Mar 302015
 
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Maxx Williams, Minnesota Golden Gophers (February 20, 2015)

Maxx Williams – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 2015 NFL Draft Preview: Tight Ends

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

*Below are my published, abbreviated reports via Ourlads Scouting Services, LLC

**A note about Pro Upside Comparisons: These are comparisons that are based on the player reaching his ceiling. It does not necessarily mean I believe the player will “be as good as”.

CURRENT TEs ON THE NYG ROSTER

Larry Donnell – 27 years old – Signed through 2015

Daniel Fells – 32 years old – Signed through 2015

Adrien Robinson – 27 years old – Signed through 2015

Jerome Cunningham – 24 years old – Signed through 2015

WHERE THEY STAND

One could argue the tight end group is the worst on this roster. Donnell showed signs of being a rare player with his ability to get up and after the ball. There is some wide receiver type ability to him and he has the tools to be a dominant player but he will need to enhance his skills and consistency. He was a major source of frustration on different occasions in 2014 and his big plays don’t overshadow that. Behind him there are a bunch of guys that can easily be replaced by better talent. While you could be worse off than Fells at backup, he doesn’t do anything particularly well. Robinson has been a complete non factor his entire career after somehow being labeled the infamous “JPP of TEs” by Jerry Reese. There isn’t anything about his game that warrants him being on this roster. As a matter of fact, Cunningham can likely do more for this team than Robinson. This team is really hurting at the TE position and it’s a spot that could make a significant impact on the hopeful resurgence of this team.

TOP 10 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1 – Maxx Williams – Minnesota – 6’4/249 – 78

Pro Upside Comparison: John Carlson/ARI

Strong Points: Fast and agile player with a great blend of tools and skills. Long with wiry strength. A weapon after the catch that shows the ability to gain yards using a variety of avenues. Can break tackles and fall forward but also wiggle his way out of contact and run away from defenders. Excellent ball skills. Sees the ball in and shows no hesitation in extending his body for the ball. Tough over the middle and in traffic. High points the ball. Can turn and adjust his body in the air with ease. Consistent mechanics as a blocker. Gets his hands inside and keeps his feet chopping. High effort down the field as a blocker in space. Can handle speed and power.

Weak Points: Rounds his routes when turning laterally. Slow to get his head around. Average movement in and out of breaks. Light in the pants, doesn’t generate a lot of strength or power from his base. Doesn’t make a big, physical impact as a blocker.

Summary: Third year sophomore, early entry. 1st Team All American. Son of former 1st round pick Brian Williams, whom played center for the New York Giants for a decade. Williams led the Gophers in receiving both seasons he was on the active roster. He lines up all over the field and has showed the ability to wear every hat a tight end could potentially wear in the NFL within any system. He excels as a down-the-seam receiver where he knows how to use his size, speed, and ball skills in traffic. He is a weapon near the end zone because of the matchup problems that his talents presents. He needs to get stronger to handle life in the trenches, but he has the potential to be a big piece to any NFL offense.

*I don’t see Williams as a first round caliber talent but with this TE class being overly weak, he could sneak in there somewhere. I think he is a tough kid that can make a lot of touch catches, but he isn’t the kind of TE that scares anyone. We aren’t talking about a supreme athlete here and really, he isn’t that good of a blocker. Weak lower body. That would bother me if I brought him in to be a starting TE unless we were talking about an elite athlete and pass catcher.

2 – Ben Koyack – Notre Dame – 6’5/255 – 77

Pro Upside Comparison: Anthony Fasano/TEN

Strong Points: Every down player that was mostly a blocking tight end until 2014. Squares defenders up and locks on to their numbers with knee bend and active feet. Has the strength and power to handle defensive linemen, but also the quickness and body control to stick with linebackers and defensive backs. Has big and strong hands. Easy catcher of the ball, swallows it on contact. Will come down with a lot of passes in traffic. Hard nosed, shows no hesitation over the middle. Can take hits and keep going. Smart route runner against zone, finds the vacancies and shows his numbers to the QB.

Weak Points: Limited athlete. Lacks the top end speed to factor downfield. Won’t get behind a secondary. Struggles to separate from athletic cover men. Limited route tree possibilities with him. Won’t get up over the defender in jump ball situations. Needs to be in proper position to make plays, won’t create on his own.

