- (A series looking at the top players at various positions leading up to the 2015 NFL Draft, set for April 30-May 2.)*
This is how General Manager Kevin Colbert assessed the tight end position when asked about it at the NFL Scouting Combine:
"Again going back to the number of spread offenses in college football, there are fewer traditional tight ends. So it's, does a guy have a certain size, athleticism, toughness, strength to be able to potentially be an on-the-line blocker? Sometimes you don't see it, so you have to make a guesstimate as to what they can and can't do. I think that position is becoming less and less prominent in college."
From the standpoint of the NFL scouts evaluating him, Williams could have used another year at the college level to hone so many of the skills he's going to need as a professional. But from Williams' standpoint, this is the perfect year for him to come out because he's widely considered the best prospect available at the position. After catching 25 passes for 417 yards and five touchdowns in 2013, Williams came back with 36 catches for 569 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Twenty-eight of those 36 catches were good for first downs or touchdowns, and he will be a 21-year-old rookie. His father, Brian Williams, was a first-round pick in 1989 by the New York Giants, and he played 11 seasons for the team as a center. So far, at least, those blocking skills don't necessarily run in the family.
Walford played just one season of football at perennial power Glades Central High School in Belle Glade, Florida, and he redshirted as a freshman at Miami in 2010. He became a three-year starter there, and in 2014 Walford finished with 44 receptions for a team-high 676 yards and seven touchdowns. He had 14 touchdown receptions and averaged 14.5 yards per catch over his career. A team that utilizes its tight ends to help block for the running attack may prefer Walford over Williams. Walford helped himself with his performance at the Senior Bowl, and he also went through all of the drills at the Scouting Combine.
The grandson of Jack Nicklaus, O'Leary caught 114 passes for 1,591 yards and 17 touchdowns during four seasons at Florida State, and he won the Mackey Award in 2014 as college football's top tight end. O'Leary was involved in two separate motorcycle accidents in college and was fortunate to escape with only minor injuries in both.
In his three seasons at South Carolina, Anderson managed 53 catches for 1,266 yards and six touchdowns, but any NFL teams interested in him will have to come to grips with an injury history that included two triceps injuries during a 12-month period of the 2014 season. He sustained a partial tear of his right triceps during spring practice, and then he strained his left triceps during the season. Torn tendons in someone so young usually are a bad sign of things to come.
Kroft was Rutgers' leading receiver in 2013 when he finished with 43 catches for 573 yards and four touchdowns, and he was in a situation in college where he played for three different offensive coordinators and two different position coaches during his time there. Kroft has decent size (6-foot-5, 246 pounds) but he did only 17 repetitions in the bench press at the Combine, which indicates his strength must improve. Could be a promising prospect once he is exposed to some consistent NFL coaching and a weight-training regimen.
THE 2014 NFL DRAFT, TE STATISTICS
Number drafted: 10
Picks by round: 1 in the first; 3 in the second; 3 in the third; 0 in the fourth; 1 in the fifth; 0 in the sixth; 2 in the seventh
Highest pick: Eric Ebron, North Carolina, Round 1, 10th overall by the Detroit Lions.
Biggest impact: As a receiver, it would have to be Ebron, whose totals of 25 catches for 248 yards and one touchdown would be considered pedestrian in some seasons. He also started seven games for the Lions.