2016 NFL Draft Position Review: Tight Ends

Charlie lays out an overview at the top players from each position for the 2016 NFL Draft. For further information, check out our in-depth analysis of 2016 NFL Draft Prospects by Position.

By Charlie Campbell.
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This page was last updated April 21, 2016. Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

Position Review: Tight Ends

Tight End Class
Early-round talent: D
Mid-round: D
Late-round: D
Overall grade: D

2016 prospects vs 2015
Hunter Henry
Maxx Williams
Austin Hooper
Clive Walford
Jerell Adams
Tyler Kroft
Jeff Heuerman
Nick Vannett
Thomas Duarte
Blake Bell
MyCole Pruitt
C.J. Uzomah
Nick Boyle
Tyler Higbee
Jack McGee
David Morgan

The 2015 class was terrible at the tight end position from start to finish. This year’s class is just as bad. Perhaps some of these players will become better pros than expected, but heading into the 2016 NFL Draft, it looks extremely thin. Perhaps as few as two tight ends will go in the first three rounds.

If you were to merge the two classes, it would be a collection of underwhelming prospects. Henry is the only tight end who could be a first-round pick in the 2016 draft class and he’s more complete than Maxx Williams. Hooper is close to the caliber of prospect that Williams was. Walford is a little bit behind Hooper. Adams is a potential third-rounder like Kroft was. Vannett is the same player as Heuerman. Both are late third- early fourth-rounders. Duarte is a receiving tight end prospect like Bell. Higbee, McGee and Morgan are mid-third-day choices or late-rounders like the final three from last year.

Safest Pick: Hunter Henry, Arkansas
This was an easy choice. Henry looks like a future three-down starter for the next decade if he stays healthy. Sources have said they really like Henry.

Henry is a balanced player and more complete than other top tight end prospects. He is a good run blocker and a tough receiver. Henry can also pick up some yards after the reception with sneaky athleticism and running ability. One of his impressive traits are his soft hands. He rarely ever drops a pass and does an excellent job of securing passes. Henry may never be one of the elite tight ends in the NFL, but he looks like a safe bet to be a solid starter that has a long career.

2015 Pick: Clive Walford
2014 Pick: Eric Ebron
2013 Pick: Zach Ertz

Biggest Bust Potential: Nick Vannett, Ohio State
Vannett might go on the second day of the 2016 NFL Draft, but I think he’s a very limited player for the NFL. At the Senior Bowl, Vannett displayed some serious limitations to his game as he couldn’t separate, was very slow, and had some stone hands. He looks like a limited backup blocking tight end for the NFL. Vannett could get overdrafted because of the weak tight end class. It wouldn’t surprise me if he struggles to stick as a third tight end on rosters.

2015 Pick: Nick O’Leary
2014 Pick: Jace Amaro
2013 Pick: Gavin Escobar

Tight End Rankings by Attributes

Pass Receiving:
NFL prototype: Jimmy Graham, Seahawks
  1. Hunter Henry
  2. Austin Hooper
  3. Thomas Duarte
  4. Jerell Adams
  5. Tyler Higbee
  6. Jake McGee
  7. Nick Vannett
  8. David Morgan

Recap: The NFL has evolved to the point where tight ends are a critical part to a potent passing attack. Some teams have better receiving weapons at tight end than they do at receiver. The league is driven by passing, so if a tight end can’t contribute as a receiver, he could have a hard time seeing the field. The 2014 NFL Draft has a nice group of receiving tight ends.

Henry is the top of the class. He has athletic ability to be a productive pass-receiving tight ends in the NFL. Henry is very polished as a route-runner with size and quickness to hurt teams down the middle of the field. Henry is very good after the catch and can be tough to tackle in the open field.

After Henry is Hooper. He has the skill set to be a dangerous receiver down the seam and in the red zone like he was in college. Hooper has the quickness to get downfield and is too fast for your average linebacker to run with. He also has excellent hands and is very skilled at going up high to make receptions over defensive backs. Even though Hooper isn’t the biggest of tight ends, he has good body control and uses his size well to shield the ball from defenders to make receptions.

