2014 Pre-Draft Class Evaluation: Tight End Edition
April 13, 2014 | Rich Hribar
Thus far, we’ve refrained from going heavy with rookie analysis here at The Fake Football. We’ve been gathering our thoughts and keeping tabs, but we didn’t want to saturate our audience with three months of prospect talk. Respect to those in the industry that carried that torch, but now with the NFL Draft one month away, it’s time to unleash the Kraken.
I’m going to go through each position one at a time and highlight some of the players I like and don’t like pr-draft and give you the rationale (or lack thereof) behind my thoughts. Since you can find our rookie ranks here, I’m not going to go down a list and talk about each prospect, but rather jump around.
First let me share my approach for evaluating rookies. If you’ve been following along, it’s fairly obvious I’m more data-centric when I step into the fantasy tee box. This holds true when I evaluate the incoming crop of rookies as well. I have a database that I use to grade physical profile, which are all things measurable from the combine and/or pro day. Since I’m going to be doing tight ends here, speed, weight adjusted agility and explosion are big contributors to creating a relevant fantasy tight end.
Another area I grade is college production over the players’ career, which is weighted by the age of the prospect. It’s not a revelation, but rarely do prospects succeed in the NFL that never succeeded to begin with at the amateur level. Sometimes this gets lost in the process this time of the year. That doesn’t mean if you did perform well in college that the success will translate, but the odds are good of a prospect finding success if he’s already had some.
For players involved in the passing game, I look at shares of the targets, yardage and touchdowns that the player scored for his team, and for tight ends I really care about red zone performance over their collegiate careers.
I cook those up into a score that is impacted most by age (the positional age of decline and apex windows are important) and where that prospect was drafted, in other words, where NFL teams valued that player. Underdog stories are great, it’s always fantastic seeing a prospect you were high on make the most out of a small opportunity, but NFL teams give early round players a longer leash and more favorable shot to turn themselves into a contributor. The diamonds in the rough stick out because large percentage of late round selections ultimately fail.
I do watch some film and cut ups of the prospects, but mostly as a measure of confirmation to where the data leads me. If I have a player graded strongly or poorly opposed to consensus of league evaluation, I need to see what I may be missing. I do think film has its merits, but I find it more subjective than data analysis. The discrepancy between two scouts on a prospect can be cavernous after watching the same exact footage, so I try to steer clear from letting it have a major impact, although I do incorporate it.
Another thing I don’t take for granted with film watching is that the work is already being done for me. Each NFL team employs highly qualified personnel (well, more qualified than me) in their scouting departments to go through everything on tape with a fine toothed comb. The league definitely has its share of misses, but they are doing the evaluation work already on that front from my end.
That isn’t me throwing a Molotov towards draftniks, I’m just sharing my methodology. We all have a process that we go through; I’m just giving you disclosure on mine (I do watch NFL film more often, but it’s mostly for creating collages to tweet at Dez Bryant).
I don’t want to put a bunch of prospects on a list and have you run with it, so let’s go through some 2014 tight ends and why I have them ranked as such. First, I want to take a look back at last season’s top 10 evaluation from my front and their immediate results. I can’t share the actual scores to protect the Krabby Patty Secret Formula, but if you want verification, fellow Fake Footballer Chad Scott has a copy of my database.
2013 PreDraft Scores
|Player||Drafted||Rookie TE Finish|
Fauria went undrafted, but he scored second highest in my database pre-draft because I do put an emphasis on producing touchdowns (surprise, surprise). Fauria scored 18 touchdowns in his final two seasons at UCLA and converted 46 percent (17 of 37) of his career college red zone targets into touchdowns. All he did was convert six of 14 (43 percent) as a rookie. I did manage to scoop him up in the final rounds of a few rookie drafts last year as a flier. He’s far from a complete real life player, but I evaluate for fantasy production and sometimes there isn’t a major overlap.
The scoring model also isn’t treated as a Bible from me, just a guide into sorting out the massive landscape that is the NFL Draft. I would’ve never ranked Fauria second after the draft out of stubbornness, but his score did lead to him as a late round rookie pick on several teams I own.
There’s still time to tell how this will all play out, but the league valued McDonald and Escobar much higher than I did. Willson and McDonald played together at Rice and Willson went 103 picks later despite having a better athletic profile and more production. The book is still open for Kelce coming off micro-fracture surgery, so if he’s still cheap, take a nibble. Let’s get it with the 2014 class.
The Hot Young Model
Eric Ebron not only has the anticipation of being a top 15 selection, but he’s also the youngest tight end in this draft by a good margin, turning 21 years old on April 10. Only eight 21-year old rookie tight ends have ever been drafted in the first three rounds since 1970.
