The "Triple Take" continues with a breakdown of the tight ends. In the sixth installment of this draft prospect preview by position, the Steelers Radio Network trio of Matt Williamson, Dale Lolley and Mike Prisuta give their takes on the top prospects at the tight end positions. If you want to hear the audio version of "The Triple Take" click here.
The opinions of these Steelers Radio Network personalities do not reflect the views of the Steelers organization.
Matt's Take ...
There isn't an elite prospect like Kyle Pitts in this draft class, but this is still an extremely strong group of incoming rookie tight ends. The second day of the draft could have a plethora of players at this position selected, which is unusual. The depth in this group is excellent and there could be quite a few future starting tight ends selected in in the 2022 NFL draft.
#5 - Isaiah Likely, Coastal Carolina (6-4, 241 lbs.) - Likely is a receiver and a move tight end much more so than a traditional inline tight end. As a blocker, Likely has to operate on the move or downfield against smaller defenders as opposed to doing battle in the trenches. His level of competition is a concern, but Likely is an advanced route runner. This is a guy that can make big plays in the passing game with his excellent speed. Likely is a very easy mover. He has great hands. Drops are very rare for Likely. Likely won't be for everyone because of his style of play, but if his new team has a plan for him, Likely will be an asset to the passing game. Can Likely add bulk and strength? That's a huge question teams will have to answer.
#4 - Cade Otten, Washington (6-5 1/4, 238 lbs.) - Otten is very tall, but lean. It will be interesting to see what he weighs in at in Indianapolis. Even though Otten isn't real thickly built, he is a good blocker that Washington often left in one-on-one situations against edge defenders. He blocks with good technique and hand usage, which is rare for incoming rookie tight ends. This is a player with good football intelligence and really has a good understanding of how to exploit both man and zone coverage. Despite his height, Otten isn't stiff, but his speed is somewhat of a concern. His quarterback play at Washington didn't help Otten's cause in terms of receiving production. Otten isn't really flashy and probably will not create a lot of big plays, but he competes and has little downside to his game.
#3 - Jeremy Ruckert, Ohio State (6-5, 250 lbs.) - Grossly underused at Ohio State, Ruckert was a top recruit and certainly isn't short on ability. Ruckert is a tough guy that plays hard in a traditional inline manner and is a very capable blocker with some nastiness in this department. Ruckert has an impressive build and is very strong. He plays with good leverage and is a good natural bender, which shows up when blocking and coming out of his breaks in his routes. Ruckert has soft hands and a big strike zone for his quarterback to hit and has some highlight receptions on his resume. He can run over tacklers after the catch. He isn't just an inline guy and can be moved all over the formation. This is somewhat of a projection, as Ohio State greatly prefers to throw the ball their wide receivers than tight ends, but Ruckert looks like a player that should do more damage in the NFL than in college. He will be a nice piece to an offense at the next level.
#2 - Jalen Wydermyer, Texas A&M (6-5, 255 lbs.) - Wydermyer is gifted with a lot of impressive traits to work with at the next level including great size and body for the position with impressive length. He is comfortable aligning as an inline Y as well as detached from the formation. At times he is impressive blocking in the run or pass game, but Wydermyer will make his money catching the football in the pros. For such a big man, his speed really stands out and he has a huge catching radius. Drops are a problem for Wydermyer, however. Wydermyer isn't particularly twitchy though and takes a little while to build up speed and he doesn't explode off the line of scrimmage, but he is a smooth mover.
#1 - Trey McBride, Colorado State (6-3 1/8, 249 lbs.) - On paper, McBride doesn't have the ideal tight end height, but he has a thick lower body, plays big and really does a nice job in contested catch situations. He is excellent playing the ball in the air and has great body control and balance for a tight end. While he is a plus athlete, McBride doesn't have great long speed. Still, he consistently makes plays downfield. McBride is also very dangerous after the catch with the ability to consistently break defensive back tackles. He has some nastiness when possessing the football. As a blocker, McBride competes, but he isn't particularly powerful and doesn't have long arms that he can use to his advantage. McBride caught 90 passes last year, winning the John Mackey award as the best tight end in college football. McBride dominated his level of competition and was the focal point of Colorado State's passing game. He should contribute quickly as a reliable receiver in the NFL.
Dale's Take ...
The tight end position is an interesting one. What are teams looking for? Is it a blocker? Is it a pass catcher? Is it a combination of both? In today's NFL, it seems to be more of the pass catching variety. They create mismatches and can be used as chess pieces to put defenses in tough spots. But they also rarely go early in drafts. In the past five drafts, just eight have gone in the first round. Of course, the hit rate for those early draft picks at the position also is high. If you take a tight end early, there's a good chance he'll be a solid player.
