BBD Staff Writer: Joe Marino
With the continued emergence of star tight ends like Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, and Jordan Cameron, NFL teams are seeing the value of having a playmaking tight end to round out their offensive schemes. Having a big-bodied, reliable pass-catching target at tight end is especially important to help teams with young quarterbacks, like the Buffalo Bills, in their development and long term success.
Fortunately for teams like the Bills who could be in the market for a tight end upgrade, this year’s draft class is full of opportunities to draft a tight end with star potential.
Though they might not agree on how to rank the three, most draft prognosticators agree that the top trio of tight end prospects in the 2014 draft class are North Carolina’s Eric Ebron (6’4’’, 245 lbs), Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro (6’5’’, 260 lbs) and Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins (6’6’’, 276 lbs).
As big, athletic tight ends with downfield receiving ability, all three of these players can add a dimension to an NFL offense that is difficult to defend. I will compare them in six categories as we find out which tight end should be the top ranked player at the position on draft day.
All three players declared for this year’s draft after their junior seasons, so their production over the past three seasons can be compared.
Yards Per Catch
Which tight end has the best hands?
While none of the three tight ends I am comparing have bad hands, Seferian-Jenkins leads the way in this area. He displays soft, reliable hands at all levels of the field. He shows incredible concentration in securing difficult and contested catches.
Amaro is second as he routinely catches the ball away from his body and rarely drops the ball. Ebron has good hands, but he has frustrating drops more frequently than the other two. All told, the three players are all terrific catchers of the football.
Who runs the best routes?
Ebron is the best route runner of the group. He knows how to find soft spots in defenses and separate down the field. He can get open with speed and quickness, but also spring away from defenders with hesitation and stutter moves. He works all areas of the field well but is especially effective in the seams and middle of the field.
Amaro runs good routes and knows where to sit in zones to provide a safety valve for the quarterback. He doesn’t have the same burst in and out of breaks or separate down the field as well as Ebron.
Seferian-Jenkins has a poor tendency to “drift” into his routes, and is a bit of a lazy route runner.
Who is best at the catch point?
If I was a quarterback throwing a fade route into the end zone, and I had to choose one of these three players to throw it to, I would choose Seferian-Jenkins. Things tend to slow down for him when the ball is in the air, as he positions his body extremely well to play the ball and inhibit his defender from getting there.
Ebron doesn’t excel in one-on-one situations to the degree that Seferian-Jenkins does, but is extremely competitive at the catch point and excels at snatching the ball out of the air.
Amaro has displayed the least ability in this area, but it’s not by any fault of his own. Texas Tech’s spread system is predicated in diverse route combinations that get players open, and not as much on those players’ ability to make contested catches. Even so, Amaro is very good at plucking the ball out of the air.
Who’s the best at yards after the catch?
Ebron is great after the catch and North Carolina frequently utilizes him in short routes and screens. He has tremendous upfield burst after the catch and has shown some wide receiver-like ability with the ball in his hands.
Amaro is the toughest of the three tight ends to actually bring down. When he catches the ball, he turns upfield with excellent power and frequently runs over would-be tacklers.
While picking up yards after the catch is a strength for both Ebron and Amaro, the same should not be said for Seferian-Jenkins.
Which tight end is the best blocker?
Seferian-Jenkins’ body type suggests he would be the best blocker of the bunch and when projecting these players to the NFL, he is. Ebron and Amaro cannot body defensive linemen with the same type of success that Seferian-Jenkins can.
Seferian-Jenkins is not as good of a blocker as he could be. He is not consistently physical as a blocker and his effort isn’t always what it should be. His hands are often lazily hanging at his side instead of “loaded” before he engages in blocks, which will lead to holding calls and missed blocks in the NFL. Even so, he has been the best blocker at the collegiate level by far among this group of tight ends.
Amaro is a pleasant surprise as a blocker. He is excellent blocking in the boundary, at the second level and in-line. He finishes blocks and frequently puts his opponents on the ground. The problem is, he has almost always blocked linebackers and secondary players, making it unclear whether he can go up against defensive linemen at the next level.
Ebron offers very little as a blocker. He is a willing blocker but he struggles to stay engaged with opponents and doesn’t block well in space. His opponents can get into his body too easily and push him back while controlling contact.
Which player is the best athlete?
This one isn’t close. Ebron is an explosive, dynamic playmaker with top-end speed and leaping ability. He has the makings of a game-changing tight end at the next level.
Between Amaro and Seferian-Jenkins, Amaro is more consistent with his effort and is more quick-twitched than Seferian-Jenkins. That said, Seferian-Jenkins has the body control and power advantage over both Ebron and Amaro.
Overall, which tight end is the best?
It depends on what you like. If you want a more traditional tight end who can block and make contested catches by utilizing his large frame, Austin Seferian-Jenkins is your guy. The most well-rounded player to move around and create matchup problems is Jace Amaro. Eric Ebron is limited with what he can do in-line, but he is an explosive player who is dangerous with the ball.
All three players impact the game by just stepping on the field and commanding the attention of the defense. They should each prove difficult to defend and present matchup nightmares to opposing defenses.
In the six categories of comparison, Seferian-Jenkins and Eric Ebron are each best in three while Jace Amaro, who does not lead in any category, is second-best in five of the six. Seferian-Jenkins ranks last among the trio in three categories while Ebron has the least ability in two of them.
Ebron has the most upside of any tight end in the class. He brings explosive athleticism to the table that no other tight end in the draft class compares with. Because all three of these players are close in terms of talent and production, the advantage to the most athletic player.
I consider Eric Ebron to be a top-15 talent, Amaro worth a top-25 pick and Seferian-Jenkins as a top-40 selection.