards, and two of them were against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, teams you can't just simply walk over. He also had a 112-yard performance in the bowl game against Arizona State, showing that his playmaking ability wasn't just limited to the Big 12.
Amaro is projected to be a second-round since he is primarily a receiving tight end. He can grow into a tight end who can block as well, but for now only one part of his game is of NFL quality.