Washington, Oregon tight ends who’ve slipped in projections could bring big returns

04/23/2014 3:12 PM

05/08/2014 11:11 AM

This NFL Draft has widely been recognized as one of the deepest in years, so the opportunity for teams to find value in every round looms large.

And teams looking for tight end bargains — and yes, the Chiefs certainly qualify — might be tempted by two players who are believed to have first-round talent but have seen their stock slide.

At 6 feet 6 and 262 pounds, Washington junior Austin Seferian-Jenkins boasts impressive athleticism for his size and could become one of the rare NFL tight ends who can catch and block at an equally high level. But a stress fracture in his foot kept him from running at the combine and his pro day, and he was arrested on suspicion of DUI before the season.

“It was one incident and you can look through my history,” said Seferian-Jenkins, who is projected to be a second-day pick. “I’m not perfect. Last time I checked no one is perfect. Like I said, it was a learning lesson, and I learned it. It was one incident and that doesn’t change who I am. I think people in Seattle and Tacoma know who I am as a person and character and I don’t think I’m a character risk or a character issue at all.”

Teams could have a harder time getting over the troubles of Oregon junior Colt Lyerla, another athletic tight end who has seen his stock tumble.

Lyerla, 6-4 and 242 pounds, ran a 4.61 40-yard dash and broad jumped 128 inches at the combine, but only made two catches for 26 yards last season. He started three of the Ducks’ first four games last fall before he was suspended for violating team rules and left the team Oct. 6 for personal reasons. His driver’s license was suspended a week later and he was arrested Oct. 23 for alleged cocaine possession.

At the combine, Lyerla — who is projected to be a mid-round pick — did his best to own up to his mistakes.

“I think the biggest thing for me is just to be honest and to show remorse, where remorse is due, and just do my best to prove that I’ve changed and I’m changing and I’ve matured since I made those mistakes,” he said.

“As much as I hate to say it, I think some of the mishaps that happened and me getting in trouble probably is the best thing that’s happened to me because it really put me at a point in place and gave me time to self reflect and just really helped me realize exactly what I want out of life and what I need to do to get it.”

Namely, he said, that has meant growing up and distancing himself from old friends.

“The biggest thing is just not hanging out with the people that I was hanging out with before, concentrating and focusing only on football and just staying positive with it,” he said.

When the draft rolls around, both he and Seferian-Jenkins will find out whether the league’s decision-makers believe them. Because there’s a place for players with their talent in the NFL, even on teams that already boast a strong tight end.

Take the Chiefs, for example. They invested a third-round pick in Travis Kelce last season, but he didn’t make an impact as a rookie because of microfracture surgery on his knee. Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Kelce has been progressing, but even with other reliable options on the roster, such as Anthony Fasano and Sean McGrath, it seems a team using the West Coast offense can never have too many tight ends.

“When I was a young (coach) in the league (in Green Bay), I had two Pro Bowlers in Mark Chmura and Keith Jackson,” Reid said when asked if two dynamic tight ends co-exist on the same team.

“You can do a lot of things with (quality tight ends), especially if they can block. I think if you look in general, you can’t have enough good players at any position. You’ll make it work.”

Top 10 prospects for the Chiefs

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1. Eric Ebron, 6-4, 250, North Carolina

Bio: Two-year starter who declared for the draft after catching

62 passes for 973 yards and three touchdowns in 2013. Is 21 years old. 33 1/4-inch arms. 10-inch hands. 4.60 40-yard dash. 24 bench reps. 32-inch vertical. 120-inch broad jump.

Consensus:

Is widely regarded as the best tight end in the draft. Drops some catchable balls, but his athleticism and ball skills are legit. Has the ability to be a vertical threat, make contested catches, beat linebackers one-on-one and run after the catch. Needs to improve his effort and technique as a blocker. A little more bulk would help.

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2. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, 6-6, 262, Washington

Bio:

Three-year starter who declared for the draft after catching 36 passes for 450 yards and eight touchdowns in 2013. Is 21 years old. 33 3/4-inch arms. 9 3/4-inch hands. 20 bench reps. Did not perform at the combine or Washington’s pro day because of a stress fracture in his left foot. Arrested on suspicion of DUI before his senior season, was suspended for one game.

Consensus:

Massive frame and length. Has experience in a pro-style, zone-blocking scheme. Former basketball player who is big enough to shield defenders away from the ball in traffic and also be a factor in the running game. Has some nastiness as a blocker and typically locates his man, walls him off and completes his assignment. However, he gives inconsistent effort in this area. Displays soft hands and enough athleticism to be a downfield threat and create separation over the middle. Can high-point the ball in the air. Occasionally lined up in the slot and flexed out wide.

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3. Jace Amaro, 6-5, 265, Texas Tech

Bio:

Two-year starter who declared for the draft after catching 106 passes for 1,352 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013. Is 21 years old. 34-inch arms. 9-inch hands. 4.74 40-yard dash. 28 bench reps. 33-inch vertical. 118-inch broad jump. 7.42 three-cone drill. 4.30 20-yard shuttle. 12.26 60-yard shuttle. Was thrown out of a bowl game for throwing a punch.

Consensus:

Insanely productive. Good size with long arms, but is more of a receiver than a tight end — primarily lined up as a slot receiver. OK as a blocker but is willing and flashes a mean streak. Really good athleticism as a pass catcher — has the speed to be a vertical presence. Is tough and willing to work the middle of the field, but he has small hands and is inconsistent catching the ball in traffic.

