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NFL Draft Position Rankings 1.0: Tight Ends

By Jim Johnson
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Ranking the ACC, SEC, Sun Belt, and SoCon 2017 NFL Draft prospects.

The 2017 NFL Draft is just a couple of months away and, as always, the bulk of the top talent is coming out of our coverage area -- the ACC and SEC (with some Sun Belt and SoCon players as well) -- so I will be releasing fluid position rankings throughout the run-up to April 27th. This ranking only includes players from teams that we cover, meaning some of the major players from the other conferences will not be included. Curiously, the rankings wouldn't look much different even if they were, though.

QB | RB | WR | TE | OT | IOL

1. O.J. Howard, Alabama
Run blocking ability places him comfortably atop a loaded tight end class. Was never featured in Alabama's offense, and wasn't allowed to dominate to his full potential. Solid hands. Elite acceleration allows him to create separation. An absolute mismatch for most linebackers. Not very polished due to a lack of proper utilization in college. No ceiling on the elite playmaking ability of Howard, as a pro.

2. David Njoku, Miami
Superior athlete with all kinds of playmaking potential. Would be a potential combine riser if he wasn't already so high. Good speed and elite change of direction for the position. Explosive, can climb the ladder, a former high school high-jumper. Looks the part. Raw. Still learning the postion. Not a great blocker or route runner. Inconsistent. A bit more of a project than one would typically like in the first round, but the ceiling makes it worth the risk.

3. Gerald Everett, South Alabama
Looks like a receiver playing tight end... until he starts blocking, that is. The next in a long line of former basketball players turned elite tight ends. Makes plays after the catch. Fast enough to get behind safeties. A nightmare for linebackers to try to cover. Sneakily one of the better blocking tight ends in the class. Poor route runner. Tips off defensive backs. Has all the tools, but needs to put on weight to compete with pros.

4. Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech
At 6'7", looks like a supersized receiver, despite weighing in the 245 pound range. Plays fast, good speed for the position, and his long arms make for a big throwing target. Excellent ball tracker, does a good job of detaching from linebackers. Recruited to play quarterback at Virginia Tech, still learning the postion. Not a natural pass catcher, fights the ball at times. Has to improve as a route runner, but the foundation for a solid NFL TE is there.

5. Evan Engram, Ole Miss
Athletic, goes from 0 to 100 real quick. Acceleration allows him to uncover out of his breaks. Straightaway speed makes him a deep threat. Can not be guarded by linebackers. Mad hops. Elite pass catcher. Fails to work back to the ball. Smaller than one would like. Won't be able to block NFL defenders. Needs to find the right scheme fit, but if properly utilized could be an upper-tier receiving tight end.

6. Jordan Leggett, Clemson
The prototype. Sure handed, just two drops over the last two seasons at Clemson. Great feet and lateral agility. Can handle off target passes. Shows up o the big stage. Looks lethargic at times. Was able to flip the competitive switch in college, but that won't fly in the NFL. Lackadaisical blocker, especially given his size. Questions about his passion for the game are about the only thing holding him back.

7. Jeremy Sprinkle, Arkansas
Jack of all trades, master of none. A good blocker that could become great if he does the work in the weight room. Doesn't accelerate very well, but once he gets going possesses reasonably good speed for the position. Mean stiff arm, good body control, serviceable receiver. Not great route runner. Doesn't do anything exceedingly well. Tough and reliable, Sprinkle may never be an all-pro but he's a safe pick and could be a useful starter for a long time.

8. Cole Hikutini, Louisville
Great size for as well as he moves. Above-average ball skills. Good burst off the line of scrimmage. Wins an awful lot of jump balls. Could be a better route runner, as well as he can accelerate. Not an immediate starter, but a good developmental project.

9. Scott Orndoff, Pittsburgh
Great blocking tight end with ideal size for the position. Will find snaps early as an exra helper in pass protection. Reliable hands. Won't get open on his own very often against NFL defenders. Sub-par route runner. Probably won't ever light up the stat sheet as a receiver, but could help right away as a blocker.

10. Keith Rucker, Georgia State
Solid build for the position. Not as tall as some of the others, but sturdy. Capable of exploding for monster games, like his performance against Georgia Southern this year, or Troy two years ago. Not as much of a red zone threat as one would like. Typical "Y" tight end.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP