NFL Draft 2021: Rough Diamonds Series: Tight Ends

This is part four of the series where I take a quick look, position by position, at my favourite Day 3/Undrafted guys from the 2021 NFL Draft.

This time we are focusing on those beautiful brutes, the Tight Ends.

 Now I’m old enough to remember when the Tight End position was just a glorified extension of the Offensive Line, and they would catch as many passes as they would have birthdays in a season. Obviously, the position has evolved now into one where most Tight Ends are just big Wide Receivers, who aren’t required to block much at all. In an ideal world every team would have a George Kittle type, who can do it all at a very high level, and save at least one valuable roster spot that can be used elsewhere, but teams usually end up carrying three Tight Ends so they can cover all the skill sets needed for the position.

If you exclude Kyle Pitts (Fourth Overall), the 2021 class was a pretty underwhelming group. Only 11 Tight Ends were drafted (12 if you want to include Full Back Ben Mason), so there aren’t many Day three guys to choose from, but I’ve managed to find three that are certainly worth discussing.

Brevin Jordan: Miami (Houston, round 5, Pick 147)

Jordan was a consensus four-star recruit, and the number one ranked Tight End in the 2018 recruiting class. He chose Miami over other prestigious programs such as Florida, Alabama, LSU and Georgia. Miami has a reputation of churning out highly drafted, NFL ready Tight Ends, and Jordan will continue that trend, although he wasn’t drafted nearly as early as most thought.

Jordan made an immediate impact at Miami, starting 11 of 12 games as a Freshman. He would go on to start for the next two seasons and increase his production each year in all the receiving categories, showing an ascending player. His production could be spotty at times, he had 6 catches over a three-game stretch in 2019, and 5 catches over two games this past year, one of them being against Clemson who completely nullified him. You can argue that over his first two seasons in Miami the Quarterback play was average at best, but in 2020 exciting transfer D’Eriq King took over, and he formed a very good relationship with Jordan. With King being a scrambler and creator outside of structure, Jordan had to adapt his game to this kind of Quarterback, and you can see this in the way he tries to remain open when the play gets extended, or how he comes back and help’s block to create possible running lanes for his Quarterback. Jordan will always be considered a pass catcher first, but I think his blocking has improved each year and he will always give effort in the run game, and can lock out and control edges too, especially when put in motion at the snap. 

He was always considered  smallish by a Tight End’s standards (6’3 247lbs), and many thought he would test similarly to Evan Engram (NY Giants, Round 1 2017), but he failed to live up to those expectations, with a very average pro day workout which almost certainly cost him come draft day. The tape doesn’t lie though, and I see a better athlete on the field than those numbers suggest. I had him as my TE2 above Pat Freiermuth (Round 2, Pick 55), but he ended up being the ninth Tight End selected, which still, 2 weeks later, blows my mind. 

Now he has a great opportunity to be featured very early, as he was drafted by one of the worst rosters in the NFL in the Houston Texans. With only really Jordan Akins ahead of him right now, I’d expect Jordan to head into the season as their starting Tight End. Who’ll be throwing him the ball though is still very unclear……

Noah Gray: Duke (Kansas City, round 5, pick 162)

Noah Gray has spent four years toiling away for one of the worst Offenses in the ACC, if not the entire nation. Duke has finished 90th (2020), 93rd (2019), 64th (2018) and 80th (2017) in scoring offense in Gray’s time there, even with Daniel Jones as the Quarterback for the first two of those years. Gray was never heavily featured but he always did something when I watched him that just suggests there’s more to come from him. 

He first piqued my interest going up against Alabama in the season opener in 2019, where he made a few nice plays against a dynamic defense. He followed that up with an even better outing against a decent Virginia Tech defense in week five of that 2019 season, and his name was very much one I noted down for the future. Now Duke tape isn’t always easy to find and can sometimes be even harder to watch. I’ve only managed a couple of games from this past season, against Notre Dame and Boston College, which were both early in the season. In these games he looked good in the passing game, running precise routes and having excellent hands, but never threatening with the ball in his hands. Blocking was technically good, but at his size (6’3 240lbs) he is never going to dominate anyone, and his best plays were those where he could block in space rather than the edge, where longer defensive ends can control him.

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Now he tested better than Brevin Jordan, at a similar size, and this is probably why he was just 15 selections after Jordan was drafted. This was pretty much the range I had for him, so while his selection isn’t particularly a steal, where he landed makes him a very interesting player.

In Kansas City he has a pretty clear path to be TE2 behind the great Travis Kelce. Now Kelce has been incredibly durable over the years, but if he were to miss some time at least they have someone like Gray on the roster now to step in. He clearly isn’t the second coming of Kelce, but Gray’s consistency and excellent hands give him a chance to contribute in this high-powered offense. I just wonder what Brevin Jordan would look like in this offense though instead, and you have to assume if he’d been there, they would have taken him.

Briley Moore: Kansas State (Undrafted, Tennessee Titans)

I won’t lie, I had no idea who Briley Moore was as we entered the 2020 season. 

My first watch of him came against Arkansas State in week two, and the thing that instantly stood out was the fact he was a Tight End wearing the number zero! Now you’ve got to have a certain something if you want to pull that off, and Moore showed he certainly did have that, catching 6 passes for 54 yards and a Touchdown. This sent me scrambling to Google and trying to find out why I’d never heard of him! 

Moore was a graduate transfer from FCS Northern Iowa, where he dominated that level, so he already had a lower level pedigree, and was testing himself at the next level up, which I always have time for.

 I next caught him against Oklahoma (week four) and unsurprisingly he wasn’t quite as productive, but still flashed not only as a receiver but in the run game too. The final game I caught was his best, against Texas Tech in week five. Now the highlight play is a 66-yard catch and run, showing great turn of speed and elusiveness, but I was surprised by how well he did in the run game, which is the staple of the Kansas State Offense. He’s another smaller guy (6’4 240), but he seems to have more upper body strength than the other two we’ve discussed, and his second level blocking was consistently good. Now there were times he was caught reaching and could get off balance, but for an athletic tight end he could certainly hold his own with the dirty work. 

He tested very well, and with those numbers I thought he certainly would get picked in the last couple of rounds, but it wasn’t meant to be and he slipped into the undrafted pool. He has signed with the Titans, and this looks a very good fit to me. The Titans lost All-Pro Jonnu Smith to New England, so there’s a lot of targets waiting for one of these Tight Ends on the roster to claim. There currently isn’t one drafted Tight End on the Tennessee depth chart, so although he has a lot of bodies to get through I believe Moore has a chance to get on that final roster.

Next up in the series will be those big uglies, the Offensive Lineman…

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