It’s almost the end of February, MLB Spring Training is fully underway, and Spring is just around the corner (hopefully). I know, I know, you’re asking yourself “What the hell does any of this have to do with football or my fantasy team?” Well, I’m getting there. This weekend every year, all NFL scouts, coaches, and executives descend upon Lucas Oil Stadium in Indy to watch a bunch of college kids work out in their underwear at the NFL Combine. As discussed in the Senior Bowl review, this time of year is dedicated to the draft, with the Combine being a crucial piece of the proverbial puzzle. The Combine kicked off yesterday with the offensive linemen (who hold zero individual fantasy value) and Tight Ends taking the turf to show their skills. The tight end class this year definitely has some great talent, maybe the most in recent years, and multiple guys could be of interest to fantasy owners, not only in dynasty leagues, but perhaps even this year in redraft leagues.
Eric Ebron (6’4″, 250) UNC — Before the Combine, Ebron quipped that his size/speed combo should be “illegal” on the football field. Ebron has received a lot of hype as the clear-cut top TE in the class this year, drawing more than a few comparisons among the scouting community to Vernon Davis. That is high praise, considering Vernon Davis has been a stud since coming into the league in 2006 and was the last tight end selected in the top-10. That said, its easy to see why I was more than a little disappointed that Ebron was able to complete his workout after injuring his hamstring while attempting the 40-yard dash. He was clocked with an official time of 4.60 in the 40, which was the 2nd-best 40 among tight ends. I love the skillset Ebron brings to the field, as his size and speed create mismatches which allows his QB to get him the ball in space. Ebron is a threat to take it to the house every time he catches the ball. At times, however, he has issues doing just that as he drops some passes that he should catch. While he isn’t without flaws, Ebron is truly a special talent and guy that I would consider very early in rookie drafts due to his potential to become an elite option at a position that doesn’t offer more than a couple elite guys.
Jace Amaro (6’5, 265) Texas Tech — Amaro’s performance at the Combine was a little underwhelming, if nothing else. He performed surprisingly well in the bench press, ran an average 40, and didn’t catch everything in the receiving drills. However, his routes looked pretty good and some of the passes were off target. Besides, his college numbers speak for themselves. Catching 106 passes this year (which equates to 130 grabs in a 16 game NFL schedule, hello PPR leaguers!), Amaro was extremely productive his junior season in Lubbock. However, Texas Tech didn’t use his as a traditional TE. He was lined up in the slot over 87% of the time. If anything, this is good news for fantasy owners, as he’s running routes the majority of the time rather than blocking inline. While he may not provide quite the same explosiveness that Ebron does, Amaro should be a consistent producer and valuable red zone target at the next level. Although he lacks the insane upside of Ebron, he may be the surest thing at the position in fantasy in this class.
Troy Niklas (6’6 270) Notre Dame — The third of four great dynasty TE options, Niklas is more of a traditional tight end. He plays most of his snaps inline and stretches the field vertically down the seam. Niklas was limited in his workouts in Indy due to a reported groin injury. He didn’t participate in the 40, but performed the receiving drills. While he dropped some throws, he also made some impressive catches. The Rob Gronkowski comparisons seem over the top to me, because, when healthy, Gronk is the best in the game. Niklas isn’t there yet, but could eventually develop into an above average option.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins (6’5 260) Washington — Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see him workout yesterday due to injury. I was really curious to see where his 40-time landed as ASJ isn’t particularly explosive on tape, so a good 40-time could have really helped his case. However, the biggest thing he has going for him from is that he does have maybe the most versatility among this group; lining up inline, in the slot, in the backfield, and even occasionally on the outside. His hands are also maybe the best among the TE class this year. Some weaknesses include being very limited after the catch as he’s not an explosive athlete, consistency issues, and some potential character issues in his past (which fantasy owners care very little about). I currently have him behind each of the guys listed above, as he doesn’t possess the same athletic ability as the other guys.
Colt Lyerla (6’4 240) Oregon — Based strictly on talent, an argument could be made for Lyerla to be the #1 TE in this class. Lyerla ran the same impressive time as Ebron in the 40 and posted the best broad jump among the tight ends. Lyerla “jumped out of the gym” yesterday, posting arguably the best overall workout. Colt has all the skills you look for in a #1 TE: big, fast, strong, versatile, with great hands, and potential to be an above average blocker. Here comes the issue with Mr. Lyerla… We all know it’s coming. It has to be coming, right? What’s the god-damn problem with my future fantasy stud, Lyerla?! Here’s the
small problem(s), he apparently was arrested for a drug-related offense. This wasn’t an arrest for marijuana either. Lyerla was arrested for the use of cocaine. (Cocaine!!!) Not that I can speak from personal experience, but as they say, “cocaine is a hell of a drug”. What makes it worse is that before the cocaine-related arrest, Lyerla quit the Oregon football team… in the middle of the season! One thing we know for sure is NFL teams will not take this lightly, especially with serious issues like Aaron Hernandez being arrested for murder, and even more recently, Ray Rice uppercutting his fiancée and knocking her unconscious (I’m not sure what was worse, his play this year or that). Regarding the draft, we have seen players drastically fall due to far less condemning character issues. For example, Tyrann Mathieu was evaluated as maybe a top 10 talent in the draft, but fell all the way to the AZ Cardinals in the 4th round for marijuana issues. The biggest issue with Lyerla’s fantasy value isn’t his talent, he checks that box. The biggest issue is if he has made the proper changes off the field to be successful on it, and if a team is willing to give him the opportunity to let the talent play, because we know it can.
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