Summary: Fourth year senior. Played behind some very good tight end prospects throughout his career. Koyack didn’t really receive an opportunity to be the every down tight end and passing game asset until 2014. He took advantage of the throws made his way though, proving to be much more than just a very good blocker. Koyack has some of the most natural, easy catching hands among tight ends in this class. He looks the ball in and consistently shows minimal struggle in doing so. He lacks some of the top tier athletic traits that you look for in a receiver, but his plus ability to block any kind of defender plus his sure hands can get him a starting job in the NFL soon.

*Probably the most overlooked TE in the class. This guy can be a starter and I think he is just a step below Tyler Eifert and Troy Niklas. His ball skills were put on display at the combine and Senior Bowl and we all already knew he was a positive factor in the run game. I think NYG could grab him in round 2 or 3 and get the perfect compliment and even backup option to Donnell should he not work out. The improvement needed in the run blocking part of the offense doesn’t end with the linemen. They need more presence out of their TEs.

3 – Nick O’Leary – Florida State – 6’3/252 – 76

Pro Upside Comparison: Garrett Graham/HOU

Strong Points: Does all of the little things exceptionally well. Shows a pop out of his stance when blocking, setting his feet and timing his initial punch to the defender well. All-out hustler no matter what his role is on the play. Can pass block very well when asked to with his quick feet, proper hand placement and strong upper body. Reads the defense with ease and can run the option routes correctly. Can run himself open with consistency. Locates the ball and can alter his body position when going after the ball. Strong and consistent hands. If he can touch the pass, he will bring it in. Accurate ball skills when it comes to timing and location of his hands. Effective in traffic. Knows how to use his body to shield off defenders in traffic. A bruising runner with the ball in his hands. Breaks a lot of tackles. Plays hard through the whistle.

Weak Points: Shorter than ideal. Lacks the size and runaway speed that most are looking for in a top tier tight end. Routes tend to be rounded when running to the outside. Struggles to get behind a defense. His deep speed is average. Doesn’t run away from a lot of defenders. The effort is there as a blocker but his upside there may be limited. Very short arms.

Summary: The former high school #1 tight end recruit and grandson of Jack Nicklaus is favored to with the Mackey Award. An old school football player that shows a complete and versatile style. O’Leary is an all-out hustler that does all of the little things well. His less-than-ideal size and speed rarely show up on tape. He has elite ball skills and might be the most dependable blocker of any tight end in the class. A gritty gamer with the ability to fit in to any scheme right away as a starter.

*The biggest disappointment I’ve seen with O’Leary since the season ended was at the combine. I’m not huge on measurables but they are part of the process. He has the shortest arms among all the tight ends in this class by a wide margin. It’s not a huge deal but it hurt his grade by a point or two. Otherwise, O’Leary is one of my favorites. He is a blue collar guy that you just know will find a way to produce. Maybe he makes a move to H-Back type, possibly even a pass catching full back type. But all I know about him is he is a football player in every sense of the word and he will help a team. Limited upside but he is one of the safest bets in the entire class.

4 – Jeff Heuerman – Ohio State – 6’5/254 – 75

Pro Upside Comparison: Jason Witten/DAL

Strong Points: Tall with long arms and a powerful frame from head to toe. Excels as a blocker in the trenches. Fires out of his stance hard with good knee bend and heavy hands. Gets those hands inside and control the defender upon contact. Can swing his hips in to the hole and keep his feet chopping. Can move defenders, makes the effort to drive them out of the play. Understands body positioning to maximize his presence as a blocker. Has sneaky speed up the seam. Can get past that second level and turn his head around. Soft and big hands, can swallow the ball. Shows the ability to get up in traffic and come down with the ball. Tough as nails. Consistently puts his body on the line.

Weak Points: Lacks an explosive element to his game. Won’t run away from defenders the ball in is hands. Doesn’t miss tacklers or show ability to break free after the catch. Won’t turn in traffic with quickness and precision as a route runner. Wasn’t used a lot as a receiver, limited route tree experience.

Summary: Fourth year senior and three year starter. Heuerman is one of the top all around tight ends in this class. He has top notch blocking ability, showing the potential to move defensive linemen and completely overwhelm linebackers. His technique and strength are both NFL ready right now. Because of the Ohio State scheme, his role as a receiver was diminished. However he produced well when given the opportunity, showing glimpses of being a difference maker downfield and in traffic. He can be a much more productive pro than he was in college while providing a reliable blocking presence at the point of attack.

