Opportunity is just as important as talent level when it comes to evaluating a player's potential in your fantasy football league. And it's for this reason that it is anyone's guess how the incoming pool of 2014 rookies will fare. At the tight end position the learning curve is steep, which can limit the production of even the most tantalizing prospects across the board.
But as fantasy owners who played the game in 2013 can attest to, the tight end position was a crapshoot in the first place. Unless you had Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis and Julius Thomas, you were having a headache each week. In fact, having the aforementioned didn't guarantee you wouldn't from time to time either. Because of that, we could see a few top-level tight end prospects get their chances sooner than later given how real the need is at the position.
The Big Three
Eric Ebron, North Carolina
40 time: 4.60
Bench Reps: 24
Projected Selection: Top 15
Fantasy Outlook: He’s not the biggest or even the most sure-handed prospect in the draft, but Ebron's athleticism and polish shines brighter than the rest of the field. He can line up anywhere and become the chess piece that is the desire of every offensive coordinator in the league. His acceleration is something to be truly marveled for a man of his size, able to find another gear in crossing routes and create separation along the seams. Tackling him once he finds that gear will be a tall order to ask of any defender. His drops seemed to result from a lack of concentration than anything else, and if that can be corrected, he has the potential to become a regular chain mover on third downs. If he gets drafted by a team willing to plug him in right away for 50 snaps per game, Ebron would be worth immediate top-12 consideration and would become a must-stash in dynasty formats. Because of the uncertainty revolving around the tight end position, fantasy owners may as well draft for upside. There’s no doubt about Ebron’s.
Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
40 time: 4.74
Bench Reps: 28
Projected Selection: Rounds 1-2
Fantasy Outlook: Amaro was the most productive tight end the country had ever seen in 2013, racking up 106 catches for a tight-end record total of 1,352 yards in 13 games. He was force-fed the ball in a pass-heavy scheme, but the volume of passes his way is warranted given what he could do once the ball was in his hands. Amaro is another classic "move" tight end that is capable of causing mismatches across the formation, but is in actuality less of a tight end and is more of a slot receiver. He doesn’t boast the blocking ability that usually comes with the tight end position. That said, if he can make up for that by reaching his potential as a receiver, then the lack of blocking ability can be forgiven. If Amaro can get into a good situation and be snagged up by a team like the Patriots, Seahawks or Falcons, then he is a fringe TE1/TE2 in 12-team leagues. The ability to produce is there.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
Bench Reps: 20
Projected Selection: Rounds 2-3
Fantasy Outlook: Seferian-Jenkins sat out of several drills at the combine and did not participate in his pro day due to a foot injury. Despite that, Seferian-Jenkins has the look of the most physically imposing tight end in the draft who can immediately contribute as a red-zone and goal-line threat. His impressive frame and concentration will win him a few jump balls in the end zone at the professional level. It’s a skill set that every team could use, but it’s fair to question how he will fare between the 20s. He has adequate burst off of the snap and is a capable route runner, although he can be a bit clumsy once the ball is in his hands. Depending on where he is drafted, Seferian-Jenkins could have the bulk of his workload happening inside the red zone to start his career. In the right offense, that’s enough to be a good plug and play from week to week (see: Joseph Fauria in 2013), but it would be tough to rely on any consistency in that role. In any situation his skill set is enough to warrant a stash in dynasty leagues, and warrants TE2 consideration in 10-to-12 team redrafts.
Troy Niklas, Notre Dame
40 time: DNP (abdominal injury)
Bench Reps: 27
Projected Selection: Rounds 2-3
Fantasy Outlook: Niklas is a mauler of a blocker who has the mold of a classic in-line tight end and then some. His skills as a receiver are still raw, but his size gives him the chance to win in situations where he doesn’t have much space to work with. Having defenders blanketing him will be commonplace when he isn’t being asked to maul them to create running lanes, but there isn’t much to suggest a team will ask him to run enough routes to become fantasy relevant. He’s worth a flier in dynasty leagues, but it’s difficult to see him becoming a fantasy powerhouse anytime soon.
Colt Lyerla, Oregon
40 time: 4.61
Bench Reps: 15
Projected Selection: Rounds 5-7
Fantasy Outlook: His off-the-field issues are well documented and will ultimately be the reason he plummets down draft boards. It’s a shame, because Lyerla has the tools to be a complete tight end. His overall technique remains raw, but the athleticism is enough to entice organizations to take a low-risk investment in him. Fantasy owners could do worse by doing the same, but anything he contributes should be viewed as a bonus. In other words, he has the potential to become a real contributor, but it’s about as far from a guarantee as you can get.
40 time: 4.76
Bench Reps: 25
Projected Selection: Rounds 3-4
Fantasy Outlook: When scouts say that a player looks the part of a tight end, a guy like Fiedorowicz with his 6'5 frame comes to mind. He is a reliable blocker and in-line tight end, but he lacks the ceiling to be a true difference-maker in the realms of fantasy football. He projects to be a reliable role player that every NFL team could use, but the same can’t be said in fantasy leagues. If he goes to a team that has a barren depth chart at the tight end position then he’s worth a look, but not otherwise.