With the NFL draft taking place in April, teams have shifted their focus to those players leaving college having declared for the draft.
Over the next few weeks, I will be publishing a series of these articles looking at the potential prospects available for the Miami Dolphins to select. The focus will be on positions of need for the Dolphins and will not look at those areas where there is already good depth.
The aim of this article is to look at the strengths and weaknesses of players declaring for the draft, and analyse whether they are a potential fit for the Dolphins.
The following players are tight ends available for selection in the draft.
Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame (first-second round) - 6’6’’ (height), 265lbs (weight); 4.64 (40-yard dash)
The top ranked tight end in the draft, Rudolph would be a stretch to take in the first round but deserves consideration in the second. He stretches the field vertically, although he was used by the Fighting Irish to move the chains on short passes due to his reliable hands, although he does make the occasional silly drop.
Although he isn’t very elusive, he can make the first man miss, and fights for yards after the catch. He does struggle to break tackles though despite his size, and playing against the hard-hitting linebackers in the NFL is a complete unknown; he often drops balls under pressure.
His blocking is good, although he is less effective in the open field. Again, he should win more battles due to his size, and that is a concern as he hopes to play in the NFL with even bigger opponents. However, he has a good work ethic and is intelligent which will help him succeed at the next level. Injuries are a concern though, as he had surgery on a separated shoulder, and later, on his hamstring too, where the muscle detaches from the bone.
Miami may like his ability to stretch the field, which would complement Fasano, but they cannot justify taking a tight end this early. In addition, Rudolph might not have the speed Miami are looking for, and some critics would argue that due to the poor depth in the tight end draft class this year, being the top ranked tight end doesn’t mean he will be an elite tight end despite the big investment of a first or second-round pick. Expect the Dolphins to overlook Rudolph in favour of a late-round draft pick.
Luke Stoker, Tennessee (second-third round) - 6’5’’, 255lbs; 4.78
Reliable hands, but only average speed, could mean the Dolphins overlook Tennessee’s Stoker. He played in a pro-style offense at college, and this will help his stock, but Miami will almost certainly look for a quicker tight end in the draft. Although Stoker is a good athlete, he lacks straight line speed, and this means he struggles to beat defenders down the seam on a regular basis. However, he is a long-strider and can make gains if in the open field, although he is not elusive after the catch.
His hands are his greatest quality, and his long arms allow him to make catches a long way from his body. He is athletic enough to adjust to poorly thrown passes, and offers a big target over the middle, although he can be lazy in his route running and is not very explosive out of cuts either. He can hurdle defenders and also is willing to take a hit. Stoker likes to lower his pads to try and break tackles too, making him difficult to bring down, as he fights for extra yards.
The main concern with his game is blocking, and he is still a work in progress here. He lacks the strength to sustain blocks, and although he meets the defender, he also struggles to hold the edge, meaning his main threat will be as a receiver. However, his lack of speed means he is not a threat to open up the field, and as a result, it is highly likely that Miami opt for a more explosive tight end.
DJ Williams, Arkansas (second-third round) - 6’2’’, 236lbs; 4.59
His good speed and reliable hands make him a solid prospect, although his lack of height is an issue, and he is not the strongest tight end in the draft. Williams isn’t worried about taking a hit either and protects the ball when in traffic. His straight line speed is impressive, and he runs good routes, but he isn’t that elusive.
However, he can escape linebackers, fights for extra yards and is agile enough to make defenders miss, although often goes down under minimal contact due to his poor balance. One concern is his blocking ability, where, although tenacious, he is not strong enough to block on the line. However, he forces defenders to work hard, and he knows his assignments downfield.
A team leader, he was described as a “great guy” by his coach and has been excellent off the field, receiving the 2010 Disney Spirit Award for his work to raise domestic abuse awareness and his standing as a star student athlete. He had a tough childhood and suffered abuse at the hands of his father, who is currently serving a 27-year jail sentence for crimes including attempted murder; his glowing personal references are a testament to his hard work and dedication.
Williams is an inspirational athlete, and his personality will certainly appeal to all the NFL teams; not least the Dolphins, who love to select team leaders. However, Williams is not the Dolphins’ ideal size at the position, so it would surprise some if they selected him. They might look for someone with a bit more height to fit their physical requirements, but they have scheduled a private workout with Williams already, which suggests they could be willing to overlook his size limitations in favour of his speed and talent. Would they be willing to part with a second-round pick for a tight end though, as Williams is climbing up draft boards fast? There is certainly no guarantee he will still be around in the third.
Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin (third round) - 6’3’’, 240lbs; 4.69
Kendricks is a well-rounded talent that is solid in all aspects of his game. He is a good athlete, and quicker on the field than his 40-yard dash might suggest. His versatility means he can be moved around in the offense, and his good route running allows him to line up in several formations. He gets a quick release off the line and tracks the ball well, while his athleticism allows him to adjust to poorly thrown passes.
Kendricks has good hands and is also a tough runner after the catch. He does prevent a vertical threat, and can get behind the defense, although he is not really a speedy tight end in comparison with other players in this draft class. In the run game, he is a decent blocker too, and seals the edge nicely. He plays with good technique and has a good motor, although he will be overpowered by big defenders and could do with getting stronger.
The main criticism of Kendricks is that he is solid in all aspects of his game but doesn’t have one talent that stands out. The lack of an exceptional ability in his game could hurt his stock on draft day, but he would be a good all-round talent for a team to select. He probably lacks the size the Dolphins like at the position, and because he doesn’t have the speed that Miami desire, he most likely will not be the selection come draft day.
Rob Housler, Florida Atlantic(third-fourth round) - 6’6’’, 249lbs; 4.56
A reliable receiver who will stretch defenses with his height and length, Housler is already on Miami’s radar having run an excellent 40-yard dash at the draft. His huge size will certainly appeal to the Dolphins too, and he would be ideal as a seam threat in the NFL. His footwork and route-running is good, and he reads zone coverage well, while his size offers a big target for quarterbacks. The Dolphins watched him at his pro day, and are definitely interested in his talents.
Housler has reliable hands and is capable of challenging for high balls due to his long arms. He is also good after the catch and is elusive enough to cause problems for a defense. However, he can struggle against more physical defenders when blocking, as he doesn’t have the bulk or strength to be a consistent blocker. Despite this, he gives good effort and has good technique, but he also struggles against a physical jam at the line. If he does escape a jam, he gets a quick release from the line.
Although he played against poor opposition in college, and was in a scheme that suited tight ends, he has great maturity and sat out the entire 2009 season at the team’s request due to a jam at tight end. He served as the scout team spread quarterback on the practice squad during this season and was dedicated in the weight room, which earned him a starting spot in 2010. This is the sort of attitude that will appeal to Miami’s front office, and although he lacks the bulk to compete as an every-down tight end, he would not be expected to do this in Miami and would be used largely as a threat on passing plays while Anthony Fasano takes the bulk of snaps.
Miami has a lot of interest in Housler, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him remain in Florida next year with the Dolphins. His size and speed is very intriguing, and his soft hands are a big bonus too. Playing opposite Fasano could be a perfect fit for Housler, and the Dolphins will seriously consider him when the draft comes around. He would be a solid third-round pick but could be a steal in the fourth.
Mike McNeil, Nebraska (fourth round) - 6’4’’, 232lbs; 4.70
The experienced McNeil is a three-season starter, who was a key threat for Nebraska in every season he played. He had an excellent junior year, where he was tied leading the team in touchdown catches, and was second on the team in receptions, but he does lack elite speed and elusiveness and may be a little too small for the Dolphins’ front office liking. McNeil is a reliable receiver with good hands, and he adjusts well to balls that may not be right on target.
He is a threat down the seam against linebackers, but he lacks the speed to separate from defenders. He is a good route runner and was good moving the chains for Nebraska, as he fights for extra yardage too. However, his size means he will not stand up as a blocker against professional defensive ends, and he is not a consistent blocker in the second level despite giving good effort. His slight frame is an issue, and he has struggled to maintain weight in the past, and he has also suffered a number of injuries early in his career, including hamstring pulls and a broken hand.
McNeil may not have the speed or size that Miami want in a tight end, but his excellent work ethic and good footballing knowledge will appeal to most teams. As a result, he can be moved around the field on plays, but on the whole, he lacks the speed required that the Dolphins need, and as a result, it would be a surprise if he was on Miami’s radar at the draft.
Julius Thomas, Portland State (fifth round) – 6’5’’, 246lbs; 4.64
A former college basketball player, Thomas has a huge frame, with big hands and impressive athleticism. He has been compared to Saints’ tight end Jimmy Graham, who shone in his rookie year. His route running is still raw, and he will be a development project, but if he can improve certain aspects of his game he has excellent potential, despite only playing one year of college football since his first year at high school.
He was impressive at the Shrine game practices, and Miami certainly took an interest in him following this showing. His good hands and great size is what Miami needs, but he may not have the speed to stretch the field, and this could be one reason Miami looks elsewhere. However, he has good athleticism and was very smooth on the field, both aspects of Graham’s game that translated well into the NFL.
