Lane Johnson OT Oklahoma #69
Size/Athleticism: An elite athlete for an offensive lineman. Played quarterback in high school and at junior college before switching to tight end and then to defensive end. Finally switched to tackle in 2011. Prototypical skill set for a left tackle. Has the frame to add some weight without losing much of his agility.
Pass Protection: Elite foot quickness. Impressively quick and fluid in his kick-slide and can stay with just about any speed rusher. Can mirror blitzing linebackers and defensive backs as well as anyone in the game and essentially shuts down the speed rush from his side of the line. More powerful lineman can sometimes bull rush their way past him, but he does not get beat off the snap. Shows surprisingly strong fundamentals in pass protection. Does a nice job staying low, which is often tough for taller linemen to master when switching to the position.
Run Blocking: Has the speed to easily get to the second level and is an asset when asked to pull. More physical than you’d expect for a prospect with limited experience at the position. He doesn’t have overpowering strength, but he plays nasty. Still learning the fundamentals of run blocking. Doesn’t always take great angles but did show improvement in his consistency over the course of his senior year.
Intangibles: Only two years of experience as an offensive lineman and only 11 career starts at left tackle.
Durability: No known issues.
Comments: Johnson has the potential to develop into an elite left tackle, but should be viewed as a first-round prospect and an immediate starter despite his lack of experience. He’s picked up the position impressively fast and is ready to play immediately. There will definitely be some growing pains given his lack of experience, and veteran pass rushers will take advantage of him at times, but his elite athleticism gives him the ability to recover from mistakes he’ll make as he learns the nuances of the position.
D.J. Fluker OT Alabama #76
Size/Athleticism: Prototypical height. Impressive overall size. Extremely physical lineman who can toss aside smaller defenders when he gets his hands into them. As a right tackle, his athleticism is below average. But if he shifts inside to guard he has more than enough athleticism and quickness to excel in any blocking scheme. Stamina may be an issue. Looked tired at the end of drives and late in some games. Tended to play more upright and was slower off the snap when he started to get tired.
Pass Protection: Elite strength allows him to anchor against the bull rush. Few defensive linemen were able to push their way past him. He’s a little slow footed and sometimes delayed off the snaps which gives edge rushers a chance to get a step on him on the outside. He lacks the quickness to recover when he’s slow out of his stance. Can only sustain his blocks for so long. When the play extends he tends to lose the battle because he just lacks the quickness and footwork to continue to slide outside with defensive linemen. Long arms help him get his hands on the defender and gives him added leverage.
Run Blocking: A true mauler who can dominate throughout the game. Once he gets his hands on a defender, it’s over. He can usually drive his man any direction he wants and can often finish them off into the ground. Didn’t do a lot of pulling at Alabama, but appears to have the quickness in short bursts to handle those assignments if he were shifted inside to guard.
Intangibles: Three-year starter at right tackle. Needs to keep his weight under control. Reportedly weight over 400 pounds in 8th grade. He slimmed down for the combine and appeared in decent shape, but teams will always need to worry about his conditioning, especially in the offseason.
Durability: Sat out Senior Bowl with calf and groin injuries. Missed three games with a groin injury in 2010.
Comments: Fluker is perfect at either guard or tackle for a team featuring the power running game. But in today’s NFL more teams may view him as a guard. Against elite edge-rushers Fluker is going to struggle at right tackle. The combination of his tendency to be slow off the snap and his limited athleticism will cause him to struggle to contain pass-rushers in the NFL. Moving to guard would highlight his strengths (ability to handle the bull rush, and power run blocking) while covering up his lack of athleticism.
Luke Joeckel OT Texas A&M #76
Size/Athleticism: Prototypical height and adequate overall build. Strength is adequate, but not dominant. Decent quickness. He’ll struggle against some elite edge rushers, but he generally holds his own and is quick enough to get to the second level. The quickness is there in terms of short bursts, but its the lateral movement and footwork that’s not quite on an elite level.
Pass Protection: Lacks the lower body strength to anchor against the bull rush consistently (most notably got pushed around by Sharrif Floyd vs Florida). Fairly quick to get into position off the snap, but does get beat by an occasional speed rusher. He lacks the athleticism and foot quickness to put him in an elite category as a prospect. Plays a little too upright at times, which causes him to lose leverage against bull rushers and also hinders his ability to slow down speed rushers who dip their shoulder to slip past him. Impressive upper body strength; has the ability to toss small edge rushers or blitzing linebackers. However, he doesn’t often finish guys off. He essentially bench presses the pass-rusher out of the way, but if the play gets extended, guys are often able to recover and slip past Joeckel.