*There is a high amount of the unknown with Heuerman because of what his role within the OSU offense was. He has upper tier ability to block at the point of attack and in space but when he was asked to run the seam and display ball skills, he consistently delivered. He is a better than advertised athlete and could be a say one starter in the NFL. NYG appears to be ready to give Donnell the long term starting job but even his strongest supporters need to admit he has only showed glimpses. Heuerman, at the very least, presents an every down backup and credible run blocking presence to aid the process of improving the rushing attack.

5 – Clive Walford – Miami – 6’4/251 – 74

Pro Upside Comparison: Dwayne Allen/IND

Strong Points: Big, thick bodied all around tight end that can be on the field every play. Strong upper body with a powerful punch. Good hands catcher, swallows the ball and controls it upon contact. Sneaky acceleration and speed in space, can outrun linebackers and some defensive backs. Reliable and tough in traffic. Good ball reaction. Will put his body on the line over the middle. Shields defenders from making plays on the ball. Good body control and balance. Very stable as a blocker, able to maintain his center of gravity.

Weak Points: Slow out of his stance. Doesn’t have explosive change of direction or agility. Won’t split the seam against a Cover 2 defense. Rounded routes, can be slow in and out of his breaks. Does not live up to the billing as a blocker that his strength suggests he should. Won’t overpower defenders or keep his feet chopping. Lacks the flexibility to bend at his knees and while keeping his chest up. Tore his right MCL late in 2014 but is expected to be out for just two months.

Summary: Former basketball player that played just one year of prep football prior to joining Miami. Walford really started to come in to his own in 2014, proving to be one of the more productive tight ends in the nation. He moved with more speed and quickness than his previous years, showing that the light may be turning on for him. He needs to work on blocking technique and consistency, but the tools are there to be an all around, complete tight end. Teams will need to spend some extra attention examining his knee, but he is expected to make a full recovery.

*Walford has the natural length and thickness to factor as a quality three down tight end in the NFL. He isn’t fast, but he’s fast enough. He isn’t quick, but he’s quick enough. He isn’t a great blocker, but he blocks well enough. He isn’t a big time receiving threat, but he catches the ball well enough. There is a limited upside here but he can work his way in to a starting role down the road. He is still evolving as a football player more so than some of these other tight ends. NYG could be a good spot for him because he won’t be needed right away on an every down basis and he could use the extra time to improve the finer points.

6 – Rory Anderson – South Carolina – 6’5/244 – 71

Pro Upside Comparison: Ladarius Green/SD

Strong Points: Explosive from a standstill. Quick acceleration up the seam and forces the defense to react to him. Shows the ball skills to come down with the pass in traffic. Balanced and full of body control when turning and twisting his body. Aware of where he is on the field in relation to the sidelines and first down markers. Shows the instincts to find the vacant lanes within a zone defense. High effort blocker that shows more presence than his body type would lead you to believe. Shows the mechanics and flexibility to factor in the run game.

Weak Points: Inconsistent pass catcher, will drop easy balls. Let’s the ball in to his body, needs to improve the consistency of hand usage. Doesn’t run crisp routes, will round his lateral turns. Takes too long to come back to the football. Needs to increase leg power so he can be a better in line drive blocker. Has had issues staying healthy and missed some as a result of different muscle-related injuries.

Summary: Fourth year senior and two-plus year starter. Anderson shows athletic-based flashes of being a big time player. With his height and ball skills, he can be a tough matchup for defenses to deal with. Anderson is too fast for the average linebacker, but his size can be too overwhelming for the average defensive back. While his ability to catch the ball is at the top of his resume, he is a better than average blocker. He shows effort and initial pop but will need to get stronger to play in the NFL trenches. His number one issue revolves around both of his triceps being torn and forcing him to both miss games and play hampered in others. If that checks out and he can start his strength training without hiccups, Anderson has very high potential.

*If it weren’t for the two separate tears of his triceps and lingering hamstring issues, Anderson is a top 4 tight end in this class at worst. He has better movement than everyone outside of Williams, and shows enough promise as a blocker to not be labeled a receiving-only player. If he can be had late day three, NYG would be smart to at least give him a long look based on what he can do right now and what he could become down the road.