Duarte had the most production of any of these tight ends, but he was playing a lot of slot receiver. Duarte (6-2, 231) could be a receiving tight end in the NFL to play a role like Jordan Reed or Aaron Hernandez. He is quick and athletic to hurt teams through the air.

Adams (6-5, 244) has some athletic ability to be a receiving threat. It was hard to see at South Carolina because the program’s quarterbacks struggled, especially last year, and he split time with Rory Anderson prior to his senior year.

Higbee is a similar solid athlete with quickness to make plays in the passing game. He produced well for Western Kentucky. McGee was an underrated receiver who made some clutch plays through the air last year for Florida, but in the NFL, he’ll be more of a blocker.

Vannett didn’t produce big numbers at Ohio State, and at the Senior Bowl, he couldn’t separate while also flashing some stone hands. Vannett will be a blocking tight end in the NFL. Morgan is the same.

NFL prototype: Heath Miller, Steelers
  1. David Morgan
  2. Nick Vannett
  3. Austin Hooper
  4. Jake McGee
  5. Hunter Henry
  6. Jerell Adams
  7. Tyler Higbee
  8. Thomas Duarte

Recap: Blocking ability is still important for NFL tight ends; Not just in the ground game, but in pass protection. Teams like their tight ends to have the ability to help tackles when they’re going against an elite edge rusher.

The best blocker of the group above is Morgan. He is a strong run blocker who can get movement. Morgan (6-4, 262) is bigger than the others and well-suited to be a Y (blocking) tight end.

Vannett was a strong edge blocker for Ohio State the past few seasons and helped the Buckeyes’ potent rushing attack significantly. He definitely has the capacity to be a tough blocking tight end who will be an asset in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

Hopper is also a very good blocker who was prepared well at Stanford. He is strong and blocks with some power. McGee is a good contributor as a blocker and helped in the ground game. Henry was quality blocker for Arkansas. He is very balanced.

Adams and Higbee have some blocking potential, but they could stand to get better for the NFL.

Duarte has to improve his blocking for the NFL. He needs to make big strides there, but it will be difficult with his lack of size and strength to work with. Because of his blocking being a weakness, Duarte is more of a role player and not a candidate to be a three-down starter.

Red Zone:
NFL prototype: Antonio Gates, Chargers
  1. Austin Hooper
  2. Tyler Higbee
  3. Thomas Duarte
  4. Hunter Henry
  5. Jerell Adams
  6. David Morgan
  7. Jake McGee
  8. Nick Vannett

Recap: Tight ends are critical players in the red zone. Multiple tight ends are needed for goal-line packages. Many teams also like to use double tight end sets inside the 20-yard line. A tight end who is a big target with sure hands and leaping ability is a good weapon to help produce touchdowns instead of field goals.

Hooper had six touchdowns last year, which is a lot considering that Stanford favored the ground game with Christian McCaffrey. Hooper runs good routes, is smart to find the soft spots in zone, and is a smooth athlete. He should be a real asset in the NFL in the red zone.

Higbee is also skilled at finding openings and using his size. He led them all of these tight ends with 10 touchdowns in 2015. Higbee could be a red-zone weapon in the NFL.

Duarte was the most productive in the red zone of this group of tight ends. He used his quickness, size, athleticism and leaping ability to put the ball in the paint. Duarte could be a nice red-zone weapon in the NFL.

Henry didn’t get as many opportunities because Arkansas was a running-based offense, but he is quick to get open and can make some acrobatic catches. Henry should be a good red-zone weapon in the NFL.

Adams is capable of being a red-zone contributor. He had three scores last year. Morgan will be in goal line for blocking, but could be a contributor because defenses often forget about blocking tight ends, as evidenced by Morgan recording five touchdowns last year. McGee had four scores for Florida with some clutch catches.

