First-Round Trio Leads Rookie Tight End Rankings

Author Jay Clemons

Sports Hub Technologies, in accordance with its partner LeagueSafe.com, offers an early ranking of the tight end rookie Class of 2017, citing standard-scoring leagues.

This group, on the whole, has tangible upside in the long run. However, in the short term, this class’s reputation shall revolve around three mammoth-sized talents from Power 5 schools.

EVAN ENGRAM, GIANTS

Let’s invoke some Vegas-style logic with this top selection. Barring injury, Engram would be a 3-5 preseason favorite to post the best fantasy numbers, among rookie tight ends.

Here are the reasons:

1) Citing the 2015-16 seasons, the Giants tight ends accounted for a grand total of five touchdowns.

2) Giants QB Eli Manning attempted 598 passes last year (63-percent completion rate) … but only targeted the tight-end trio of Will Tye, Larry Donnell and Jerell Adams an average of three times per outing.

3) Engram has Jimmy Graham-like versatility, pre-snap, possessing the range to line up in various receiver slots — regardless of down and distance.

4) The Giants haven’t had a tight end with Engram’s combination of size (6-foot-3, 234 pounds), speed (4.42 40 time), catch radius (36-inch vertical leap) and route-running ability since the days of Jeremy Shockey.

As such, Engram (65 catches/926 yards/8 TDs at Ole Miss last year) represents a plug-and-play option as the club’s primary tight end.

Target area in standard-scoring drafts: Late in Round 8
Target area in PPR drafts: Midway through Round 8

DAVID NJOKU, BROWNS

Check out the Browns’ current depth chart at tight end: David Njoku, Randall Telfer, Seth DeValve, JP Holtz and Taylor McNamara. (As Kramer might say, “Frankly, these names sound made up.”) And yet, the front office somehow felt compelled to drop Gary Barnidge from the program, despite having plenty of room under the 2017 salary cap.

So, instead of Njoku (43 catches/698 yards/8 TDs last year) learning from a pro’s pro in Year 1, he’s consigned to the unenviable tasks of mastering an NFL playbook on the fly and leading a cast of positional no-names throughout training camp and the regular season.

Ridiculous, huh? It’s the Browns.

On the flip side, the freakishly athletic Njoku (similar praise bestowed upon Eric Ebron in 2014 … 2015 … 2016) should command the lion’s share of tight-end touches this fall; and that’s nothing to sneeze at. The aforementioned Barnidge averaged 104 targets the previous two campaigns in Cleveland, minus the luxury of quarterback stability.

Target area in standard-scoring drafts: Late in Round 11
Target area in PPR drafts: Midway through Round 11

O.J. HOWARD, BUCCANEERS

Back in January, it only took five minutes of Senior Bowl coverage on TV to realize that Howard (114 catches/1,726 yards/7 TDs at Alabama) was the apple of every NFL scout’s eye in Mobile, Alabama.

His physical gifts (6-foot-6, 250 pounds) and off-the-charts character were drawing rave reviews from coaches and general managers — so much that it spurred talk of Howard becoming the highest-drafted tight end in NFL history (Vernon Davis still owns that record — 6th overall).

But alas, Howard “fell” to the 19th overall pick and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, perhaps for reasons out of his control.

Or maybe it had something to do with this: Yes, Howard was amazing in Alabama’s last two BCS national-title appearances, cumulatively netting nine catches, 314 yards and three touchdowns.

But when removing those otherworldly outings against Clemson … for the other 44 college games, Howard owned just five TDs and 39 efforts of four or fewer receptions.

The message here: We love Howard’s down-the-road potential, but it’s hard to envision him immediately usurping Cameron Brate (57 catches/660 yards/8 TDds last year) on the Buccaneers’ depth chart.

That’s how smart teams usually approach things. You don’t throw untested rookies into the highly pressurized starting mix … when there’s already a healthy and productive veteran on the payroll.

Target area in standard-scoring drafts: Early in Round 11
Target area in PPR drafts: Late in Round 11

ADAM SHAHEEN, BEARS

Confession time: Before Day 2 of the draft, I had zero knowledge of Shaheen’s exploits at Ashland University; and this is coming from someone who once covered GLIAC football back in grad school (Wayne State in Detroit).

The draft records list Shaheen as the fifth tight end off the board (after Howard, Engram, Njoku, Gerald Everett); but one could argue that Shaheen has received the most buzz among the rookie class — due to his great size, raw athleticism, affable personality, tangible upside (obligatory comparisons to Greg Olsen) and new NFL home (Chicago).

But let’s be honest: Shaheen hardly enters the NFL as a polished prospect, and there’s no guarantee of bankable playing time this fall, ahead of Zach Miller (two-year average: 41 catches/463 yards/5 TDs) and maybe Dion Sims.

So, even if Shaheen and rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky are destined to become The Next Big Thing in Bears history, please let it happen organically. Never reach when drafting rookie tight ends.

Target area in standard-scoring drafts: Round 16
Target area in PPR drafts: Not likely drafted

MICHAEL ROBERTS, LIONS

At first glance, Roberts doesn’t bear the look of a glorious NFL prospect.

Not at 270 pounds.

Not with a body frame that’s closer to Dontari Poe than fellow tight end Jordan Reed.

But that all changes when popping in the film of Roberts, who rolled for 16 touchdowns with Toledo last year — including five in the first three weeks … and twin three-TD efforts against Bowling Green and MAC champion Western Michigan.

Put it all together, and the Lions might have stumbled upon a gem in the fourth round, although it’s important to note Michigan tight end Jake Butt remained on the board at that time. If healthy, Butt (torn ACL in December; now property of the Broncos) would have been a firm Day 2 selection, like Roberts.

But that’s all in the past. With Detroit, Roberts figures to have a formidable role in Jim Bob Cooter‘s tight end-friendly offense, routinely lining up opposite Eric Ebron between the 20s and inside the red zone. Within that scenario, the immense Roberts has a chance to get downfield in a hurry, without ever having the defense’s full attention.

Target area in standard-scoring drafts: Not likely drafted
Target area in PPR drafts: Not likely drafted

GERALD EVERETT, RAMS

I don’t have much immediate fantasy interest in the Rams playmakers, outside of tailback Todd Gurley. However, I’m willing to have an open mind about new head coach Sean McVay, who enjoyed a big role in developing the Redskins offense, led by QB Kirk Cousins and tight end Jordan Reed (two-year average of 76 catches/102 targets/819 yards/8.5 TDs).

In that vein, the Rams’ tight end competition essentially boils down to Everett (South Alabama averages: 45 catches/646 yards/6 TDs) versus Tyler Higbee.

So, at the very least, Everett will be a must-watch candidate during preseason action, with the goal of maybe having value in 20-round drafts.

Target area in standard-scoring drafts: Not likely drafted
Target area in PPR drafts: Not likely drafted

BEST OF THE REST

Jake Butt, Broncos
Jordan Leggett, Jets
Jonnu Smith, Titans
Jeremy Sprinkle, Redskins
Eric Saubert, Falcons
George Kittle, 49ers

Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media) and 2008 Fantasy Football Writer of the Year (Fantasy Sports Writers Association), can be reached via Twitter, day or night, at @ATL_JayClemons.