7 – Jesse James – Penn State – 6’7/261 – 71

Pro Upside Comparison: Levine Toilolo/ATL

Strong Points: Good body awareness in traffic. Can position his large and lengthy frame to shield the defender from making a play on the ball. Reliable and tough in traffic. Willingly puts his body on the line. Strong and reliable hands. Can use his size to get over a defender and come down with the ball. Good leaper that times it well. Quick acceleration when running up the seam. Savvy with the ball in his hands, good vision and tough to bring down for a lone defender. Fires out of his stance low and hard. Reacts to the ball well, adjusts his body and plucks the ball. Works hard as a blocker, takes pride in that part of the position’s role. Can bend well and get his hands inside. Willing to get downfield and make the extra block.

Weak Points: Slow to get his head around when running lateral routes. Doesn’t show that athleticism when getting in and out of breaks. Plays a high game as a route runner. Not a dynamic athlete that scares defenses over the top. Limited speed and won’t run away from defensive backs. Catches defenders when blocking rather than delivering the punch. Doesn’t get a push, won’t drive them out of a lane.

Summary: Junior entry. Long frame with great height and reach. Reliable underneath receiver that creates massive matchup problems. James is a weapon on third down and near the end zone because of his body awareness and ability to get open enough. He is a tough cover in traffic and has proven to be a guy that can come down with a lot of passes when surrounded by defenders. He may not have ideal athleticism but he can make up for it with a savvy and reliable style. Limited, but reliable starter potential.

*I want to like James more than where I have him graded. He is big, tough, and reliable. You know what you are getting out of James each and every play of each and every week. That’s not always easy to find. I just wish he had a quicker twitch to his game when running routes and after the catch. In addition, a guy with this size and strength should be a better blocker. I don’t want to look down on his effort without credible evidence, but I simply question it. If he is a day three option, I think he offers the upside of a starter down the road.

8 – Nick Boyle – Delaware – 6’4/268 – 71

Pro Upside Comparison: Alex Bayer/STL

Strong Points: Every down player with plus size and quickness. Explosive in short areas with easy change of direction and acceleration. Big and soft hands, can swallow the ball upon contact. Adjusts well to passes thrown away from his body. Can reach down, up, laterally for the ball. Shows toughness after the catch. Will run defenders over or jump over them, versatile athlete.

Weak Points: Top end speed is below average. Won’t be a guy that strikes fear in to the secondary. Struggles to work his way up the seam. Not the dominant blocker that a guy at his size playing at a lower level of college football should be. Will get good initial contact but doesn’t stick to his man, lacks consistent technique. Effort appears to be different as a blocker than what I see when as a receiver.

Summary: Fourth year senior. All time leader among tight ends in receptions in school history. All American in 2014 at a lower level of college football. Also has the ability to deep snap. Boyle looks the part and will surprise you with good ball skills and short area quickness. He can plant his foot and make quick cuts, showing consistent ability to get open underneath. He is a limited athlete, however. In addition, he needs to become more physical and play to his size. That transition to the NFL will be tough for him, this he will be a developmental prospect with starter upside.

*Initially this is a guy that is easy to like. He has the thick and long frame to go along with smooth ball skills and a surprising ability after the catch to gain extra yards. The more I watch however, the more I see a guy that really shouldn’t have been playing at a level higher than D-I AA. For a guy weighing nearly 270 pounds, how come he didn’t control defenders as a blocker? That was a little bothersome and factoring that he is a limited upside athlete pushed him down to the day three tier at best.

9 – Tyler Kroft – Rutgers – 6’6/246 – 70

Pro Upside Comparison: Gary Barnidge/CLE

Strong Points: Long and quick twitch athlete with an ideal frame for the position. Runs good routes up the seam. Can keep defenders off balance with last second commitments to his intended route. Runs well, comfortable long strider with the speed to outrun linebackers. Easy catching motion when he’s in space. High effort player. Shows the desire to mix it up in the trenches as a run blocker. Quick release out of his three point stance and from the slot. Can eat up a cushion to the safety fast.

Weak Points: Lacks a physical power presence. Doesn’t control defenders as a blocker, doesn’t give them the initial jolt. Slow reaction to what the defense throws at him. Does not have the speed to outrun defensive backs. Questionable toughness over the middle and in traffic. Doesn’t always extend his arms when going after the ball. Too much of a body catcher.

