This post covers my preliminary rankings of the top running backs entering the 2017 NFL Draft. For analysis of the respective rankings of certain prospects, see the corresponding footnotes (+).
TIGHT END: (+)
1. OJ Howard (Alabama) | 6’6 250(++)
2. David Njoku (Miami) | 6’4 250(+++)
3. Bucky Hodges (Virginia Tech) | 6’6 245 (++++)
4. Jordan Leggett (Clemson) | 6’5 255 (+++++)
5. Cole Hikutini (Louisville) | 6’4 255 (+++++)
6. Evan Engram (Ole Miss) | 6’3 230 (++++)
7. Gerald Everett (South Alabama) | 6’3 240
8. Jake Butt (Michigan) | 6’5 250 (++++++)
9. Adam Shaheen (Ashland) | 6’5 275
10. Jeremy Spinkle (Arkansas) | 6’5 250
11. Michael Roberts (Toledo) | 6’4 260
(+) This is easily the best TE prospect class to come along in years. This class will provide a comparable injection of talent to the NFL tight end position that the 2014 WR draft class provided to the NFL wide receiver position.
(++) I’m still trying to figure out why there isn’t more acknowledgement that OJ Howard is the best TE prospect to come along in years. At 6’6 250, he displays rare strength and agility, break away speed and is–as draft pundit Matt Miller has also asserted–arguably the best blocking TE in the class. His lack of eye-popping production may appear to be a red flag. However, given Alabama’s general offensive game plan and Howard’s propensity to go off in big games, it would seem to be a failure of imagination to not foresee Howard’s potential to put up all-pro production at the next level. To any event, even in the best TE draft class in recent memory, Howard should be a Top 15 pick.
(++) If there is one TE prospect who could challenge Howard as the best overall, it’s Njoku. At 6’4 250, Njoku possesses an excellent build to go along with excellent athleticism, hands and blocking ability. He should be a mid to late first round selection.
(+++) Hodges and Engram are best described as hydrid TE/WR prospects. Hodges, at 6’6 245, consistently lined up outside at WR his junior season and created consistent matchup problems for opposing defenses uncertain whether to place a DB (out-matched physically) or an LB (out-matched athletically) on him. Hodges fails, at times, to use his size advantage in jump ball situations and is prone to dropping catchable balls occasionally, but he otherwise demonstrates solid hands, athleticism, route-running and functional blocking to merit mid to late first round consideration… Engram, at 6’3 230, elicits faint comparisons to Jordan Reed (although I think they exhibit different styles athletically). Engram is arguably more WR prospect than TE, but he’s a willing, if unspectacular, blocker in an H-Back/Move piece role. Engram will inevitably be underrated given his size and tweener status in a deep TE class, but he could end up being one of the steals of the draft in the second to third (possibly even fourth) round given his hands, route running and athleticism.
(++++) Leggett, Hikutini and Butt (health status notwithstanding) would all likely garner consideration as the top overall TE prospect in many draft classes, as each TE prospect ranks similarly to last year’s top TE selection Hunter Henry. Leggett, at 6’5 255, possesses the type of athleticism and reliable hands to quickly develop into a top 12 TE in the NFL… Hikutini is arguably my favorite underrated TE prospect (of many) in this class. He similarly possesses above-average size, athleticism and hands to develop into a top 12 TE. He reminds me somewhat of Travis Kelce, who was similarly an underrated prospect with impressive size and athleticism coming out of Cincinnati years ago… Jake Butt would be my #7 rated TE regardless of his bowl game injury. This is a function of the rare strength of this particular TE class, but in watching Butt play, I see a prospect that exhibits inferior agility, speed, route-running and blocking abilities to many of the TEs ranked ahead in this class. Still, given Butt’s size, strength, hands and red zone abilities, he’s more than worthy of a selection somewhere between rounds three and five (considering the injury).