The Observer’s top five tight ends available in the 2017 NFL draft:
1. O.J. Howard
Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 250.
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Projected round: 1st.
Comment: One of the most dynamic prospects in this year’s draft, Howard has done nothing but dazzle in performances at the Senior Bowl and scouting combine. A sure, speedy route-runner with blocking ability like Howard will be snapped up quickly.
2. David Njoku
Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 246.
Projected round: 1st.
Comment: Another nearly-sure first-rounder, Njoku has been one of the athletic “freaks” of this draft class with many of the same ball skills as Howard.
3. Evan Ingram
College: Ole Miss.
Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 235.
Projected round: 2nd.
Comment: Although Ingram is a little smaller than the top stars of the class, his skill set as a pass-catcher is consistent (he had 926 yards and eight touchdowns in 2016). He also is one of the fastest tight ends in the class, with 4.4-second 40-speed.
4. Gerald Everett
College: South Alabama.
Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 239.
Projected round: 2nd/3rd.
Comment: What Everett lacks in prototypical tight end size he makes up for in physicality and separation ability on his routes. His small-school status might even cause him to slip to a bargain in the draft.
5. Jake Butt
Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 246.
Projected round: 3rd/4th
Comment: The only reason Butt slips this far is because he is in the late stages of recovery from ACL repair surgery. Butt opens tight windows for quarterback and wins after the catch.
As a part of Carolina’s desire to “evolve” the offense in 2017, the team may look into using an older trick in their playbook: A 12-personnel system (one running back, two tight ends and two receivers). The team saw a lot of success with this personnel grouping during quarterback Cam Newton’s record-breaking rookie season, when Newton had both Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey to target. The two combined for almost 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns. The Panthers have not had that same kind of success with a pass-catching tight end tandem since.
That, combined with a stellar and deep tight end class, makes it the perfect year to bring in a new body as Olsen plays his remaining few seasons in the league.
Jordan Leggett, a 6-6, 250-pounder from Clemson, would be a great pickup for a team looking for a do-it-all tight end with great upside.
Anthony Auclair is a tight end from Canada (yes, Canada) who impressed a few in the East-West Shrine Game this spring. At 6-foot-5 and 254 pounds with a nice set of hands and solid route-running, he may even go as early as the fifth round.
Butt and Olsen share a financial advisor and the former said at the NFL Combine that he hoped Olsen had “put in a good word for him” with the team.