Vannett should be part of the goal-line package because of his blocking. However, his suspect hands are scary and he had zero touchdowns last year.

NFL prototype: Jason Witten, Cowboys
  1. Hunter Henry
  2. Austin Hooper
  3. Thomas Duarte
  4. Tyler Higbee
  5. Jerell Adams
  6. Jake McGee
  7. David Morgan
  8. Nick Vannett

Recap: Tight ends with bad hands don’t get thrown the ball often in the NFL. They have a hard time seeing the field and end up only playing in goal-line situations and on special teams. In the group above, there isn’t a player who I would say has truly bad hands.

Henry, Hooper and Duarte all have good hands. I think Henry is the most sure-handed of the three. I don’t recall seeing him drop a pass. Hooper has really soft hands and is a natural hands catcher. There are plays where it seems like he has glue on his hands. Duarte was very reliable as well. A drop is a rare sight from any of these three.

Higbee’s hands were steady in college. He should be reliable in the NFL. McGee has some natural soft hands. Morgan and Vannett don’t look as natural catching the ball. Vannett had a lot of drops at the Senior Bowl.

NFL prototype: Charles Clay, Bills
  1. Thomas Duarte
  2. Austin Hooper
  3. Hunter Henry
  4. Tyler Higbee
  5. Jerell Adams
  6. Jake McGee
  7. Nick Vannett
  8. David Morgan

Recap: Many offensive coordinators like tight ends with the flexibility to line up as an h-back. That allows them to set up more mismatches and align blocking schemes differently. Not all tight ends have the athletic ability and quickness to pull off h-back responsibilities. Aaron Hernandez was superb at it for New England and was the prototype a few years ago. Charles Clay is the best now.

Duarte projects as the best h-back tight end of all the prospects in the draft class. He could be a nice receiving threat with his quickness and athleticism as a h-back.

Hooper could maybe translate to h-back as he isn’t that tall. Henry is a little bigger probably could do some h-back stuff.

The other five are oversized and none of them look like fits for h-back.

Downfield Threat:
NFL prototype: Jimmy Graham, Seahawks
  1. Hunter Henry
  2. Austin Hooper
  3. Thomas Duarte
  4. Jerell Adams
  5. Tyler Higbee
  6. Jake McGee
  7. Nick Vannett
  8. David Morgan

Recap: Teams have had success in recent years with tight ends being used to stretch the field down the middle seam. Big plays through the air aren’t limited to just receivers as there are a number of tight ends who can get vertical. Burning a secondary with a tight end is another weapon for offenses that make a defense much tougher to defend.

The top three tight ends can all make some plays downfield. Projecting to the NFL, Henry is quick and has hurt defenses downfield. He made a number of catches for long gains as he pulled away from defenders. Hooper has a second gear to the break open down the seam. Duarte could get vertical coming out of the slot and plays faster than he timed.

Adams has the foot speed to be a downfield threat, and it will be interesting to see how he translates to the NFL. Higbee also can get down the seam. McGee, Vannett and Morgan are bigger and look more likely to be effective on short routes.

Yards After Catch:
NFL prototype: Ron Gronkowski, Patriots
  1. Hunter Henry
  2. Austin Hooper
  3. Thomas Duarte
  4. Tyler Higbee
  5. Jerell Adams
  6. Jake McGee
  7. Nick Vannett
  8. David Morgan

Recap: There are some tight ends in the NFL who are very dangerous with the ball in their hands. Having the ability to pick up yards after the catch (YAC) is not an easy trait to find in tight ends. This class has some nice options.

Henry, Hooper and Duarte have run-after-the-catch skills. Henry can bulldoze his way for yards and is surprisingly dangerous with the ball in his hands. Hooper is also capable to dart down the field for extra yards. Duarte has vision, shiftiness and knows how to move in traffic.

Higbee and Adams run well with the ball in their hands. Beyond their quickness, they are big loads who can be tough to bring down. McGee, Vannett and Morgan won’t be big yards after the catch tight ends in the NFL.

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