That’s not bad company to be associated with. Mitchell never lived up to his promise, but was a Top 12 tight end from 1993-1995. You’d like to have a little more production from Ebron since he’s valued so highly. He had just eight career touchdowns, with a pedestrian red zone conversion rate (29 percent, catching seven of 24 targets). He also isn’t quite the athlete that he’s billed up as, trailing Colt Lyerla and A.C. Leonard in this class from a physical profile perspective. His adjusted speed score and explosion scores are above par, but far from elite and not on the same planet as an athlete to Vernon Davis, a player he is wrongly compared to frequently. He’s worth an early to mid first round pick in rookie drafts if you don’t have a flavor of receiver or runner, but there’s still tight end value to be had later on.
The Two To Follow
Jace Amaro is a solid player all around but his success is more situation dependent than Ebron. He wasn’t as fast as many would’ve hope for (4.74 forty) but nothing damages or really inflates his rep overall from his production and physical profile. He just needs to find the right home in a pass heavy offense. He profiles on my end as a productive version of Brandon Pettigrew and would’ve ranked higher than any of the tight ends in 2013 for what it’s worth.
I still have yet to move off of Austin Seferian-Jenkins being the best tight end in this class and his sagging fantasy stock is only reinforcing me on buying copious amounts of shares. He’s the best option in my opinion to be really fantasy relevant because he’s elite when it comes to scoring touchdowns. ASJ was a dynamo in the red zone, catching 19 of 38 targets for touchdowns in his three years at Washington. His play dipped in 2013, but it’s unclear if the foot fracture that forced him to miss the pre-draft workouts had any impact on that. He has also had some off the field issues and his effort has been questioned. All of those things will likely force him to slide in both the real and in fantasy drafts, so there’s an element of his risk being removed by his cost.
More Athlete Than Production
I just mentioned Leonard, who put himself on the fantasy radar with a strong combine. He was one of the many Urbanites who ran into off field problems while at Florida. He was forced to transfer after assault charges on his girlfriend while there and finished his college career at Tennessee State. In his two years there, he did very little of note, scoring 11 total touchdowns and topping 60 receiving yards only once in 2013. He’s more of a late round shot in the dark that will have a hard time finding the field quickly in the NFL. Think Ed Dickson at the NFL level.
C.J. Fiedorowicz also fits this bill although he’s not a mega athlete. He had a very middling forty for his size, but has an outstanding mark in agility adjusted for his 265 pound frame. His production grade is a very “red area” though hasn’t produced anyone of fantasy significance. He totaled just 90 receptions and 10 touchdowns over his final three seasons at Iowa. His best case scenario comp is becoming Owen Daniels.
Lyerla was super impressive in Indianapolis for what we could quantify. He showed speed on par with Ebron while flashing a super explosion score (vertical plus broad jump). What we don’t have a gauge on is how well he did in the interview portion of combine weekend, something that what was likely very significant for most teams. He left Oregon after only one week in 2013, then was later arrested for cocaine possession and had an incident tweeting about the Sandy Hook tragedy. He’s a crazy athlete despite being smaller than the average tight end (6’4” 242), but with the NFL game shifting to an emphasis on speed and space, he’s a matchup nightmare in the ilk of Aaron Hernandez. If he’s drafted (he will be), he’s worth a late round rookie dart.
Gator Hoskins is an intriguing guy for me because as I’ve mentioned before, I love touchdowns. Hoskins scored 25 times over his final two seasons at Marshall, catching 19 of 33 red zone targets (58 percent). All of his physical measurables check out as well, except for his size (6’2” 253). His expected NFL position right now is being labeled as a fullback, which will crush his fantasy stock if you’re forced to use him as a running back. He may be used as a Charles Clay type in an offense, so keep a pin in him if he’s a tight end in your league.
Joe Don Duncan had an injured quad at the combine and only participated by throwing up 35 bench reps. His pro day is scheduled for April 15, so make a note. From small school Dixie State, JDD caught 71 passes for 13 touchdowns in 2013. His profile is much like the aforementioned Hoskins (6’3” 268) in that he will be used as an H-Back hybrid type.
There are more players than this in the draft, but these are some of the names I wanted to highlight. My final rookie pre-draft tight end list is below. Check back after the draft to see which guys had their score move based on their draft selection and destination.
|Jace Amaro||Texas Tech||22.5|
|Troy Niklas||Notre Dame||22.1|
|Joe Don Duncan||Dixie St||n/a|
|A.C. Leonard||Tenn St||22.8|