NFL draft season is an exciting time filled with DraftBreakdown cut-ups, egocentric Twitter wars, and ridiculous anonymous “scout” quotes. There are very few things I love more.
It is difficult at times, however, to wade through the oceans of scouting reports to find the pearls of useful fantasy information. To that end, I have created this NFL Draft Cheat Sheet to answer every important question about the wide receivers that will hear their names called this May.
Who is the best?
North Carolina TE Eric Ebron is the best tight end in this year’s draft and I do not think it is particularly close.
Before I even saw Ebron my ears were perked by the comparisons to Vernon Davis, and thankfully Ebron did not disappoint once the tape came on. He is a fluid, smooth athlete with speed to threaten the defense vertically, though he does not even come close to the speed Davis possesses. Ebron is dynamic after the catch and has the ability to turn catches underneath the coverage into home-run plays.
My one concern with Ebron centers on his consistency. He has the ability to make highlight reel catches and has done so on many occasions, but he needs to catch the ball more consistently. He had a tendency to drop contested catches and showed a lack of concentration at times. These concerns are not minor, but they can be fixed.
Even with the concerns, Ebron is easily the best tight end in this class and should come off the board early in the first round.
Who will contribute most as a fantasy player in year one?
There will obviously be a top fantasy contributor from the tight end position, but the real answer to this question is no one. Very rarely do rookie tight ends make a big impact in the NFL, and even more rarely do they make an impact in fantasy football.
Since 2000, only two rookie tight ends have managed to crack the 100-fantasy-points barrier. Rob Gronkowski did it in 2010 on the back of ten touchdowns, and Jeremy Shockey just inched past the line in 2002 with a 74-894-2 campaign. John Carlson put up 92 points in 2008, and that was matched by Aaron Hernandez’ 92 in 2010. After that, the rookie tight end record book is bleak.
This is not to say rookie tight ends cannot succeed. The NFL is utilizing the tight end much more today than ever, and many of these rookies will be viewed as plug-in weapons. Jordan Reed, for instance, was likely on his way to 100 points last season before a concussion derailed his season, and Tim Wright and Zach Ertz both had solid campaigns.
The bigger point is not to overvalue these tight ends in redraft leagues. It is extremely unlikely any of them turn into consistent fantasy performers in 2014.
Who has the most upside?
There are a ton of reasons not to trust Oregon TE Colt Lyerla, but on talent alone he may be the best tight end in this draft.
Lyerla is on par with anyone in this class in terms of athleticism. He has excellent speed for the tight end position and great agility and burst for his size. Lyerla does not have a ton of experience running routes, but he is smooth and quick enough to gain separation. He has all the speed necessary to threaten the seam and has the body control and ball skills to be a threat in the red zone.
Lyerla played running back in high school, and you can see that in his game as he is the best of this tight end group after the catch. Lyerla obviously has the size to run over people, but he also flashes some lateral agility you would not expect from a big man. He used these skills to average 5.8 yards per carry at Oregon.
All of these impressive skills come with the huge caveat that he may never actually see an NFL field. He missed a game in 2013 due to what his coach called “circumstances,” missed another for violation of team rules, quit on his team halfway through the season, and was convicted of cocaine possession in December of 2013.
That is a bucket full of issues and may be enough for him to slide out of the draft all together. If he can clean up his act, however, Lyerla has the talent to be an impact weapon in the passing game and an impact player in fantasy football.
Who is the most overrated?
Even though he is clearly a top-three tight end option in this draft, Washington TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins is being slightly overvalued. And when I say slightly, I very much mean slightly.
Seferian-Jenkins' best trait is obviously his size. He uses it well both to gain separation against man coverage and box out defensive backs once the ball is in the air. He also does a good job finding holes in zone coverage.
ASJ has soft hands and excellent body control for a big man. This gives him a big edge in contested situations against smaller players and should make him a lethal threat at the red zone.
My biggest concern with Seferian-Jenkins is his release. He does not have much acceleration but does possess buildup speed and can get deep when he gets a free release. Getting that release has been a problem, however, and he will struggle to threaten a defense vertically if he does not get better off the line. Too often defenders push him off his route or ride him down the field. He needs to improve in that area to be a better deep threat.
That said, Seferian-Jenkins says he cut 20 pounds from the end of the season to the Combine and allegedly ran a “4.56” 40 during a recent workout. I do not believe that 40 time for a second, but the 20 pounds he shed could allow him to be more like a 4.65 guy than a 4.75 guy. If that is the case, the sky is the limit for Seferian-Jenkins.
Who is the most underrated?
Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro is not underrated in the traditional sense, but he is behind Seferian-Jenkins on a lot boards. I think that is overrating ASJ and underrating Amaro to some extent.
Amaro’s size and athleticism combo is his most alluring trait. He has the size to be The Hound’s stunt double in Game of Thrones, but also is smooth enough and has enough acceleration out of his breaks to gain separation.
His versatility is also a big plus. Amaro has the ability to play literally every passing position on the field and has the skill set to develop into an average in-line blocker despite not being asked to block very often in college.
Amaro is at his best in the passing game. He is almost unstoppable on crossing routes because of his ability to shield defenders before the catch and run through them after it. Once Amaro gets started down the field, it takes a host of defenders to bring him down. He is also deadly up the seam and showed the ability to find and work through holes in zone coverage.
The one concern I have with Amaro is his hands, and that is a big concern considering his lack of experience as an in-line blocker. He has to be dominant in the passing game to earn playing time, and I worry his concentration and inconsistent hands could prevent him from being the offensive threat he should be.
If he can become a more consistent pass catcher, however, Amaro has the skill set to be a top-flight fantasy tight end.
What small school prospects have big potential?
Dixie State TE Joe Don Duncan is generating a ton of buzz leading up to the draft and is one of the top small school prospects to keep an eye on.
There is not much tape available on Duncan, but what I could find was impressive. He showed good athleticism and quickness as well as the strength and balance to run through tacklers. He also displayed excellent hands, catching the ball away from his body and making several circus catches.
All of these strengths, however, have to be tempered by the level of competition Duncan faced in college. He dominated the smaller, slower linebackers and defensive backs he faced at Dixie State, but it is unclear if he will be able to do the same thing against better competition. We have seen a lot of players dominate Division II only to struggle mightily in the NFL. Add in the fact that he was 24 when he was playing these inferior 20- and 21-year-old players, and the level of competition becomes a real concern.
Duncan also has some injury issues. He has had microfracture surgery twice on the same knee, missed a game with a bad hamstring in 2013, and suffered a broken foot in the offseason that kept him from the Senior Bowl and running at the Combine.
Duncan deserves the buzz he is generating, but there are still a lot more questions than answers surrounding his NFL future. Even so, I am cautiously optimistic.
Colt Lyerla will be a top-five fantasy tight end at some point in his career. The off-the-field issues are undeniably concerning, but he is a rare talent on the field. Hopefully he will give himself the chance to display that talent on Sundays.