Future Broncos: Tight End prospects

Future Broncos: Tight End prospects

The Denver Broncos have relied upon A.J. Derby, Virgil Green and Jeff Heuerman at the tight end position this season and have had mixed results. Jake Butt could see playing time soon, but the Broncos would be wise to add another tight end to their roster via the 2018 NFL Draft.

One of the hallmark’s of Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy’s offenses is having multiple tight ends who can be threats as receivers, but also contribute as blockers in the running game. A dynamic tight end capable of being a legitimate threat in both phases of the game is a dynamic that often separates the great offenses from the good offenses. The Denver Broncos have relied upon the trio of A.J. Derby, Virgil Green and Jeff Heuerman for their production at the position this season, and the results have only been so-so.

Derby leads the three-headed production race with eight catches on twelve targets for 114 yards and a touchdown. Green comes in second, catching six of his seven targets for 73 yards and one score. Heuerman ranks last, catching only two of his six targets and amassing 35 yards. With the trio’s production combined, that is sixteen total catches for 222 yards and two scores. When divided by the number of games played, Denver’s group of tight ends are averaging four catches and roughly 55 yards a game.

That’s okay production, but it certainly isn’t great either — especially when it’s compared to players across the league. At this point in time, I think it’s safe to say that neither of the aforementioned will be more than serviceable players and are best suited as reserve players in this league. Furthermore, that sentiment would indicate that they are certainly replaceable commodities. Derby and Heuerman’s contracts run through the end of the 2018 season, while Green is in the final year of his contract. If I was John Elway, I’d be looking for better options than them for the long-term.

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Yet, for all the mediocrity the Broncos have endured at the tight end position for many seasons now — the franchise does have a wildcard at the position that could pay big dividends later this season and beyond. Rookie tight end and former high-profile Michigan product Jake Butt should see playing time in the near future, but expect the team to be cautious with getting him up to speed and acclimated to the rigors of the NFL. Butt was considered to be an early round selection in last year’s draft, but an ACL injury (his second) suffered in Michigan’s bowl game against Florida State caused him to slide to the draft’s third day due to medical concerns.

I believe Jake Butt, if he stays healthy, can become a high-profile starter in this league. However, regardless of his potential, I think the Broncos would be wise to find him a future partner in next year’s draft. The 2018 NFL Draft’s crop of talent at the tight end position is much less favorable than last year’s fantastic group of prospects, but there are still several collegiate players who have flashed potential and could become significant contributors in the NFL. Here are a few names to consider and keep your eye on for the rest of the collegiate football season.

Mark Andrews, TE — Oklahoma

If you are someone who is looking for a prospect with star caliber talent look no further. Underclassman Mark Andrews of Oklahoma is one of this year’s top eligible tight ends for the NFL Draft and could be a Pro-Bowl caliber player in the pros.

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As a sophomore he reeled in 31 catches for 489 yards and seven touchdowns and is on pace to be better this year. Through five games of his junior season, Andrews has 19 catches for 355 yards and two touchdowns and his 18.7 yards per reception is one of the best in the collegiate ranks. He is one of Baker Mayfield’s favorite targets and an absolute mismatch for most teams to defend against.

Not only does he have great size at 6’5 and 245 pounds — he has great hands and runs very crisp routes. He is utilized in many ways with the Sooners, which should have offensive coordinators drooling about his ability at the next level. I see him as a three-down player who will have tremendous value as a red zone threat, but also as a vertical threat and chess piece between the 20’s.

His athleticism and speed is solid for the position, but a good showing at the NFL Combine or his Pro Day (if he declares) could throw him in the conversation to be a first-round selection. In fact, there is word coming out of scouting circles already that signal the talented junior weapon could go in the first fifteen to twenty selections. So if the Broncos would want to draft him, they probably couldn’t wait until their second round selection to do so.

Hayden Hurst, TE — South Carolina

South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst is an impressive physical specimen (6’5, 250 pounds) who may not have the elite production scouts and teams are looking for when formulating their draft grades, but if they throw on the tape they will realize he makes the most out of the opportunities he is given.

Hurst was a late entrant to college football, who originally pursued a career in baseball after being drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of high school. After several years in their minor league system, his love for baseball evaporated and at the age of 22 he became a walk-on for the Gamecocks’ football team. That decision may have been the best he has ever made, because it sure looks like he has the potential to be a great NFL tight end.

After seeing only five games in a reserve role as a freshman, Hurst became a starter for the Gamecocks in 2016 and had an impressive year where he totaled 616 yards on 48 catches. He had only one touchdown, but was a reliable target on third downs and a frequent chain mover. Through six games as a junior, Hurst has 19 receptions for 297 yards and two receiving touchdowns, but has also rushed for a touchdown as well. Hurst is an old-school tight end who plays with unparalleled grit and toughness. He is smooth coming off the line and is deceptively sneaky and athletic for a man his size.

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There aren’t many knocks or criticisms you can give Hurst, but there will be some scouts and teams who downgrade him because he will be a 25 year old rookie. On the other hand, some may believe that despite his age, he is still relatively young in football years and experience — and in time could grow and develop into an X-Factor for whatever team drafts him.

Top Senior Prospects to Consider: Dallas Goedert (South Dakota State) Mike Gesicki (Penn State) Troy Fumagalli (Wisconsin) Ian Thomas (Indiana)

Potential Underclassman Darkhorse: C.J. Conrad (Kentucky)

As always, thank you for reading and feel free to talk about some of your favorite tight end prospects, as well as the Broncos’ tight end situation in the comments section!

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