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The 2015 NFL Draft is less than two months away. Already, the XN Sports NFL Mock Draft 1.0 has been released.
Over the next two weeks, we will be releasing the top five draft prospects at each position leading up to the second edition of the mock draft.
There likely is no Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham in this year’s tight end class. In fact, tight end may be the weakest of any position overall this year. Last year four tight ends came off the board in the first two rounds. This year, it’s doubtful there’s one taken in the first 32 picks.
Here are the top five tight ends in the 2015 NFL draft:
1. Maxx Williams, Minnesota
Arguably the top pass-catching tight end in this year’s crop is Williams, who at 6-foot-4 and 249 pounds boasts a large catch radius and is aggressive when hauling in passes. Williams has the ability to catch balls well in traffic and is strong in making adjustments to the football. He’s fast, but lacks true yards after catch ability. Some liken him to Panthers tight end Greg Olsen.
Williams is an average blocker, but will need to improve when he’s lined up as a true in-line tight end. Still, it’s not for a lack of effort.
Williams led Minnesota in receiving yards and touchdowns each of the past two seasons with the team. His father also played collegiately with the Golden Gophers before a decade-long NFL career with the Giants. His mother played volleyball at Minnesota, too. In other words, football and athleticism are in his blood.
2. Clive Walford, Miami
Miami has a long history of producing standout NFL tight ends, so perhaps Walford will follow suit. A solid, physical blocker, Walford can instantly bolster a team’s running game. He can also line up as an H-back and in the slot, providing some versatility to an offense.
Walford stands 6-foot-4 and 251 pounds, and is a big target for quarterbacks. He’s strong at locating the football and making difficult catches, and can generate yards afterwards. He does have a tendency to drop easy passes, though, and needs to improve his route-running. Some scouts see a lot of Colts tight end and 2011 John Mackey Award winner Dwayne Allen in him.
3. Jeff Heuerman, Ohio State
Perhaps the most physically gifted of the bunch, Heuerman boasts an excellent combination of height, weight, and speed at 6-foot-5 and 254 pounds, yet there’s a lot that still needs to be determined about this player in the coming weeks.
Heuerman uses his natural strength to drag defenders after the catch. He’s a tough blocker anywhere on the field, and his big hands tend to make a difference when hauling in catches in traffic. Scouts suggest he is still a bit raw in certain areas, though.
Heuerman was not featured heavily in the Ohio State offense, but given his physical gifts and overall athleticism he has a chance to be the second-best tight end in this year’s class. His March 13 Pro Day will be critical for teams to get a better look at what he’s capable of, since seven touchdowns over a four-year college career doesn’t do the player justice.
4. Jesse James, Penn State
At 6-foot-7 and 261 pounds, James has towering size with room to pack on more muscle. James has excellent hands but is a bit limited athletically, and doesn’t have superior quickness to get himself wide open.
James is well-rounded and has been a contributor on the Penn State offense since his freshman season. He plays all three downs and has the skill-set to line up as a traditional tight end or in the slot. In three years, he accumulated 78 catches for 1,0005 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The issue plaguing James is consistency. While he has strong hands and natural ball skills, he needs to figure out how to produce on a regular basis. James is shaping up to be a coveted red-zone threat and began garnering teams’ attention with an impressive showing during the NFL combine.
5. Nick O’Leary, Florida State
The Florida State senior will be a welcomed presence in any NFL team’s locker room. O’Leary plays with a chip on his shoulder, plays hard and through the whistle, and is willing to serve any role for his team.
O’Leary is able to fight through contact at the line of scrimmage, catch balls over the middle, and pick up chunks of yardage after the catch. He’s a tough blocker and puts in 110 percent effort in that area.
O’Leary is a sound route-runner but doesn’t have excellent speed to separate himself on a consistent basis. He can be a team’s No. 2 tight end right away, adding to a team’s passing game — to a degree — and filling multiple roles as a blocker. However, O’Leary lacks major upside.
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