Throughout the month of April, my Bleacher Report colleague Tamer Chamma has been analyzing draft prospects and making the case for the New York Giants to select each of them. His arguments, all compelling, have ranged from the selection of Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald with the 12th overall pick to the selection of Florida State center Bryan Stork in the closing rounds of the 2014 NFL draft.
I'd like to call back to Chamma's earliest such article, an argument he made for the first-round selection of North Carolina Tight End Eric Ebron back in February. The article—which garnered nearly 15,000 views and 70 mixed-reaction comments—argued that, in New York, Ebron would make a perfect pass-catching tight end for quarterback Eli Manning.
Since that article was authored, the Giants have addressed nearly every other need through the signings of 15 free agents who played with other teams in 2013. In the meantime, Ebron Fever has spiked within the fanbase.
Ebron would likely provide New York with its most productive receiving threat at tight end since the days of Jeremy Shockey (2002-07), who just so happens to be the last tight end selected in the first round by the Giants (14th overall). The prospect is enticing, yes, and perhaps lightning strikes twice.
But I'm here to tell you that it's not Ebron-or-bust. Just below Ebron, there is a small pool of second-tier talent from which New York could select an unexpected starter—perhaps the team's tight end of the future.
|Giants starting tight ends since 2010|
I know that remains a far-off concept for many Giants fans; the tight end position has been a turnstile since Kevin Boss' departure in 2010. Since then, Jake Ballard, Martellus Bennett and Brandon Myers have each made one-year stops in New York, holding down the starting job in succession.
Because of this lack of consistency, Giants fans are ready for the team to go all-out on a long-term solution. But to pull the trigger on Ebron would be too early, especially when starting-caliber tight ends will be there to be had in the second—maybe even third—round of the draft.
In turn, the Giants will be able to save their first-round pick for a more valuable, less specialized player than a detached, finesse tight end like Ebron.
So, to the pro-Ebron crowd, I want you to now shift your admiring eyes in the direction of Notre Dame's Troy Niklas.
|2014 tight end draft class head-to-head ('13 stats)|
|Eric Ebron||North Carolina||62||963||3|
|Jace Amaro||Texas Tech||106||1,352||7|
|Troy Niklas||Notre Dame||32||498||5|
Niklas. The name, I promise, will grow on you. It will grow on New York's new-look offensive coaching staff, too, as Niklas has all the qualities of a pro-ready, all-around tight end. He will bring enough flash to the passing game to catch new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's eye, while maintaining that old-school grit head coach Tom Coughlin so desires.
But why Niklas? Why not Texas Tech's Jace Amaro, Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins or Iowa's C.J. Fiedorowicz? They all seem promising and of similar caliber to Niklas, at least based on their current draft projections.
So, what makes Niklas New York's guy?
The answer is simple: completeness.
It's the same factor that made running back Rashad Jennings such an attractive free agent this offseason. A player who can do one thing exceptionally well is certainly enticing, but what the Giants are looking for—and what must be built around for a successful turnaround—are players that can do it all.
The Giants took a chance on a proven pass-catching tight end last season in Brandon Myers, who had racked up almost 80 catches for over 800 yards with the Oakland Raiders the year before, and the result was severe disappointment in his ability as a blocker.
Don't expect the Giants to make that same mistake twice.
Niklas is 6'6" and weighs in at 270 pounds, according to the measurements he posted at the NFL Scouting Combine back in late February. That is two inches taller and 20 pounds heavier than Ebron. He is marginally larger than Amaro, Seferian-Jenkins and Fiedorowicz, each of whom is a bigger tight end than Ebron.
At the combine, Amaro was the star tight end. He was a top performer in six of the seven workouts in which he competed. Ebron and Niklas (bench press; 60-yard shuttle) were both top performers in two different workouts, while Fiedorowicz finished among the best tight ends in three different categories. Seferian-Jenkins only took part in the bench press and was not a top performer.
|2014 tight end draft class at the combine|
|PLYR||HT/WT||40 DASH||BENCH||VERT||BROAD||20 SHUT||60 SHUT|
It should be noted that Niklas did not compete in the 40-yard dash, the most analyzed workout among skill position players.
Niklas has ideal size, and his 27 reps on the bench press illustrate the necessary strength to go along with it. That could translate into excellent blocking ability at the next level, as well as a big, strong target for Manning in the passing game. On top of that, his 12.19-second 60-yard shuttle time, which was better than even the athletic Amaro's time, could be an indicator of Niklas' ability as a route-runner.
Measurements may not tell the whole story, but film does not lie.
Ebron's 2013 tape is easily the most impressive from a pass-catching perspective, but Amaro's is not far behind. It is not surprising that Amaro posted such astounding figures at the combine when you consider his role and production at Texas Tech. Like Ebron, Amaro is more like an overgrown receiver, most effective working out of the slot, where blocking is not even listed in the job description.
In his assessments of Fiedorowicz and Seferian-Jenkins, Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com raised some significant red flags. Fiedorowicz, Nawrocki wrote, "Could stand to adopt a more blue-collar work ethic when people aren't watching," going on to claim that the Iowa tight end relied too heavily on his size. About Seferian-Jenkins, who, at Washington, dealt with suspensions and run-ins with the law, Nawrocki simply wrote, "Character and stability need to be looked into."
Seferian-Jenkins has borderline first-round ability, but his draft stock could plummet after interviewing poorly, according to league rumors brought to light by WalterFootball.com.
Niklas was not the most productive receiver of the aforementioned tight ends, but what he put on film in 2013 shows that he's capable of becoming the all-around player New York needs as its starter.
We already know he's a massive target, which will potentially come in handy over the middle and in the red zone—but only if he can create separation and catch the ball. Although a mere 32 catches last season make for a small sample size, Niklas displayed enough burst and the soft hands to make his NFL potential a reality.
What's more impressive is his willingness as a blocker, something that's becoming harder and harder to find in today's premier tight end prospects. In his analysis of Niklas, Rob Rang of CBS Sports wrote, "Seems to enjoy blocking, rocking opponents with an impressive initial punch and latching on to control throughout the play," mentioning that he was sometimes even used as an additional offensive tackle in pass-protection.
In his "Bottom Line" on Niklas, Nawrocki advertises him as the complete tight end, which is precisely what the Giants should be looking for in this draft.
He boasts an intriguing combination of size, athleticism, receiving ability and blocking ability to develop into a bona fide, balanced, No. 1 tight end. Has played tight end for just two years and is clearly ascending.
As Nawrocki mentions, Niklas, who began his career with the Irish as a defensive end/outside linebacker, is still new to the position. Due to this considerable lack of experience, Niklas' true ceiling is completely unknown. After all, he even shares a bloodline with the now-infamous Matthews family (nephew of Hall of Famer Bruce).
Niklas will definitely be available when the Giants pick in the second round, but, depending on developments surrounding Seferian-Jenkins, he could be gone by the third round. Ebron may not be worth the 12th overall pick, but the value aligns much more appropriately with the selection of Niklas in the second round.
The Giants, in dire need of a starting tight end, simply cannot afford to pass on him.
In New York, Niklas will follow in the footsteps of Cincinnati's Tyler Eifert, Minnesota's Kyle Rudolph and Kansas City's Anthony Fasano as the next Notre Dame tight end to become a solid starter at the NFL level.
*All NFL Scouting Combine information courtesy of NFL.com, unless specifically noted otherwise.