Ebron Can’t Lead The Tight End Group Alone Again, And The Draft Is The Best Place To Find Help.
Welcome to this year’s draft overview series. In this series, I take a look at five possible options at each position that Detroit could end up taking in this years NFL draft. Earlier this week, I looked at the offensive line, next up is the tight end position.
Eric Ebron had a lot to deal with last season. While being the starter, he didn’t have much help behind him. Brandon Pettigrew was on the PUP list, then would be released later in the season. Tim Wright got injured during the off-season and would miss the entire year. Detroit signed Cole Wick who shined in Training Camp but fell flat in pre-season and would miss the majority of the season with an injury.
Detroit then had Matthew Mulligan who did well as the blocking tight end, and Clay Harbor who didn’t seem to be the same player he once was. This offseason, Detroit needed to make some moves and so far they have signed the veteran blocking tight end Darren Fells, but Detroit shouldn’t be done shopping just yet. This year’s NFL Draft class has multiple tight ends that are NFL ready, and it was hard to pick just five since there are over a dozen that should be on Detroit’s radar. This list isn’t the five best, but five of the biggest names Detroit fans should keep an eye on.
1. O.J. Howard (Alabama)
You can’t have a list of tight ends in this draft and not talk about O.J. Howard. Howard is the most well-rounded tight end in this class and could actually compete with Eric Ebron to start and get good playing time even if he isn’t the starter. At his four years at Alabama, Howard caught 114 passes for 1,726 yards and seven touchdowns. Howard isn’t just a good receiving tight end, the man can also block well.
When it comes to catching the ball, Howard does it well. His soft hands and route running skills are impressive and make him stand out. He can get some speed, running a 4.51 at the combine. With his size at 6’6, he can make a short throw into a big gain. Blocking wise, Howard takes on linebackers head on and is able to keep them out of the play. He will need to get stronger if he is going to block on the line in the NFL though. When running routes, the defender seems to know where he is going, as he doesn’t have the moves to make them guess. When blocking, he keeps his hands inside and does it well. He can be a for sure playmaker in the NFL.
Howard is a lock in the first round and if he falls to 21, Detroit would have a tough decision to take him or help the defense.
2. Jake Butt (Michigan)
A torn ACL killed Jake Butt in this draft. Butt was a projected first/second rounder in 2016 but decided to come back to Michigan and while his projections didn’t move at all during the year, they took a hit when he tore his ACL against Florida State in the Orange Bowl. That shouldn’t take away from what Butt did for the Wolverines, getting 138 catches for 1,646 yards and 11 touchdowns. While he isn’t as great at blocking compared to Howard, Butt can still do a well enough job to play at the next level.
Jake Butt has some strong hands and has the size to be a talented future NFL player. If the ball is thrown in a tight window, Butt can snag the ball and secure it for a completion. He can destroy a zone coverage when he just plops right in getting easy yardage. He does well when blocking next to the lineman, but struggles at times when asked to do it by himself. Speedy linebackers get by him quickly as his feet aren’t fast enough. Butt isn’t fast when catching the ball, so it is easy for defenders to catch up and knock him down. Although he isn’t that fast, Butt can compete for the catch and adjust his route if needed to help get by the defense.
With Butt’s injury, he could miss a big chunk of time in 2017, so his stock has fallen to the third round and if he sits there Detroit may bite the bullet and snag Butt.
3. Michael Roberts (Toledo)
While Roberts doesn’t have the playing time like Howard and Butt did, he still put up good numbers, getting 70 catches for 832 yards and 22 touchdowns. Roberts can instantly help Detroit in the receiving department for tight ends and can give Stafford another weapon.
With big hands, Roberts is able to make some catches. He can control his body well as he can grab some catches outside of his frame. He does struggle with his blocking game. He tends to lean too high and sometimes falls face first. Quick players know how to get around and through him. Route running skills could improve. Roberts does do well when on the line in blocking, but like Butt struggles at times when he is by himself.
Roberts should be available in the fourth round and that could be the time Detroit starts looking at offense after focusing on defense in the first three rounds.
4. Jeremy Sprinkle (Arkansas)
Another player whose stock was affected, but not because of injury. Sprinkle was with his team during the Belk Bowl and during his shopping spree at a Belk store, Sprinkle thought it was a great time to try and steal items. It wasn’t a smart move by the future NFL player, and it hurt him. When it comes to on the field, Sprinkle means well, getting 71 catches for 921 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Another duel threat tight end that can block and play receiver. He can keep his blocks held long enough for the back to get by or to give the quarterback time to throw. His size can be compared to an NFL offensive lineman, which helps when it comes to blocking but hurts in the receiving game. He can go low and grab the underthrown passes. Sprinkle does need to gain some muscle on his arms. Sprinkle also had many plays where he would block quickly, then go out for a route and majority of the time those weren’t working. He is slow, running a 4.69 at the combine. If his blocking assignment is getting dealt with by another player, he doesn’t look for another person to take out. With his size, his stride can make a small play worth a good chunk of yards and can use his size to go up big against defenders when the ball is in the air.
Sprinkle has been falling with his incident at the Belk bowl and the fifth round is where he is likely headed.
5. George Kittle (Iowa)
Now we have someone who isn’t big on paper, and he won’t be getting the most playing time, but he can contribute. Kittle had only 48 catches for 737 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Kittle is the smallest tight end out of this group at 6’4, but his blocking skills are there. He keeps his hands inside the frame of the defender. Kittle did run a 4.52 at the combine but struggles to get separation between him and the defender when trying to get open. Had only one drop in his career, solid hands. He can adjust his body to certain throws and tries to get the ball.
Kittle would be a for sure third string tight end, everyone else on this list would compete for the backup spot but Detroit could take him in the sixth round.