As we continue to take an early look at the top positional prospects eligible for the 2015 NFL draft, this week’s position group is the tight ends.
Although we have a lot of football ahead of us, this class looks a little weaker compared to the positional classes of recent years.
Players will be sorted into three tiers. Tier 1 will be the prospects who have the ability to step into a team and contribute right away. Michigan’s Devin Funchess and Notre Dame’s Ben Koyack are the only two Tier 1 prospects, and they have full write-ups describing their skill sets (they have polar-opposite skill sets, by the way).
Tier 2 consists of players who have the tools (whether athletically, physically or productively) to contribute at the next level if they exhibit improvement in certain aspects of their games.
Tier 3 consists of other players to watch who haven’t impressed during their time with their respective programs due to playing time, development, schematic fit, etc.
With all of that said, let’s get to it.
Ben Koyack, Senior, Notre Dame
Koyack has been overshadowed by other highly coveted tight ends while in South Bend (Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Eifert and Troy Niklas), but he will finally have a chance to shine as the new No. 1 tight end for the Irish next fall.
When it comes to blocking tight ends, you’re not going to find a more polished prospect than Koyack.
He not only excels at guarding defenders one-on-one, but he also does a good job at chip blocking, sealing the edge and working double-teams to the second level.
Take a look below at Koyack sealing the edge on a rush through the C-gap.
Here is a prime example of him executing a double-team up to the linebacker against Arizona State.
Lined up on the play side (right side), Koyack is set to throw a double-team with the right tackle and work his way up to the strong-side linebacker on a sweep play.
At the snap, he executes the double-team perfectly before working his way up to Arizona State’s Salamo Fiso.
Koyack gets his hands on Fiso and completely drives him away from the play, even opening a hole for a split second before a Sun Devils defensive back gets the stop.
In addition, Koyack has solid hands that he has only gotten to show off 14 times in his first three seasons (three touchdowns, including an impressive one against Arizona State).
After the catch, he has good speed and is extremely physical, always looking to take on defenders in the open field.
Koyack not only has limited experience, but when he plays, he rarely lines up out wide or in the slot (usually in-line, like a traditional tight end).
He might receive more looks out wide, though, now that he is the top tight end on the Notre Dame roster.
In addition, he has an inconsistent burst off the line of scrimmage.
At times, he is the first player to make initial contact with defenders. Other times, though, he is the last off the line. This is a coachable issue that will continue to improve with his increase in reps.
Koyack is far and away the best blocking tight end this class has to offer.
He hasn’t been a consistent threat in the passing game during his first three seasons (due to the presence of more talented tight ends), but he has shown the ability to make tough catches and fight for yards after receptions.
With a strong senior season, Koyack could be the fourth consecutive Notre Dame tight end to be drafted within the first two days of the NFL draft.
Devin Funchess, Junior, Michigan
Funchess, who was listed as a tight end during his first two seasons in Ann Arbor, recently switched to wide receiver during the offseason. Despite this, his size and skill set still project him as a “joker” tight end at the next level.
When it comes to ball skills, there is not a tight end in the 2015 class who has the catch radius and ability to track the ball in the air like Michigan’s Devin Funchess.
Funchess is also an exceptional athlete for someone his size (6’5”, 230 lbs), possessing solid speed and the leaping ability to go up and catch the ball at its highest point.
Funchess’ strongest skill, though, is his smooth route running and the variety of routes that he runs.
Michigan calls for him to run a lot of vertical routes, especially down the middle of the field, and he also runs intermediate comebacks, short crossing routes and fade patterns in red-zone situations.
Despite his skills in the passing game, he really struggles while playing in-line and performing traditional in-line tight end duties.
The biggest flaw in Funchess’ game is his blocking ability (which isn’t going to improve if he lines up out wide every down and not in-line, if I might add).
Take a look at this play against Indiana.
While lined up in the right slot position, Funchess has Hoosiers linebacker Flo Hardin lined up on him, shading his inside shoulder.
At the snap, knowing that it is a run play, instead of taking off in an attempt to blow open a cutback lane for his running back, Funchess does the opposite.
He is slow to get there (he has more speed than he shows on this play), not even making an attempt to throw a block on Hardin, who made the tackle. (Funchess literally throws his hands in the air at one point. I was just mind blown the first time I watched this.)
In addition, Funchess has an inconsistent burst off the line of scrimmage. When he is lined up in the slot, Funchess gets off the ball and upfield quickly.
While in-line, he tends to get a late burst off the line, often coming in contact with incoming defenders, impeding his process upfield.
Funchess is the top receiving tight end in this class (right now) because of his combination of athleticism and overall ball skills.
Although he is listed at receiver, his lack of elite speed will likely lead to another position switch when he gets to the NFL, whenever that may be.
He has the prototypical skill set that NFL teams look for in joker tight ends.
*A joker tight end is a tight end who lines up both in-line and in the slot. They are known for their skills in the receiving game (think Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis and Jordan Cameron, for example).
Tyler Kroft, RS Junior, Rutgers
Kroft is a highly productive prospect that is utilized as a joker tight end a majority of the time for the Scarlet Knights.
He has good size (6’6”, 240 lbs) and always makes an effort to go up and get the ball when necessary.
Kroft falls just short of Tier 1 (for now) because of his inconsistency while run blocking and because he appears to lack top-end speed (long strider).
He does have a strong punch, so if he improves his blocking technique, Kroft will elevate himself into one of the top tight ends in the 2015 class.
Jeff Heuerman, Senior, Ohio State
Similar to Kroft, Heuerman is a big tight end (6’5”, 255 lbs) who can line up both in-line and in the slot.
While there are a lot of things to like about Heuerman (size, smooth route running, deceptive athleticism), he has his share of detractors as well (struggles to fight through press coverage, below-average blocker).
Heuerman will need to improve as a blocker in order to receive an early look in next year’s NFL draft. If he continues to struggle, he has the potential to be a solid red-zone target because of his size and leaping ability.
Jay Rome, RS Junior, Georgia
Rome has solid athleticism, but he has been extremely unproductive up to this point in his career (nine receptions for 99 yards last year, 20 career receptions, 251 yards and two touchdowns through three season). He could really use a big season to boost his draft stock.
Randall Telfer, RS Senior, USC
Telfer has good size at 6’4”, 250 pounds, but he had just six receptions last year. He is a decent blocker who needs to have a productive 2014 season.
Nick O’Leary, Senior, Florida State
O’Leary has been productive at Florida State and had a few huge games last year. The 6’3”, 244-pounder lacks the physical tools (size, speed) most need to succeed at the next level, and he has a number of injury concerns. He would really benefit from a position change to H-back in the NFL.
Gerald Christian, RS Senior, Louisville
Christian is a good athlete who is a bit undersized. He’s one of the more productive second-tier players and could elevate his stock if he continues to contribute with the departure of Teddy Bridgewater.
Pharaoh Brown, Junior, Oregon
Rory Anderson, Senior, South Carolina
C.J. Uzomah, Senior, Auburn
Cameron Clear, RS Senior, Texas A&M
Clive Walford, RS Senior, Miami (Florida)
Braxton Deaver, RS Senior, Duke