Summary: Kroft is an easy moving, smooth athlete with a lot of size potential. He has a long frame with good height for the position. That size combined with his speed and quickness when changing directions can make him a reliable short and intermediate receiving option for any offense. He has the leaping ability over the middle. Kroft’s main weakness revolves around his physical nature. He doesn’t control defenders while blocking, nor does he drive second level defenders out of the action. Too often he is found being driven back by his assignment. He needs to add a lot of strength before he can be relied upon as an every down threat. Until then, Kroft can help any offense out with his versatility to line up anywhere to create matchup problems for the defense. He has plenty of potential as a receiver but will need time to factor as a blocker.

*There are a lot of up and down views on Kroft, respectively. He surprised me by coming out early but I can understand why he did. There is a lot of physical talent here, as he may be one of the top 3 athletes at the position in the entire class. He is a developmental player for sure, though. He wont be able to hack it as a blocker early on in his career and we aren’t talking about a receiver that will scare a defense. You could do much worse on day three and NYG does have the time and situation to develop him the right way.

10 – Gerald Christian – Louisville – 6’3/244 – 69

Pro Upside Comparison: Delanie Walker/TEN

Strong Points: Physically gifted athlete. Has the burst out of his stance to gain separation right off the snap. Good change of direction ability. Balanced athlete with the consistent body control and awareness. Big and strong hands. Swallows the ball upon contact. Has eyebrow-raising movement ability with the ball in his hands. Physical and willing blocker that seems to enjoy mixing it up with defenders. Takes pride in owning his man at the line of scrimmage.

Weak Points: Does not run his routes as well as his athleticism says he should. Doesn’t get a push as a blocker. Gets too grabby and will allow the defender to get inside position. Doesn’t extend for the ball in traffic or over the middle. Effort and intensity levels are inconsistent.

Summary: Transferred to Louisville from Florida in 2012. Has the tool set to make his mark as a receiving tight end in the league but didn’t show consistency. Christian will make plays in every game that will cause coaches and scouts alike to think of what may be. He is a gifted athlete that needs to refine his skill sets. High upside prospect.

*NYG likes WRs and TEs with big hands, and Christian has the biggest mitts in the draft among pass catchers. I’m not sure what the deal is with him. He moves as well as anyone in the nation among TEs here and there every time I watched Louisville, but his effort wasn’t always there. And then he put out poor workout times. Maybe there is a motivation issue with him but I just can’t get away from this kid. I see things in him that scream high ceiling. Worth a gamble late in the draft for NYG.

TOP UDFA SLEEPER

A.J. Derby – Arkansas – 6’4/255

*Started off at Iowa as a QB then transferred to a junior college, then to Arkansas. Didn’t make the move to TE until 2014 and he became a highly discussed player among coaches in the SEC. Had be been there since the start of his career, I think Derby is being talked about as a top 45 overall talent. I’ve seen him outrun the Alabama defensive backs and I’ve seen him control the point of attack against their line. Derby has the toughness and awareness to expedite his progression quicker than most that make such a late position change.

NYG APPROACH

Similar to the QB group, this is the weakest I have seen as a whole since I have been grading players. However you don’t need to find an every down starter/contributor at the position for him to factor as a player that will help the team win unlike the approach with drafting a QB. So with that said, even though this class lacks some star power, there is a good enough blend of tools and skills here that can help NYG get more out of the position.

Last year I spoke of Larry Donnell as the lone guy on the roster with legitimate long term upside. He broke out in 2014 with a few solid games and displayed his tools and developing skills. He can do things physically that a lot of TEs in this league cannot. Because we are still unsure about how good of an actual football player he is, NYG would be smart to use a pick on someone that has some long term upside or a player that can take some pressure off Donnell as a blocker. There are some guys lower on my grade list that may be a better fit on this team than guys on the top. I would avoid the TE position for the first two or three rounds and then look for the value of a guy that drops. O’Leary and Koyack aren’t fits for every team, thus I could see them available on day 4 and it would present outstanding value. They could opt to wait until the end of the draft or even UDFA period and give a tools-rich and/or raw prospect a year to sit on the practice squad while Donnell gets another season to show progress, something he earned.