It’s Friday, which means that the Senior Bowl practices have officially wrapped up for the year. All that’s left, at least from a scouting perspective, is the game.
While it’s important to get a look at what these guys can do in a game situation, the most important aspect of the week has come to a close. It’s time to put a bow on the week and dive into what we’ve seen from the tight end class this past week.
But before we get into the real nitty-gritty of the week, I want to take a moment to give thanks. I’ve had such an incredible time this week, I’m almost at a loss for words. I want to thank Jon Valencia and the rest of the Breaking Football crew we’ve had down here for giving us some amazing coverage. I want to thank guys like Connor Rogers and Matt Miller from Bleacher Report, Arif Hasan from Zone Coverage MN for letting me pick their brains for a moment, and for just being all-around great guys to meet.
I’d also like to thank everyone else that I’ve met here in Mobile: people from #DraftTwitter, other important people in the scouting world (like Jon Ledyard and Mark Schofield), and the amazing people here in Mobile. This has been the experience of a lifetime, and I fully intend to make a return trip next year.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s dig in to the good and bad that we’ve seen from the 2018 Senior Bowl tight end class.
Football is a violent sport and injuries happen. Even in mostly non-contact practices, sometimes injuries are simply unavoidable. Unfortunately, the Senior Bowl was no different and we saw not one, but two of the most high-profile tight ends have to cut their week short due to injury. Both South Dakota State’s Dallas Goedert and University of Massachusetts’ Adam Breneman left Mobile after the first day of practice with hamstring injuries.
It’s particularly disappointing that Goedert was forced to abandon the practices and games, as one of the knocks on him is going to be the level of competition he faced for the Jackrabbits. Goedert is a clear-cut TE1 for this analyst, but for many there are some questions that could have been put to bed with a strong performance in Mobile.
The same can be said for Breneman, but most scouts view him in a tier below the top-tier guys like Goedert, Mark Andrews, and two guys we’ll look at in a minute, Mike Gesicki and Troy Fumagalli. A strong performance could have helped Breneman bridge that gap, but I’m not sure there’s anything he could have done, short of a truly Herculean performance, that would have vaulted him into that territory.
While Goedert is my personal top prospect at the tight end position, most people would disagree and give the nod to Mike Gesicki. It’s not hard to see why they would, either. Gesicki is a physical specimen who brings just about everything you could want to the position. He has athletic ability for days. He has soft hands and a great catch radius to bring in just about everything that comes his way. He has enough speed and nuance to his route running to win in space and create separation against linebackers and safeties alike.
All of those traits were on display in spades this week in Senior Bowl practices. Gesicki feasted on the North team’s safeties and linebackers all week. He was quick enough and displayed the technical skill in his route running to beat anyone lined up against him consistently. He also displayed physicality at the position, using his body to make contact and force separation at the break point.
Why, then, is he not my top tight end? Versatility, or lack thereof. Gesicki on film is a guy that you have to line up outside; he can’t be trusted to come in-line and give you consistent, solid blocking. That’s been the rub on him all week, and it was clear in the third day of practices that he really wanted to showcase what he can do in that aspect. He put some of those fears to bed for me today.
Gesicki had some struggles in this aspect in the first two days of practice, but he showed out on the third and final day. One play in particular caught my eye. During the goal-line drills for the North squad, Gesicki was lined up on the left side of the formation and was asked to come inside to trap block a linebacker. Not only was Gesicki solid in his assignment, stonewalling the linebacker, he was able to position himself in such a way that he helped block a penetrating defensive tackle as well. Blocks like that are key in getting your running back to the hole for a score.
Wisconsin tight end Troy Fumagalli was one of the more disappointing tight ends for me at the Senior Bowl practices. It’s not that Fumagalli played poorly. He didn’t. But he didn’t play particularly well, either. He wasn’t bad enough for me to talk at length about the poor performance like I could about a few players at other positions. But he also didn’t do anything that stood out to me in a positive way, either. He was just kind of….there.
Fumagalli didn’t do anything to help his NFL Draft stock at the Senior Bowl practices in my eyes, but he didn’t do anything to hurt his stock, either. At the end of the day, that’s not something you can be upset about, I suppose. Fumagalli did flash some solid route running, and decent blocking skills, but didn’t show either often enough for me to say anything more than that. He also had a couple of drops that made me throw my hands up in the air, but that’s to be expected from just about everyone. Fumagalli was solid this week, but wholly unnoteworthy.
Coming into Senior Bowl week, my favorite tight end on the roster, and maybe the entire draft class, was Central Michigan tight end Tyler Conklin. The Chippewa tight end, no relation to Tennesse Titans offensive lineman Jack Conklin, possesses a great combination of skills that I think will serve him very well at the next level.
He’s highly athletic, is a solid blocker, and does well in his route running. He’s not necessarily the best at any one of those traits, but he’s right up there with the best of them. The gap between the supposed “Big 4” and Conklin isn’t as large as people think, and I still maintain that stance despite a less-than-stellar Senior Bowl practice week for Conklin.
Conklin flashed more often than the aforementioned Troy Fumagalli. There were a few routes, particularly on the third day of practice, that were really pretty. Conklin held his own against the safeties and linebackers on all three days, and won more often than not on all three days. He also exhibited better blocking skills than I expected from him coming into the week, though there is still definite room for improvement.
Unfortunately, for all the good that Conklin did, he negated a good portion of it by not being able to finish the play. Each day Conklin had a few drops on balls that hit him square in the hands. He wasn’t done any favors when he was thrown to by Josh Allen or Tanner Lee, but there were multiple throws that he’s going to have to haul in at the next level if he’s going to stick around in the league.
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t expect a whole lot from Notre Dame tight end Durham Smythe when I arrived in Mobile. Smythe was my lowest-rated tight end coming into Senior Bowl week, as I didn’t see much on film to write home about. I’m willing to attribute a lot of that to the poor Irish offense this season, and the fact that I wasn’t able to track down a lot of older film on Smythe.
With that said, I was pleasantly surprised with what I saw from Smythe this week. He wasn’t necessarily the top performer at the position this week, but I definitely feel like he’s one of the guys who earned himself some money. Smythe flashed several times over the week, showing some really nice route-running skills. He also showed that he has the hands necessary to be a pass-catching threat, coming down with a couple really nice catches over the week. His savvy route-running really impressed me, and was something I was not expecting to see from him.
As I’m sure you’ve probably gathered by now, I put a particular emphasis on the blocking aspect of being a tight end. I probably value it a little too much with the way the NFL game has evolved, but I truly feel like it’s an overlooked part of the evaluation process in today’s scouting environment. Smythe impressed me in this facet of the game, too. Overall, Smythe is easily my biggest riser from the North team.
Stay tuned for the second part of my Senior Bowl tight end recap, taking a look at the South team and the impact that losing both Goedert and Breneman had on the overall performance of the position.