It’s hard to believe, but we are just days away from the start of Senior Bowl week. I don’t know about you, but I am so amped for the week I can hardly contain myself.
Thanks to Breaking Football Editor-in-Chief, Jon Valencia, and the rest of the people here, I’m going to have the opportunity to travel to Mobile and take in the practices and game first-hand. It’s going to be one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to acknowledge that and thank everyone for the opportunity.
Now that we have that out of the way, it’s time to take a look at the tight end group who’s going to be looking to boost their draft stock during the week in Mobile. This group is a bit of a mixed-bag, as we have some big-named guys from conventional college football powerhouses.
We also have a couple of top-notch prospects who come to us from schools no one would think of as producing potential first-round talent. Whether it’s Mark Andrews from Oklahoma or Dallas Goedert from South Dakota State, the group is rife with talent. Throw in Tyler Conklin and Ian Thomas as under-rated prospects who could greatly help their stock, and this is an exciting group. Let’s take a look at each guy individually
Massachusetts tight end Adam Breneman is one of the more solid blocking tight ends in this class, holding his own well against larger, more athletic defensive ends. He’s not a road grader when it comes to blocking, but he gets the job done.
The biggest plus to his game are his hands. He catches everything thrown his way. He has soft hands and a propensity for making spectacular one-handed catches. He catches the ball away from his body, not letting the ball into his chest. Combine that with his massive catch radius, and you have the makings of a decent prospect.
Breneman also uses his size well in the receiving game, using his 6’4″, 240 lbs frame to shield the defender from the ball. Medicals are going to be key for Breneman. Before coming to UMass, Breneman suffered multiple knee injuries as the Penn State tight end prior to Mike Gesicki.
Out of all the tight ends invited to the Senior Bowl, Central Michigan’s Tyler Conklin might just be my favorite. He’s not necessarily the best prospect of the bunch (that distinction goes to South Dakota’s Dallas Goedert), but he might be the most underrated of the group.
He should be talked about right alongside of guys like Hayden Hurst, Jaylen Samuels, and another Senior Bowl invitee, Adam Breneman, in that second tier group. Conklin oozes athletic ability and might be the second-best route runner of the bunch. He has solid hands, though not the best of the group. He has the versatility to be lined up outside and the blocking ability to be trusted inside.
He is occasionally a beat slow off the line and can lose inside leverage to defensive ends, and does get caught lunging for guys when asked to block in the open field. A solid showing in Senior Bowl practices could go a long way towards putting Conklin on people’s radar.
Wisconsin tight end Troy Fumagalli may be the most traditional tight end of the Senior Bowl bunch. That may be just as much a product of the Badgers offense playing in the Big 10 as it is an indictment of Fumagalli’s athletic ability. Either way, Fumagalli is lined up in-line more often than his other counterparts, and in turn is probably the most solid blocking tight end of the bunch.
He doesn’t flash the athletic ability that most of the group has, rarely making a leaping catch or shaking a defender in the open field. But what he lacks in athleticism, he makes up for in solid route running and hands. Rarely drops anything remotely near him, which is all the more impressive when you consider Fumagalli is missing a portion of the index finger on his left hand due to a birth defect and subsequent surgery. Fumagalli is probably best suited for a power running, less imaginative offense, but should make for a very solid pro.
— Jake Steinberg (@Steiny31) January 8, 2018
There’s a strong contingent of people out there who would say that Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki is the head of the class at the position. From a receiving standpoint, I can see where that group is coming from.
Gesicki might be the most adept route-runner of the group. He possesses a lot of speed and burst for a guy of his size, and runs the most varied, crisp routes of the group. He has plenty of athletic ability, and has really good hands. His hands aren’t quite on par with Dallas Goedert for me, as there were a few passes I saw go through his hands that I feel Goedert would have come down with.
It’s splitting hairs as a receiving threat, but Gesicki and Goedert are clearly “1-2” of the Senior Bowl crop in that aspect. Where Gesicki loses a lot of points with me is his blocking, or lack there of. Watching Gesicki block almost gives me a headache. Unless he has a clear size advantage, he gets bullied along the line. Even when he has the size advantage, it can sometimes be a toss-up. I’ll be very interested to see how much he’s asked to demonstrate that in Mobile, and how effective — or not — he’ll be.
South Dakota State’s Dallas Goedert is the last of the “Big Four” of the position on this list, but for my money he’s the best of the class. Not just of the Senior Bowl participants, but of the entire tight end class as a whole.
There isn’t a whole lot that Goedert can’t do at an elite level. The knock on him is going to be the level of competition he faced with the Jackrabbits, but make no mistake about it, this kid can ball. He’s not a speed guy, but with his athletic ability and great catch radius, he doesn’t need to be. His hands are incredible, and he can sky for a jump ball with the best of them.
He’s going to need to get better as a blocker, in both the run and pass game, if he’s going to be trusted as an in-line blocker. However, he should step in right away and make an immediate impact for a team as a pass catcher. In today’s NFL, that’s what you’re primarily looking for from a tight end anyway. They’re essentially another wide receiver out there.
Chris Herndon IV
If you’re a team looking for a tight end with a high upside, then Miami’s Chris Herndon IV is your guy. Right now I feel like Herndon is a JAG (Just A Guy), but he has the athletic ability and potential to grow into a very good tight end at the next level. He’s really good at using his size and strength to his advantage as a runner in the open field. Improved a lot as a blocker from last year to this year, though there is still room for improvement.
Teams are going to love the versatility that Herndon provides, being able to line up in-line, outside in the slot, or even in the backfield. He should make a good option for teams in the fourth or fifth round, but I don’t think he’s quite at the level of most of the other Senior Bowl tight ends.
I look at Notre Dame tight end Durham Smythe as a sort of middle ground in the the Senior Bowl tight end group. He’s not quite at the same level as some of the upper-echelon guys with regards to route running or pass catching ability. He certainly hasn’t been the red-zone threat that some of his fellow tight ends have been, but that can just as easily be chalked up to poor play at the QB position from the Irish, particularly this past season.
On the other hand, Smythe brings more to the table than a lot of the Senior Bowl participants with regards to his blocking. He might not be the most solid of the bunch, but there are several worse. Medicals may be a question for Smythe, as he missed 10 games in the 2015 season with shoulder and knee issues.
Ian Thomas, the tight end from Indiana, might be the most intriguing of all the Senior Bowl tight ends. Overshadowed somewhat by standout wide receiver, and teammate, Simmie Cobbs, Jr., Thomas is a solid receiver in his own right.
Thomas is probably the head-of-the-class when it comes to a vertical threat at the position. He’s somewhat of a “Jack of all trades, master of none” prospect, in that he’s a solid pass catcher, a good route runner, and decent with regards to his blocking ability. But he doesn’t separate from the group in any of those categories.
He doesn’t have the hands of a Dallas Goedert. He’s not as adept at blocking as a Troy Fumagalli, and he’s not quite as refined a route runner as a Mike Gesicki. He doesn’t create as much separation in his routes as a few of these guys, but is better at it than a few of the others. He’s just middle-of-the-road across the board.
If you’re a team who has an established tight end who’s nearing the end of his career and you want a guy who has potential to blossom, Thomas could be a great Day 3 option for you.
If you’ve enjoyed this piece, or any of the previous position breakdowns you’ve seen this week, be on the look-out for the Breaking Football Draft Guide, coming later this year. Be sure to follow each of us on Twitter for more information on the guide as we approach April’s 2018 NFL Draft.