Thomas is worth consideration in the later rounds of the draft, and he is definitely on Miami’s radar. Bill Belichick also reportedly showed a lot of interest in Thomas, and considering his excellent moves at tight end last year (bringing in Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski), that could be an indication of this man’s talent. Thomas may well a target for the Dolphins on draft day, so expect them to do a lot of work to evaluate his talent before the final weekend in April.
Jordan Cameron, Southern California (fifth round) - 6’5’’, 245lbs; 4.76
This Trojans’ tight end has a great frame and has played both tight end and wide receiver while at USC. Cameron, despite his size, is quick and agile and is a reliable target for quarterbacks, despite failing to catch a single pass until his senior year. As a former basketball player at college, Cameron has a good leap and has good timing when catching the ball. He has long arms, and soft hands, although his route running is inconsistent and still needs work.
Cameron might possess enough speed to be a threat deep too, as he can stretch the field with his straight-line speed. This will interest Miami, and his acceleration helps him create separation and escape defenders in the open field to make yards after the catch. He doesn’t mind contact either, and is an aggressive player, although he will need to bulk up to get a good release against NFL-sized defenders.
He will need more bulk to become an effective run blocker also, as he struggles to seal the edge, but he can probably add a good 15-20 pounds without sacrificing his speed or agility, and that will please teams. He has plenty of potential as a tight end, having only moved to the position before the 2010 season, but it is difficult to work out how well he will develop in the position as a result of this.
The Dolphins have showed initial interest in the Trojan, and his size and speed would suit Miami. His ability to stretch the field will be an important factor for Miami, and if he can bulk up a bit before the draft, he will probably draw even more interest from NFL teams. Cameron will likely be on the clock in the mid-late rounds, but he is beginning to rise up draft boards after an impressive combine showing, and scouts will think of basketball-convert Jimmy Graham’s great rookie year when they consider Cameron.
Virgil Green, Nevada (fifth round) - 6’4’’, 248lbs; 4.60
A three-year starter for the Wolf Pack, Virgin Green has the size and speed that Miami need in a tight end who can stretch the field. He has excellent hands, and is fast and elusive, meaning some teams may consider him more of a wide receiver than tight end, but Miami are paying a lot of attention to Green as a tight end and are very interested in his ability.
Green’s concerns come when blocking, where he is inconsistent and not overly aggressive. This means he often fails to finish blocks, engaging a defender just once, which allows the opponent to have a second shot at the ball carrier. Many see him as a wide receiver in the NFL due to his poor blocking, but as a receiving tight end, he could be a threat.
His speed is exactly what Miami need, and their scouts seem to have already identified this. His route running is clean, and he breaks tackles to get yards after the catch. His experience is useful too, and he shows productivity whenever he is called upon.
The Dolphins will certainly consider Green in the mid-late rounds of the draft. They would not need him as a wide receiver, so would need to be certain he has what it takes to play tight end if they were interested in selecting him. Currently, they seem willing to overlook his blocking limitations to select him as the deep-threat tight end they are looking for. Expect him to be on Miami’s radar on draft day.
Schuylar Oordt, Northern Iowa (sixth-seventh round) - 6’6’’, 258lbs; 4.59
Oordt is a lanky receiver but has great speed for a tight end and has the height and soft hands to make him a reliable receiver in the NFL. His build means he does lack strength, but his hands are good enough to help him snap balls in the air, and his height and straight-line speed means he can stretch the field, and that is what Miami are looking for.
As a deep threat, Oordt tracks balls over either shoulder well and is capable of outrunning most linebackers or going over the top of most safeties. He reads coverage well and can get separation from defenders or find holes in zone coverage and his route running is good, and as a result, his best position may be in the slot.
His blocking is a major concern though, as he is not a strong player, and as a result, is not a great help in pass protection or the running game. He gives good effort but does not respond quick enough to get his hands on defenders and blocks with a very narrow base which allows him to be man-handled easily. He also fails to move players when blocking, which means he is ineffective in the run-game, and this means he did not start as many games as he should have in college.
Despite his blocking issues, Oordt would be a good late-round selection for the Dolphins, and with the speed and size he possesses, he will likely be on Miami’s radar. His good character will help his cause too, as he did a lot a community work while at Northern Iowa, including giving proceeds from t-shirt sales to a young boy who needed a service dog. Oordt would be a nice final-day pick if Miami are still looking for a tight end late in the draft, and he definitely has a role to play in an NFL team with his speed and height.
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