Under the Radar 2022 NFL Draft Targets: Tight Ends
The Super Bowl has come and gone, and with it, the emptiness of no more NFL football for seven months. But, while the more casual fans are trying to divert their attention elsewhere, plenty of football-related activities are on the horizon. One of which is the upcoming NFL draft.
The tight end position is not the one that gets the most press or hype. At least not when missing a buzz-worthy star in the making like Kyle Pitts (TE – ATL). While there is no Pitts-level talent in the 2022 NFL Draft, there are some excellent prospects. Some of which are slipping under the radar.
The position itself is one of the more difficult skill positions the NFL has to offer and typically takes a few seasons of development before they contribute in a consistent and meaningful manner.
This article aims to identify some of the tight ends that have more upside based on gameplay, athleticism, and some intangibles in a surprisingly deep class at the position.
Standing at six-foot-six and weighing in at 240 pounds, Nevada tight end Cole Turner has some surprising athletic traits and an incredible nose for the end zone. He had his breakout college season as a junior, turning 49 receptions into 605 receiving yards and nine scores. The Wolfpack utilized a lot of air raid style of offense, and Turner would line up more like a WR3 than a traditional Y type of tight end. He would finish second on the team in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns that season, cementing his value for his senior campaign.
Fast forward a season, and Turner’s development continued. While not classified as having exceptional top-end speed, he has enough to get vertical and runs a solid route tree that allows for separation paired with some deceptive speed. In addition, he has good body control paired with reliable hands, making him reasonably adept at gaining some yards after the catch.
Turner would finish his senior season with 62 receptions, 677 receiving yards, and ten touchdowns. On a per-game basis, he averaged 5.6 receptions for 61.5 receiving yards and .9 touchdowns. In addition, he put up massive games against back-to-back opponents. After torching Hawaii in week six for 175 scoreless yards, he followed it up with 105 receiving yards and two scores against Fresno State. He averaged 13.8 yards per reception in those two games.
Turner’s size and speed combo, mixed with enough strength to withstand contact, create mismatches across the formation. He can line up from multiple spots and can operate in run blocking and pass protection, though those are not his strongest traits.
Turner will need the right-fit kind of team to succeed for fantasy purposes, and with blocking being one of the lower rungs of his skill tree, the development will be essential. However, if he lands on a team that deploys multiple tight ends or a moderate dose of 12-personnel, his development at the next level could be accelerated, making him a sneaky long play.
Former UCLA secret weapon Greg Dulcichfinished his senior season by landing sixth in the PAC 12 in receiving yards and just 14 yards shy of leading his team for the second straight season.
Dulcich brings a lot to the NFL table that teams should find attractive. At six-foot-three and 245 pounds, he is built and plays more like a big receiver than a smaller tight end. From a physical standpoint, he has a large wingspan of 81 2/8″, which he utilizes in a couple of facets of his game. While not blazingly fast, he is quick, has enough burst to capitalize on some mismatch alignments. In addition, he runs a decent complement of routes and gains enough separation to be a vertical threat while not being afraid to catch passes in traffic.
Dulcich got going his junior year after showing improvement in each subsequent season. He finished his junior season with 26 receptions, 517 receiving yards, and five touchdowns. While he finished second on the Bruins in targets, he led in receiving yards and touchdowns.
Entering his senior season, he still seemed to be undervalued. However, he finished his senior season with 42 receptions, 725 receiving yards, and five touchdowns.
Dulcich is a complete tight end, capable of lining up in multiple spots across the formation. He is a capable blocker and can work in pass protection. He possesses reliable hands, a good route tree, and enough speed and athleticism to succeed at the NFL level. With so many other tight ends in this class, he seems likely to be a bargain pick for a team that utilizes the position as an offensive weapon.)
Standing six-foot-six and weighing in at 260 pounds, Iowa States Charlie Kolarhas great size for the position. In addition, he is pretty athletic and possesses above-average body control despite the large frame.
Kolar showed a nose for the end zone, totaling 23 touchdowns over his four seasons with the Cyclones. He had three scores on just 11 receptions, even in limited work as a freshman. He became a focal point of the aerial attack seeing at 44 or more receptions and six or more touchdowns in his following three seasons.
Kolar finished his senior season with 62 receptions, 756 receiving yards, and six touchdowns. His 756 receiving yards were fifth-most in the Big 12 and second-most on the team. In addition, he led the Cyclones in receiving touchdowns.
Kolar is a solid route runner but fares much better on short to intermediate routes. However, there are some holes in his game. First, he is not an exceptional athlete and only has average speed, reducing his vertical ability. Lacks lower body strength for blocking but shows the willingness to help out in this area. Finally, he has inconsistent hands, which led to some drops in traffic.
Despite some of the holes in his game, Kolar would fit in nicely on a few teams as a complimentary in-line tight end.
Jeremy Ruckert did not post gaudy receiving numbers throughout his collegiate career but shows a lot of upside potential. He finished the 2021 season with 26 receptions, 309 receiving yards, and three touchdowns. When watching his tape, the words “untapped potential” immediately spring to mind.
Ruckert has the size, standing at six-foot-five and weighing 250 pounds. He has a frame that can hold up as a blocker, a facet he has shown plenty of willingness to perform. In addition, he has good strength and demonstrates an understanding of angles to help and maintain lanes for the ball carrier.
Ruckert is an above-average athlete with solid hands as a receiver. He also displays above-average speed for his size and running crisp routes and gaining separation. He would need to expand his route tree at the next level but shows enough to expect him to continue to develop at the next level.
Of the other tight ends listed here, Ruckert might be the most complete and projects to be a true three-down Y tight end in the NFL. He will need some time to adjust and develop but could easily be a mid-draft sleeper for the proper suitor.
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