Run Blocking: Quick enough to be an asset pulling and can also get to the second level with ease. Occasionally shifted to the right side next to right tackle Jake Matthews when A&M ran the option in that direction; if a man wasn’t lined up over him, his assignment was to immediately get to the second level and he did a nice job leading the way for Manziel. Quick off the snap and consistently delivers a strong initial pop to the defensive lineman.
Intangibles: Three-year starter at left tackle.
Durability: No significant issues.
Comments: Joeckel is the top tackle in this year’s class, but he’s not a finished product. While he’s technically sound, for the most part, he still makes too many mistakes and lacks the dominant strength to be considered an elite prospect. He is definitely a notch below last year’s top tackle, Matt Kalil. Joeckel does have the potential to develop into an elite lineman at the next level, however. He’s rarely caught out of position and makes very few mental mistakes on the field. If he can improve his strength and iron out some issues with his technique, he can become one of the better left tackles in the league.
Dion Sims TE Michigan State #80
Size/Athleticism: Impressive all around size. Not an elite athlete compared to many of today’s tight ends, but for he has decent athleticism for his size. He’s surprisingly quick off the snap and can get over the top of the defense if they’re not paying attention.
Separation Skills: Definitely not a deep threat, but he is sneaky fast. He’s explodes off the snap and he will catch defenders napping occasionally and slip free on a go route. Not very crisp as a route runner. Struggles to separate from most athletic linebackers and safeties in man coverage. Overwhelming majority of his big plays at MSU came when he slipped into the soft spot in zone coverage – made a living finding that spot between linebackers and the deep safety.
Ball Skills: Fairly consistent hands. He’ll go up and pluck the ball at it’s high point and quickly secure it. Athletic enough to adjust to some poorly thrown balls and shows the quick reflexes to adjust to fastballs at short distances.
Blocking: A tough in-line blocker. Consistently finishes off his block. Needs to show more awareness and know whats happening around him. He can get to the second level easily, but he missed a lot of opportunities to pick up key blocks by losing focus. Overextends at times and ends up on the ground when more athletic linebackers avoid his initial pop.
Intangibles: Arrested and suspended in 2010 for his role in stealing over 100 laptops from Detroit Public School system.
Durability: Suffered a broken hand in 2011 but played through it. Missed time with an ankle injury in 2012.
Comments: Sims has an intriguing blend of size and athleticism. He isn’t the type of receiver who will consistently stretch the field or even establish himself as a consistent option in the passing game, but he does have the skills to potentially be a starter and a three-down tight end. If he can commit to developing as a blocker and really excel in that area, he’ll compare favorably to Martellus Bennett. His injuries and off-field issues could potentially concern some teams.
Vance McDonald TE Rice #88
Size/Athleticism: Lacks elite height but has the long arms and big hands to make up for it. Very well built. Among the strongest tight ends in this year’s class. Surprisingly dangerous after the catch. Rice frequently lined him up in the slot and used him on screens and quick passes in the flat.
Separation Skills: Lots of experience lining up in the slot helped develop his route running, but due to offensive system and quarterback play he wasn’t targeted downfield frequently.
Ball Skills: Shaky hands. He double catches the ball too often. On deeper routes, needs to do a better job high-pointing the ball. Lets the ball come to him and doesn’t always do a great job adjusting to the ball in the air.
Blocking: Limited experience as an in-line blocker, as he was frequently lined up in the slot at Rice. But he definitely has the strength and shows the effort to excel as a blocker against the run and in pass protection. He’s a physical blocker and really tries to finish guys off. Showed off his blocking skills at the Senior Bowl, and may have answered any questions that stemmed from his limited experience.
Intangibles: No positives or negatives of note.
Durability: Missed three games with toe injury in 2012.
Comments: McDonald has an intriguing skill set, but the way he was used at Rice raises some question as to how he’ll transition to the next level. He was basically a slot receiver at Rice, but built like an in-line tight end. But despite playing receiver, he was rarely targeted downfield. He lacks the athleticism to play the same role in the NFL, so he’ll need to improve upon his NFL tight end routes and also his in-line blocking skills. He also has very shaky hands, which further raises questions about his ability to contribute immediately. Overall, it’s easy to envision him developing into a quality starter, but he should be viewed as a developmental prospect.
