Jan 9, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide tight end O.J. Howard (88) catches and runs with the ball as Clemson Tigers tight end Jordan Leggett (16) tackles in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
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The talented group of tight ends at the 2017 NFL Combine will hope to draw the eye of teams with offensive needs.
Across the NFL, teams are looking to hop on the recent tight end trend. Combining two tight ends in a complete and move role has become the favorite of offenses—and tight ends in both roles can be found at the 2017 NFL Combine.
O.J. Howard is the leader of the class, and has a complete game that should see him go in the top-20 of the 2017 NFL Draft. He will be the most closely monitored, throughout the Combine, but there is a lot of move tight ends behind him that will garner some attention.
This group includes David Njoku, Jordan Leggett and small school prospect Adam Shaheen. These athletic tight ends should test really well, but will need to show really well in on-field drills to truly garner the attention of NFL evaluators. The tight ends will not get the same type as the receivers or running backs, but this class could end up having a big impact in 2016.
With all of that in mind, these are the five tight end prospects that you should be watching at the 2017 NFL Combine.
Oct 29, 2016; Oxford, MS, USA; Mississippi Rebels tight end Evan Engram (17) scores a touchdown during the first quarter of the game against the Auburn Tigers at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
5. Evan Engram, Ole Miss
Not many move tight ends get the needed experience in college to step in and make an immediate impact in the NFL. That is not the case for Evan Engram. He was used like a true move tight end at Ole Miss, and should be ready to do quite well at the NFL Combine.
Engram is not going to measure much bigger than a wide receiver, but that is somewhat typical for the new-age of move tight ends. He should shine in athletic drills, however, running well and showing good agility in college. He should be above average in the 40-yard dash, and the jumps. It will be interesting to see how Engram performs in the 3-cone drill since he showed some trouble stopping his routes and getting back to the ball.
He will also need to show that some of his easy drops are behind him. With no defenders, Engram should be able to haul in nearly every pass to prove this. He also needs to show the ability to get his footwork in check, snapping off his routes and coming back to the ball.
Engram is not a finished product, but showing that he is making strides at the combine could elevate his stock a good amount.
O.J. Howard is the crown jewel of the 2017 NFL Draft tight ends class. He is the most complete tight end in the class, and should show that at the NFL Combine. Howard will measure very well. He has good height (6-6) and a strong, muscular build (around 250 pounds) with long arms. He has a powerful lower half that he uses to get off the line very well and in blocking situations.
What’s more, Howard should run and jump well, but likely not at the top of the tight end class. He has good speed, but not an elite 40 time. He has good athleticism, but is not likely to dominate the shuttle, 3-cone drill or any of the jumps. His game comes more with the on-field drills, where he should inevitably shine.
Howard will run very good routes, getting in and out of his breaks with speed and securing the ball by plucking it. He shows very good technique when he is blocking, getting a good angle in his back and keeping his butt low and driving. He will show the ability to be a true weapon at the next level, especially with no defenders on him. He will not be at the top of all the athletic drills, but Howard remains the top tight end in the class.
Jan 9, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Clemson Tigers tight end Jordan Leggett (16) catches a pass against Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Ronnie Harrison (15) in the fourth quarter in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
3. Jordan Leggett, Clemson
In terms of pure size and athleticism, not many are going to top Leggett at the NFL Combine. He is a rare combination of size (6-6) and athleticism, but there is still plenty to prove for Leggett. He is going to have to have good conversations with teams in the interview room to dispel the narrative that he is lazy, or does not love the game. This might be the biggest part of his week, especially since he is likely to test very well.
Leggett should run a very good 40-yard dash, which will be made more impressive by his size. He has the athleticism to dominate the short shuttle, 3-cone drill and the jumps. However, these are all relative knowns at this point. What will be interesting is the supplementary work that the Clemson product will have to do at the Combine.
Watching Leggett on the field will be very big. He needs to show improvement in his route running, snapping off his routes rather than bending them. He needs to show the drive and passion to be the best in drills, even in a situation like the combine. This will go a long way to proving he is ready to take the next step and be engaged to being a professional and excelling at the NFL level.
Dec 28, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes tight end David Njoku (86) dives for the end zone to score a touchdown against the West Virginia Mountaineers during the second half at Camping World Stadium. The Miami Hurricanes defeat the West Virginia Mountaineers 31-14. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
2. David Njoku, Miami
Another size/agility guy, David Njoku is likely to be the second tight end off the board in the 2017 NFL Draft. He should solidify that spot at the NFL Combine, getting to show off his size and athletic ability for NFL evaluators.
He should measure well, and test even better. Njoku has a NFL-ready body with good height (6-4) length and a muscular frame. He will run very well, likely pushing for a spot near the top of the class. In the short-area drills, he should be at, or near the top. He moves his feet very well and does a terrific job adjusting in space and snapping off his routes.
He will also likely put on a display in the jumps, showing freakish leg power and explosion. His numbers will challenge for the best in the combine, even at his large size.
His athleticism should shine, and his hands will during on-field drills as well. He snatches the ball and pulls it in close. He runs good routes—running more like a receiver than a tight end. He has great body control, and keeps his feet in bounds near the sideline. Njoku plays with a high motor, which should benefit him greatly at an athletic competition like the NFL Combine.
Feb 29, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; A general view of Lucas Oil Stadium during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
1. Adam Shaheen, Ashland
The ultimate in small school prospects, Adam Shaheen will be at the NFL Combine from Ashland, and should open a lot of eyes during the week—even with all the big tight end names.
Shaheen is a great combination of size, speed and power. He will measure very well at 6-6 and above 270 pounds. He should run very well, showing good speed on film, especially for his size. He runs good routes, and should show well in the short-area drills as well.
Watching him on-field will be the biggest indicator, as it will be the first time many see him play live. He shows strong hands, and could benefit from top-tier quarterbacks throwing him the ball. He will need to show sharp footwork, and improved technique when it comes to the blocking drills. Not that the drill will show his ability to be an in-line blocker in the NFL, but it will show that he is improving on the tools he already has.