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4. Troy Niklas, 6-6, 270, Notre Dame

Bio: Two-year starter who declared for the draft after catching

32 passes for 498 yards and five touchdowns in 2013. Is 21 years old. 34 1/8-inch arms. 10-inch hands. Did not run the 40-yard dash during the combine and did not do it during his pro day because of injury. 27 bench reps. 32-inch vertical. 114-inch broad jump. 7.57 three-cone drill. 4.55 20-yard shuttle. 12.19 60-yard shuttle.

Consensus:

Has big hands and a large catch radius. Gives good effort as a blocker and understands blocking angles. Has the potential to move people at the next level. Also has plenty of experience as a pass blocker. Won’t run away from anybody in the passing game but has a big enough body to shield defenders from the ball and work over the middle. Good hands and burst in and out of routes. Has only been playing tight end for two years — he previously played defensive end and outside linebacker — so there’s still plenty of upside.

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5. C.J. Fiedorowicz, 6-5, 265, Iowa

Bio:

Three-year starter who caught 30 passes for 299 yards and six touchdowns in 2013. Is 22 years old. 33-inch arms. 10 1/4-inch hands. 4.76 40-yard dash. 25 bench reps. 31 1/2-inch vertical. 116-inch broad jump. 7.10 three-cone drill. 4.26 20-yard shuttle.

Consensus:

Big frame, has experience in a zone-blocking system. Gives effort in pass protection and carries out his assignment as a run blocker. Big hands, is a fairly reliable receiver. Shows potential as an underneath target but can also get downfield. Surprising athleticism but isn’t an elite receiving threat.

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6. Marcel Jensen, 6-6, 259, Fresno State

Bio:

Two-year starter who caught 26 passes for 353 yards and three touchdowns in 2013. Is 24 years old. 34 7/8-inch arms. 9 7/8-inch hands. 4.85 40-yard dash. 24 bench reps. 35-inch vertical. 115-inch broad jump. 7.38 three-cone drill.

Consensus:

Big frame, long arms. Is old for a rookie. Showed athleticism and ball skills on seam routes — catch stretch the field a little. despite his pedestrian 40. Needs to get stronger and refine his technique as a blocker but he gives good effort and has the size to move guys in the NFL. Also has a knack for blocking kicks.

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7. Crockett Gillmore, 6-6, 260, Colorado State

Bio:

Three-year starter who caught 47 passes for 577 yards and two touchdowns in 2013. Is 22 years old. 34 3/4-inch arms. 10 3/8-inch hands. 4.89 40-yard dash. 33 1/2-inch vertical. 120-inch broad jump. 7.42 three-cone drill. 4.44 20-yard shuttle.

Consensus: Big body — long arms and big hands make for a wide catching radius. Lack of speed means he isn’t a vertical threat but he catches the ball OK. Gives good effort as a run blocker and will only get better when he gets stronger. Pass blocking is also adequate.

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8. Colt Lyerla, 6-4, 242, Oregon

Bio:

Two-year starter who caught two passes for 26 yards and no touchdowns in 2013. Has his best season in 2012, when he caught 25 passes for 392 yards and six touchdowns. Is 21 years old. 32 3/4-inch arms. 10 1/4-inch hands. 4.61 40-yard dash. 15 bench reps. 39-inch vertical. 128-inch broad jump. Had a rough upbringing and also had significant off-the-field issues at Oregon. Was suspended for violating team rules last fall and he left the team Oct. 6 for personal reasons. Had his driver’s license suspended a week later and was arrested Oct. 23 for alleged cocaine possession.

Consensus:

His gifts as a receiving tight end aren’t a question, as his impressive 40 time and vertical would attest. Is a fluid route runner with run-after-the-catch ability. Drops a few too many catchable balls but he has big hands and was more consistent in 2012. Is an OK blocker — needs to refine his technique. The big question is his off-the-field stuff — teams will be scared away by his arrests and issues off the field at Oregon. Will need to go to a team with strong leadership.

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9. Blake Annen, 6-4, 247, Cincinnati

Bio:

First-year starter who caught 16 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns in 2013. Is 22 years old. 33-inch arms. 9 7/8-inch hands. 4.41 40-yard dash. 25 bench reps. 34-inch vertical. 120-inch broad jump. 7.48 three-cone drill time.

Consensus:

Limited production last season but a killer pro day raised his profile. Is not an overpowering blocker but is willing. Is raw as a receiving prospect but has tools to become a good receiving threat.

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10. Nic Jacobs, 6-5, 269, McNeese State

Bio:

First-year starter who caught 32 passes for 453 yards and four touchdowns in 2013. Began his career at LSU. Is 22 years old. 34 1/8-inch arms. 10-inch hands. 4.76 40-yard dash. 15 bench reps. 33 1/2-inch vertical. 117-inch broad jump. Was suspended for four games during his time at LSU for a violation of team rules, transferred to McNeese State before the 2013 season.

Consensus:

Big body who needs to gain strength as a blocker but has potential in that area. Shows good athleticism, enough to get to the second level as a blocker. Rounds off his routes and needs to work on his overall technique but flashes the athleticism and hands to be an interesting fit in a West Coast offense.

*All evaluations and rankings are based largely on multiple draft profiles — thanks to NFL.com, ESPN.com, CBSSports.com and DraftNasty’s 2014 NFL Draft Manual — interviews with draft analysts and the author’s own film evaluations. Measurements and testing results are from the combine and pro days, according to the resources listed above.

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