2014 NFL Draft Positional Preview (Tight Ends)

By Nick Paulenich

Special to Pro Football Guru

Courtesy of NFL draft writer Nick Paulenich, here is the 11th in our series of positional previews for the 2014 NFL Draft. Nick’s rankings will include the Top 5 players at each position. So far, Nick has previewed the top defensive tackles, defensive ends, the inside linebackers and outside linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks available in this year’s upcoming draft. He has also taken a look at the top kicking and punting prospects. On offense, there’s a look at the top centers, guards and tackles.

Part 11: Tight Ends

Overview: The tight ends are led by North Carolina’s Eric Ebron, a physical freak that should come off the board in the first fifteen picks. For team’s looking for a hybrid tight end/wide receiver, Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro will be their man. Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins may be the draft’s most intriguing tight end prospect. Seferian-Jenkins has the best all-around skill set of this year’s tight end class. The key will be more on field consistency and avoiding off field issues. The breakdown:

1. Eric Ebron, 6-4 3/8, 250 lbs., North Carolina

Ebron was a First-team All-ACC selection and John Mackey Award finalist (nation’s best tight end) in 2013. Last season, Ebron set the ACC’s single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end with 895, besting the previous record of 871 set by Maryland’s Vernon Davis in 2005. Ebron holds numerous school records for tight ends including: single-season receptions (55), single-season receiving yards (895), career receptions (105) and career receiving yards (1,727).

Strengths:  Has too much athleticism for linebackers and strength for defensive backs. Can line up all over the field and make catches on all types of routes. Catches the ball away from body.

Weaknesses: Needs to refine route running and blocking skills. Has had maturity issues.

Projection:  Top-15 pick

2. Jace Amaro, 6-5 3/8, 265 lbs., Texas Tech

Amaro enjoyed a record-breaking season in 2013. He set the NCAA single-season record for receiving yards (1,352) by a tight end and single-season receiving yards per game by a tight end (104.0). Amaro led the Big 12 in receptions in 2013 with 106.  He earned consensus All-American honors for his efforts in 2013.

Strengths: Attacks the ball and separates well. Has length and athleticism. Best when lined up in the slot. Possesses strong hands and great body control.

Weaknesses: Lacks great speed. Has average blocking ability. Needs to improve footwork.

Projection:  Second-round pick

3. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, 6-5 1/2, 262 lbs., Washington

Seferian-Jenkins earned the John Mackey Award in 2013. While at Washington, Seferian-Jenkins set career school records for most receptions (146), receiving yards (1,840) and touchdown receptions (21) by a tight end. He played basketball his freshman year at UW. Seferian-Jenkins was suspended for the 2013 season opener after pleading guilty to an offseason DUI.

Strengths:  Has most well-rounded skill set of tight ends in this year’s class. Possesses the size and power to be a powerful blocker. Can catch balls in a large radius. Shows great body control.

Weaknesses: Has injury and character concerns. Needs to improve desire to block. Was inconsistent last season.

Projection:  Second-round pick

4. Troy Niklas, 6-6 1/2, 270 lbs., Notre Dame

Niklas started career at Notre Dame as an outside linebacker before converting to tight end in 2012. He is the nephew of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews. Niklas backed up 2013 first-round pick Tyler Eifert (Bengals) in 2012. As a starter in 2013, Niklas caught 32 passes for 498 yards and five touchdowns. He missed Notre Dame’s Pro Day due to a double-hernia surgery.

Strengths:  Has size, strength and overall ability to play tight end in the NFL. Catches ball with hands. Tracks ball well. Possessed with strong hands and long arms. Can wall off defenders.  

Weaknesses: Needs to improve blocking consistency and overall strength. Lacks overall speed.

Projection:  Second- to third-round pick

5. C.J. Fiedorowicz, 6-5 1/2, 265 lbs., Iowa

Fiedorowicz had an impressive week at the Senior Bowl, earning Most Outstanding Tight End/Wide Receiver honors. This past season, he was named First-team All-Big Ten by the conference’s coaches. Fiedorowicz finished his career at Iowa with at least one catch in 31 straight games, which ranked him second among FBS tight ends.

Strengths:  Has good straight-line speed and is not held up when running a route. Can make overhead catches and has good arm extension. Shows good instincts and the ability to play physical and block.

Weaknesses: Doesn’t create a lot of yards after catching the ball. Can have trouble bending and playing low. Needs to improve strength. Has trouble with edge rushers.

Projection:  Third- to fourth-round pick

Others to Watch:  Crockett Gillmore, Colorado State; Marcel Jensen, Fresno State; Arthur Lynch Georgia; Jake Murphy, Utah; Richard Rodgers, California

Small-School Sleepers:  Joe Don Duncan, Dixie State; A.C. Leonard, Tennessee State

Next up: Wide Receivers

Nick Paulenich is an experienced NFL writer and researcher and the founder of The Sports Savant. You can find Nick on Twitter at @npaulenich.