Travis Kelce TE Cincinnati #18
Size/Athleticism: Prototypical build for a traditional tight end. He’s a tough, physical player and sort of a throwback tight end prospect. Not a great athlete, but he can contribute as a receiver. Lined up in the slot occasionally, but typically used as an h-back or traditional in-line tight end in Cincinnati’s offense.
Separation Skills: The vast majority of his receptions came on short and intermediate passes, he’s not a threat to stretch the field. Needs to give more effort coming back to the quarterback when a play breaks down. Noticed multiple times on film where he’ll basically give up on a play when his initial route doesn’t lead to anything, but the play is still continuing.
Ball Skills: He’ll drop a few passes, but he’s generally reliable. Not put in a lot of situations where he had to compete for the ball. Not one of the new-age tight ends who can be lined up wide as a red zone target, although he does use his size well and can shield defenders to make catches in traffic.
Blocking: Among a small handful of tight ends in this class that excel in this area. Lacks the size to really dominate, but he clearly takes pride in his blocking ability and he’s a nasty, physical player when he needs to be. He’s not one of these pass-catching tight ends that just tries to hold his own, he does his best to finish guys off.
Intangibles: A team leader. Intense player on the field.
Durability: Suffered an abdominal tear during 2013 offseason, forcing him to skip Senior Bowl and NFL Combine workouts.
Comments: Kelce is one of the most well-rounded tight end prospects in this year’s class and one of the few true three-down tight ends. He was on the field for just over 80 percent of Cincinnati’s snaps in 2012, demonstrating just how much the coaching staff trusted him in every aspect of the game. He won’t post the fantasy numbers to become a household name in the NFL, but he could be a Joel Dreessen-type player who is an asset as a blocker and a reliable target in the short passing game.
Gavin Escobar TE San Diego State #88
Size/Athleticism: Impressive height. Has a decent overall build and clearly has the strength to be an asset as a blocker. Not much of speed threat, but has the athleticism to adjust to the poorly thrown ball and shows nice body control on the sideline. Somewhat of a threat after the catch. SDSU used him on screens and quick passes in the flat occasionally to give him space to run.
Separation Skills: Straight-line speed is very average. He won’t run away from anyone, but he’s fast enough that you have to respect his ability to run the deeper routes. He’s shown the ability run crisp routes and does a nice job finding the weak spot in zone coverage.
Ball Skills: Reliable hands. Does a really nice job adjusting to poorly thrown balls. He’s shown the quick reaction skills to handle the quick release from a quarterback under pressure when he’s the check down option. Lacks the elite athleticism to be a real weapon in jump ball situations, but he does know how to use his size to shield defenders which makes him adequate in this area.
Blocking: Gives a strong effort, but like most college tight ends he struggles to sustain his blocks. Could benefit by adding a few pounds of muscle, so long as it doesn’t significantly cut down on his agility.
Intangibles: Nothing positive or negative of note.
Durability: Suffered a broken hand in 2011.
Comments: Escobar isn’t anything special as a prospect, but he’s fairly well rounded and can definitely contribute at the next level. His straight-line speed is very average, but he’s quick and agile for a guy his size, which he demonstrated at the combine with strong showings in the three-cone and short-shuttle drills. He’s not the next great pass-catching tight end, but if he improves his blocking, he could be a rare three-down tight end in this era.
Jordan Reed TE Florida #11
Size/Athleticism: Shorter than the average tight end. Won’t be great in red zone situations. Dangerous runner after the catch. He can break tackles but also has the athleticism and speed to make guys miss. Could be a dangerous weapon when used as an oversized receiver in the slot due to matchup issues.
Separation Skills: Route running is mediocre. He needs to be much quicker in his breaks to separate from more athletic linebackers. He also needs to show more awareness on the field, especially in zone coverage. He needs to recognize when he’s in the soft spot and make himself available to the quarterback. His routes are lazy when he knows he’s not the primary target.
Ball Skills: Reliable, but not elite hands. Has large hands for his size which undoubtedly helps. Not asked to compete for many jump balls in coverage, but seems to have the athleticism to excel in this area if given more opportunities.
Blocking: Blocking skills leave a lot to be desired. He’s just not big or strong enough to really be effective. Not very quick off the snap when blocking and struggles to get a consistent initial pop on the defender. He’s essentially an oversized receiver and will always struggle against defensive ends and bigger linebackers.
Intangibles: Benched during 2013 Sugar Bowl for his attitude. Showed a noticeable lack of effort at times during games and definitely isn’t the type of player you can rely on as a three-down tight end because he just doesn’t put in the effort when he’s not fully involved in the play.
