In terms of dynasty fantasy football, tight ends take the longest to pay off immediately. I would never draft a rookie tight end in re-draft leagues, because you will rarely have one come into the league and produce year one. It’s a very fickle position that takes time for players to find their groove. Jimmy Graham only caught 31 receptions for 356 yards and 5 TDs in his rookie season. And because of that fact, you shouldn’t view the tight end position through the prism of who will produce year one, but who will produce three years from now.
With that said, here are my rankings for the 2014 tight class with a few bits of commentary, and a few other tangents about two unique cases to consider in Colt Lyerla and Gator Hoskins.
1. Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
Amaro gets dinged for things that aren’t his fault. He’s the Jason Witten of this draft class who played with quarterbacks similar to Tim Tebow at Texas Tech. He has a nice mix of toughness, strength and athleticism to make tough catches in traffic as a physical mismatch everywhere on the field. Amaro is a better blocker than given credit for, and he can contribute immediately year one with the potential to be a number one tight end by year two. He won’t contribute like a Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham, but he will turn into a top 5 tight end with a similar production style to Witten in dynasty leagues for a decade.
2. Richard Rodgers, California
A major exodus from the Cal football program occurred, which included Richard Rodgers. He should have stayed in school to improve his routes and strength, but he declared. He will take a good bit of time to get acclimated to the NFL, but he has moments of Aaron Hernandez to his game. He’s very athletic with unbelievable concentration at the catch point and great balance to bounce off tackles in traffic. Rodgers is a bit of risk due to his rawness, but his hands, balance and fluidity in his hips are things you can’t teach.
3. Eric Ebron, North Carolina
I know I’m probably going to get hate mail from Eric Ebron lovers, but Ebron seems more flash than stability to me. It doesn’t mean he’s not a talented player, but he will produce more in line with a guy like Vernon Davis. And like Davis, Ebron struggles with concentration drops at times. He can make unbelievable one-handed catches at times and then drop passes with two hands. He will put up boom and bust seasons, which may result in fewer points over time as a result compared to players like Rodgers or Amaro.
I like Ebron a lot and wouldn’t have him at three if it wasn’t for how talented he is. However, he’s not the Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham type people make him out to be.
4. Nic Jacobs, McNeese State
Depending on where Nic Jacobs ends up being drafted will differ my opinion on this spot, but he’s a beast. Jacobs is 6’5’’ and 269 pounds with very fluid hips and great hands to make acrobatic catches on the sidelines. He also carries a mean streak as a run blocker and can become a star in the right situation. There is just a bit of rawness in his routes that will take time to develop, but I don’t have many comparisons for him. He’s just a dancing bear like player who will bite your arm off at one moment and catch a football in his mouth from a stream at the same time.
5. Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, Washington
The closest thing to Rob Gronkowski in this draft is Austin Sefarian-Jenkins. The problem is he isn’t the sum of all the parts that make up Gronkowski. There are many moments on tape where Sefarian-Jenkins looks like a man among boys in the red zone in particular. He’s so big and athletic that he can box out defenders and make the play in odd spots. However, Sefarian-Jenkins does not have the type of speed and athleticism like Gronkowski to readily be crowned a transcendent player.
He’s a little slow coming in and out of his breaks leaving enough time for defenders to adjust. And his long speed isn’t as desirable either. He will either be talented enough to make up for these shortcomings and dominate, or become an average player as a result. It’s tough to not see Sefarian-Jenkins not succeeding in some way in the NFL. But he is in between greatness and mediocrity on film.
6. Troy Niklas, Notre Dame
Notre Dame seems to birth solid fantasy tight ends every year like Kyle Rudolph and Tyler Eifert, and you can add Troy Niklas to the group. He’s big at 6’6’’ and 270 pounds, but he’s somewhere in between Rudolph and Eifert as a prospect. Niklas is big and athletic with a penchant for red zone plays. Yet he doesn’t have the type of fluidity in his hips to turn into a great route runner. He’s also a very raw prospect in many respects other than his blocking skills.
You’ll probably see Troy Niklas on Sundays more as a blocker than a pass catcher for a few seasons, because he just isn’t refined enough to trick NFL defenders. He will be a red zone threat like Kyle Rudolph. And he may develop into a better route runner with more athleticism than Rudolph. However, it’s very unclear about what he is right now. Declaring early was a bad decision in these respects, but there is a place for Niklas on your roster, just as there is a place for Kyle Rudolph as well.
7. C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa
C.J. is a poor man’s Jason Witten. He’s going to find a roster, because he’s one of the best inline blockers in this class. He shows good creativity in his routes to trick defenders at the top of his breaks. However, he may not have the change of direction skills and athleticism necessary to gain enough separation in the NFL. More often than not, defenders in the Big Ten were capable of sticking to him like glue, even after being tricked. But he could surprise as a number two tight end if his feel for the game improves.
8. Marcel Jensen, Fresno State
Jensen was a largely underutilized threat in the passing game at Fresno State, because of the structure of Fresno State’s offense. He’s big, relatively fast and athletic enough to surprise at the next level. His hands aren’t bad, but they aren’t special. Jensen will be a guy who will attempt to make crazy adjustments to the football, but won’t come down with the football as often as you want. He’s another prospect who has a lot of pieces to become a dominant tight end at the next level, but Jensen doesn’t quite have enough talent to be that dominant.
9. Cameron Brates, Harvard
Brates will take a few years to improve his blocking before he sees the field, but he can be a solid contributor as a number two tight end eventually. He’s very athletic, makes great adjustments to the football in the air and has good hands. Brates suffered from an inconsistent quarterback at Harvard who didn’t give him the best ball placement and yet succeeded. He’s a very smart player who finds ways to get open, but the blocking is awful. He may not make a team, because of how badly he is as a blocker, but if he makes a 53 man roster, pay attention.
10. A.C. Leonard, Tennessee State
The toast of the Combine at tight end this year was A.C. Leonard. He was once a highly touted tight end on the Florida Gators and then transferred to Tennessee State after a misdemeanor battery count in 2012. He’s very athletic and fast with potential to be a Vernon Davis or Jordan Reed type, but he isn’t anywhere near as polished as those players. His blocking is poor and will struggle to hold a spot on a team if he doesn’t get better. However, Leonard is a player you should consider stashing if he gets into the right situation.
11. Crockett Gillmore, Colorado State
Colorado State’s Crockett Gillmore has crushed the predraft process from the East West Shrine to the Senior Bowl and will be drafted higher than expected. However, I don’t believe Gillmore is as talented as others believe. He’s 6’6’’ and 260 pounds with moments where he looks like a poor man’s Jimmy Graham on tape, but he isn’t as special of an athlete like Graham. There are times where he looks like he is going through the motions in his route running and lacks intensity. The bottom-line is something is off about Gillmore that I can’t put my finger on, but he’s more of a solid player than a major difference maker.
12. Ted Bolser, Indiana
Indiana isn’t known for pumping out top prospects at the NFL level, but they will pump out at least solid prospects in this draft class like Ted Bolser. He’s a poor man’s Heath Miller. Bolser will make an NFL roster as an inline blocker, but he’s fantasy relevant due to having decent hands. Shoddy quarterback play at Indiana hurt his production, and it’s hard to tell whether he would have produced more with better ball placement. However, Bolser is worth keeping track of as a guy who could become a solid number two tight end eventually.
Now that we’ve come to the end of the rankings, I want to touch on a few players who you should have on your radar, but I couldn’t put in my rankings, because of everything that could go wrong for them.
Gator Hoskins, Marshall
I could not put Gator Hoskins in my rankings, because he’s such a unique player that a team will have to use him correctly to be fantasy relevant. He’s not big enough to be a classic inline tight end and doesn’t have the sort of crazy athleticism that would give teams an excuse to keep him on a roster. Hoskins is a niche player, who in the right situation could become a forty to sixty catch receiver as a big slot guy, but it’s all about being on the right team at the right time. If he makes it on a team that is devoid of many weapons and needs a spark, Hoskins has a chance to make a mark. However, team fit is everything and he may end up on a team that doesn’t want him to be a receiving threat, which would cause his fantasy relevancy to become nonexistent.
Colt Lyerla, Oregon
You will find dynasty rankings where Lyerla is a top 5 player, but the character concerns are alarming. Lyerla seemed to hit self-destruct on his life after getting arrested on drug related charges after inhaling cocaine in front of an undercover officer within weeks after quitting the Oregon football team abruptly last October. Legal troubles aside, he’s also a player with a history of behavioral issues stemming from a dysfunctional family and upbringing with a lot of anger. There is no doubt that Lyerla is a talented football player with Dallas Clark like upside, but he could just as easily be out of football due to his issues in three years. It’s up to you to decide where you want to draft him, because at least for me.
Why would I draft someone who displays a long history of antisocial behavior? Someone who hasn’t sought openly help for his problems other than court ordered requirements. Someone who is actually a very scary and dark individual who could go down a path that won’t end well for any parties. And there is a chance he can mature and get the help he needs, but the NFL doesn’t make you more mature or make you less of a sociopath. It takes time to heal the wounds Lyerla has developed, and that’s why it’s up to you to decide whether he’s worth a draft selection.
James Cobern is a Division Leader and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @Jmcobern1