#5 - Jake Ferguson, Wisconsin (6-43/8, 244 lbs.) - The grandson of former Wisconsin football coach and athletic director Barry Alvarez, Ferguson has been around football his entire life. He plays that way. Ferguson had a very solid week at the Senior Bowl to improve his stock. He runs good routes, blocks well and was a consistent producer in college. He probably won't ever be a star, but he'll be a solid NFL performer.
#4 - Isaiah Likely, Coastal Carolina (6-4, 241 lbs.) - Likely has good hands and athleticism, something you would expect from a former high school wide receiver who has bulked up for the position. He's still a bit undersized, but is a willing blocker. Likely can also be a downfield threat. He averaged 15.4 yards per catch over the course of his career, topping things off with a 12-touchdown campaign in 2021. He's still just 21 years old, so there's room to grow.
#3 - Jalen Wydermyer, Texas A&M (6-5, 255 lbs.) - A good-sized tight end with a nice catch radius, Wydermeyer has strong hands and uses his size to attack defenses vertically. Wydermeyer is a nice red zone target, as well. He scored 16 touchdowns in just three seasons for the Aggies. Entered the draft after his junior season, so he just turned 21 in December. Holds every career receiving record for tight ends at Texas A&M.
#2 - Greg Dulcich, UCLA (6-4, 250 lbs.) - Initially a walk-on, Dulcich had a breakout season in 2020, averaging 19.9 yards per catch on 27 receptions in just seven games. He followed that up by catching 42 passes for a 17.3-yard average in 2022. Yes, he's a vertical threat. Dulcich runs great routes and has good enough speed to challenge defenses. He's also not bad as a blocker. Does a good job of breaking tackles, as well, with the ball in his hands.
#1 - Trey McBride, Colorado State (6-3 1/8, 249 lbs.) - A well-built combo tight end, McBride is equally adept at both receiving and blocking. McBride is the best all-around tight end in this draft. A three-sport star in high school, he holds his high school's career points record in basketball, as well as its home run and RBI record in baseball. McBride won the Mackey Award in 2021 as college football's top tight end after catching 90 passes for 1,121 yards – though he somehow scored just one touchdown.
Mike's Take ...
Teams seeking tight end help on Draft Day may find themselves with plenty of top prospects at the position to choose from.
The list of unrestricted free agents this offseason includes Rob Gronkowski, Dalton Schultz, Mike Gesicki, David Njoku and Zach Ertz.
That means those in need at the position might go about addressing it prior to the draft (especially given that there isn't a perceived Kyle Pitts-type player among this year's tight end prospects).
That's bad news for this year's rookie class.
And good news for those willing to wait on tight end upgrades.
#5 - Jake Ferguson, Wisconsin (6-43/8, 244 lbs.) - Ferguson gets points for being the grandson of Burgettstown, Pa.'s Barry Alvazez, a legendary coach and athletic director at Wisconsin, and for being a Wisconsin offensive lineman (that means he'll willingly block). Ferguson's 25-yard touchdown reception at the Senior Bowl included 21 yards gained after the catch. And he's athletic enough that he might just improve his draft stock at the NFL Scouting Combine.
#4 - Isaiah Likely, Coastal Carolina (6-4, 241 lbs.) - He can get low and get the ball, go up and get it, make diving or one-handed catches if he has to and he can get deep. Likely plays with attitude and swagger. And it was all on display when he caught eight passes for 232 yards and four touchdowns against Arkansas State. Don't know who the Chanticleers are? You'll know Likely soon enough.
#3 - Greg Dulcich, UCLA (6-4, 250 lbs.) - He can split out wide and get down the seam. And when the ball gets there it's tough to prevent Dulcich from catching it and tough to get him on the ground. His smooth, fluid athleticism is apparent, and he excelled in Chip Kelly's pro-style offense at UCLA. Dulcich impressed throughout Senior Bowl week (he might have been the best tight end present in Mobile, Ala.).
#2 - Trey McBride, Colorado State (6-3 1/8, 249 lbs.) - The 2021 Mackey Award winner (nation's best tight end), McBride led FBS tight ends in catches (90) and receiving yards (1,121). He doesn't achieve a great deal of separation but he's perfected the contested catch. "That dude has got strong hands," NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah observed during Senior Bowl week. Jeremiah, likewise, considers McBride's work in the running game to be "outstanding." McBride also excelled in baseball and basketball in high school, and he scored on a 70-yard fake punt at Colorado State.
#1 - Jalen Wydermyer, Texas A&M (6-5, 255 lbs.) - He has size, soft hands and the ability to make plays down the seam. Wydermyer can also turn short passes into home runs. He ran through or past five defenders (one on two separate occasions) on a 52-yard catch-and-run touchdown against Mississippi State that included 45 yards gained after the catch. He can go up in a crowd and get it, too. And he showed up to the tune of three receptions for 73 yards and a touchdown against Alabama in 2021.