Durability: Knocked out of 2012 Kentucky game with a shoulder injury but returned the following week. Missed time with a sprained ankle in 2011.
Comments: Reed is relatively new to the tight end position, after originally playing quarterback and then running back. With his size and athleticism, he’s essentially a clone of former Gator Aaron Hernandez. However, Reed lacks the maturity and fundamentals of Hernandez at this stage of his career. He definitely has the raw tools to be a weapon at the next level, but development is needed in multiple areas of his game. He would purely be a luxury pick if selected before the third day of the draft.
Zach Ertz TE Stanford #86
Size/Athleticism: Prototypical build for a traditional tight end. He has the size to contribute as a blocker. Height can make him an asset as a possession receiver. A physical runner with the ball in his hands. Not very elusive, but he’ll break some tackles and drag defenders for an extra yard or two.
Separation Skills: Adequate straight-line speed, but not enough to stretch the field. Not exceptionally quick in his breaks, and won’t shake free of the better coverage linebackers at the next level. Slow off the line of scrimmage and takes time to get up to full speed. His limited speed and athleticism makes him strictly a possession receiver. Doesn’t seem to have great field awareness; he missed some opportunities to find the soft spot in zone coverage.
Ball Skills: Fairly reliable hands, but he’ll drop some easy ones along the way. Looks stiff and doesn’t show the athleticism necessary to adjust to the poorly thrown ball. Slightly smaller hands than the average tight end and it shows in the way he struggles to quickly secure the football sometimes. He has too many double catches, which will lead to more drops at the next level when more of his receptions are contested.
Blocking: Gives a reasonable effort as a blocker, but struggles to sustain his blocks. Also whiffs far too often, especially when going for a cut block, which really shouldn’t necessary in the first place given his size.
Intangibles: Has a reputation as a team leader.
Durability: Missed time with a knee injury in 2011.
Comments: Ertz has been hyped up as a true pass-catching tight end but that evaluation is more based on his stats than his actual performance. He’s limited athletically, especially compared to the new breed of tight ends in the NFL. He has the size and strength to contribute, and could definitely start for some teams, but he isn’t a difference maker. He and Tyler Eifert have drawn comparisons, but Eifert is well ahead of Ertz in my evaluations of the two.
Tyler Eifert TE Notre Dame #80
Size/Athleticism: Built like a traditional tight end. Big enough to contribute as a blocker but also possesses just enough athleticism to be an asset as a receiver. Notre Dame utilized his versatility by lining him up all over the field (in the slot, out wide, in the backfield, as an h-back).
Separation Skills: Lacks the speed to stretch the field, but runs crisp routes and knows how to use his size to his advantage. Does a great job using his body to shield the defender when in tight coverage. Can be a real asset in the red zone. His size and leaping ability makes him a dangerous weapon in jump ball situations and he’ll win against most defensive backs. Lacks the athleticism to lose defenders with quick breaks, but is very consistent in his routes and gives quarterbacks a nice target.
Ball Skills: Very reliable hands. Does a great job high-pointing the ball on deep routes. Consistently catches with his hands and quickly secures the ball. Has enough athleticism to adjust to the poorly thrown ball and will make some difficult catches. Impressive body control along the sideline.
Blocking: Strong enough to get the job done, but definitely not a dominant blocker. Does a nice job against defensive linemen; uses leverage well to hold his ground against stronger defensive ends. Struggles at times with more athletic linebackers, especially when they aren’t lined up over top of him and come at him from angles. He needs to work on his footwork as a blocker to get into better position more quickly in these situations. When lined up wide, he needs to do a better job locking up defensive backs. He can overpower them, but lets them off too easy and the more aggressive defensive backs will shake free and occasionally slip past and make a play. Appears hesitant at times. Needs to explode off the line as a run blocker and engage his assignment.
Intangibles: Team captain as a senior.
Durability: Missed majority of 2009 season with a back injury, but has been healthy since.
Comments: Eifert lacks the elite athleticism of many of the tight ends we’re seeing enter the league these days, so he’s more of a throwback. But unlikely many of today’s pass-catching tight ends, he isn’t useless as a blocker. His blocking definitely needs to improve, but he has shown a willingness to develop in this area and could be groomed into a true three-down tight end. The best comparison in today’s game is probably Jason Witten. Like Witten, he’s mostly a possession receiver, but just athleticism enough to pose some matchup problems.