Oct 19, 2013; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish tight endTroy Niklas
(85) catches a pass in the second quarter against the USC Trojans at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sport
Greg Peshek of Rotoworld.com has been putting out metrics for each position that helps people understand what are the important traits of that position and how the top draft eligible prospects performed in those metrics. Previously I analyzed his articles on the wide receiver position which is a position of need for the Jets. You can read that here. Peshek has penned another terrific piece this time about another Jets position of need, tight end. You can read that here. With Kellen Winslow and Jeff Cumberland both free agents the Jets will need to add at least two tight ends to go along with Zach Sudfeld and there are a few in the draft that would fit the bill. Although Manish Mehta of the NY Daily News is reporting that the Jets are “bullish” on Cumberland and are negotiating to bring him back the Jets will still need a game breaker at the position.
Peshek compares Jace Amaro of Texas Tech, Eric Ebron of North Carolina, Austin Seferian-Jenkins of Washington, Richard Rodgers of California and Troy Niklas of Notre Dame. C.J. Fiedorowicz of Iowa is not included because he was used primarily as a blocker but his Combine and Pro Day workouts will show whether the athletic ability he has can translate into a greater receiving role.
The first metric measured is how far downfield do they catch the ball. Getting free down the seam and exploiting mismatches are a must for the tight ends today who are so much more athletic than their predecessors. They also need to be the quarterback’s safety valve, able to make the tough catch for the first down. The player with the most interesting chart is one that is known more for his blocking, Troy Niklas of Notre Dame. Nearly 72% of his passes are caught between 6-20 yards. No other player had more than 50% of his passes caught in that area. The best deep threat was Seferian-Jenkins who had nearly 43% of his passes caught 11 yards or more down the field with the highest amount of passes over 20 yards at 5.7%. Amaro caught 46% of his passes between 1-5 yards showing he can get open in tight spaces but only 23% of his passes were over 11 yards, the lowest of the tight ends measured. Ebron caught the ball both underneath with 32% of his passes caught between 1-5 yards down the field but also did well on longer routes with 33% caught between 11-20 yards downfield. Rodgers caught no balls over 20 yards and 50% of his passes between 1-5 yards.
Next, a combination of the yards down the field where they caught it is added to their yards after the catch. That is a total measure of the yardage they create every time they catch the ball. Despite having the lowest yards downfield, Eric Ebron led the field with a combined number of 15.76 yards thanks to his group leading 8.84 yards after the catch. Ebron was put in position to catch the ball and turn up the field and make things happen and he did. Troy Niklas was just behind him at 15.5 combined yards using his group leading 9.09 yards down the field to go with 6.41 yards after the catch. The 6.41 yards after the catch were 3rd only behind Ebron and Rodgers. The most surprising number was Seferian-Jenkins who had only 3.4 yards after the catch despite his athleticism and the fact that 25% of his catches were on screens.
Yards after contact is another important metrics showing power and strength to go along with the speed and athleticism. Troy Niklas led this list with 3.6 yards after contact, followed by Ebron at 3.5 then Rodgers at 3.31, Amaro at 2.96 and Seferian-Jenkins with a poor 1.96 yards after contact. Niklas’ strength is reflected both here and with his blocking so his number is not surprising and Ebron’s freakish speed/power combination is certainly on display.
Where do they line up is another question teams ask when looking for versatile tight ends who exploit mismatches. Amaro and Rodgers were glorified receivers as they caught over 80% of their balls from the slot with Amaro catching 87.5% of his there. Amaro was lined up in-line slightly more than 10% of the time which means he was used to utilize his size and speed to overpower nickel backs and safeties. Putting him out there also gives him the opportunity to have a mostly free release definitely cleaner than having to bust through a linebacker or defensive lineman. Rodgers is a converted receiver so his numbers are not surprising at all. Niklas is the closest thing to a traditional tight end catching 70.5% of his balls from in-line. He has experience lining up all over the field with nearly 10% of his catches coming from out of the backfield, 13% from the slot (by far the lowest of the group), and lining up as an outside receiver nearly 6% of the time. Niklas has the ability to do whatever is asked of him on the football field. Seferian-Jenkins was the most varied having 10% or more in all categories with nearly 50% of his catches coming in-line. That shows the potential is there for him to grow from the raw player he is right now. Ebron was in the slot 72% of the time and was in-line just 21% of the time but he did line up outside almost 7% of the time as well not surprising because of the mismatches he causes.
Dec 30, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders wide receiver Jace Amaro (22) after the Texas Tech Red Raiders defeated the Arizona State Sun Devils in the Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
How often do they drop the ball? Seferian-Jenkins led the way at 5.41% then Amaro and Rodgers at 7.69% all of which is at or below average. Ebron had the worst drop rate at 11.43% and Niklas was at 8.57%. The author did add that Niklas had the fewest reps and that his numbers were most likely to be skewed in this metric as it takes less drops to move his percentage up compared to the rest of the group.
Blocking is not included as a metric but is important especially to the Jets who run the football often. Niklas, who is 6’7″ and 270 pounds, might be the best blocker in the NFL in two to three years, according to Mike Mayock on his pre-combine conference call. C.J. Fiedorowicz is considered by many to be the one of the best blocking tight ends in the draft but none of the rest of the group is renowned for their blocking. Fiedorowicz is also 6’7″ and he weighs 265 pounds so the ability for mismatches with defensive backs and safeties make him an intriguing prospect as well. Iowa did not use him in roles like that so he will have to prove at the Combine that he has the ability to fulfill his potential. There is more pressure on him because there is little tape to fall back on. On the other end of the spectrum, Richard Rodgers is a converted receiver who is still learning the position, but at 6’4″ and 275 pounds he has the frame to do it once he learns. Eric Ebron may have the slightest frame of the group at 245 pounds but, according to WalterFootball.com, he “flashes some impressive blocking potential…just needs to work on consistency.” According to the same site Seferian-Jenkins “showed some improvement as a blocker and was a contributor to (Bishop) Sankey’s big season on the ground”. Matt Waldman of FootballOutsiders.com says of Amaro’s blocking potential “Amaro doesn’t face professional-caliber athletes on a weekly basis as a blocker and NFL defenders will push his technique to its limits. However, blocking is also the most promising facet of Amaro’s play and his athleticism and attitude provide a glimpse of his potential to grow into one of the best in the game.” However NFL.com does say that Amaro’s blocking “is a sticking point for some teams”.
The Jets have been saying that character concerns would be considered in their personnel decisions as part of the “Play like a Jet” mantra so taking a look a red flags may help more accurately predict players the Jets may be interested in. Jace Amaro was arrested in 2012 for using a credit card without his name on it and according to the Lubbock Advance-Journal tried to get out of it by saying “we’re football players”. This is an incident he will have to answer for in player interviews this week at the Combine. In 2013, Austin Seferian-Jenkins was arrested and pled guilty to driving under the influence. He served one day in jail and missed one game. This will be another issue for the interviews to sort out whether this is something he has learned from and is not likely to repeat or if he is still a risk.
In my article predicting the 2014 starters I have the Jets drafting Troy Niklas. You can read that here. I believe that he can be a mismatch that gets down the seam and makes big plays as well as a blocker who can help in the running game. In this league you need a player like Niklas not only for his ability but as contrast to a more pure receiver like Ebron. Obviously the Jets can’t have both but pairing Niklas with a “Joker” tight end that splits out in the slot more often than not like Jermichael Finley would make both players better. Niklas would make things easier for Jeff Cumberland as well taking some of his blocking duties away from him as well as drawing more favorable coverage match ups.