The NFL Draft is fast approaching and one area the Broncos may look to upgrade this year is tight end.
The position that has revolutionized the modern passing offense with large athletic route runners and can also make an impact in the run-game, tight ends have become an essential part of NFL gameplans.
Broncos fans have fond memories of Shannon Sharpe catching bullets from John Elway and streaking down the field during the Super Bowl runs of the late 90’s. They also have nightmares of division rivals like Tony Gonzalez (Kansas City) and Antonio Gates (San Diego) torching the orange and blue for over a decade each. Gonzalez with the Chiefs from 1997-2008 and Gates with the Chargers since 2003.
Since Julius Thomas departed for Jacksonville in 2014, the Broncos offense has lacked production from their tight ends. Especially in 2016.
Last season, the Broncos tight end trio of A.J. Derby (16), Jeff Heuerman (9) and Virgil Green (22) combined for 47 total receptions. Of the three, Green was the only one to find the endzone and he did so just once. A two-yard score against the Raiders in the last game of the season.
If the Broncos were looking to increase their production from the tight end position, 2017 could be the perfect year to do so. With an abundance of talent in this year’s draft class, general manager John Elway and recently hired head coach Vance Joseph can take their pick of the field.
Widely viewed as the top option of the 2017 class is Alabama’s O.J Howard. At 6’6 and 242 pounds, Howard’s size and strength makes him a mismatch for any defender. Howard made a name for himself in college as a dominant force in the Alabama rushing attack.
Not only is he an extremely physical run blocker, Howard has the ability to be a legitimate threat in the passing game as well. He has consistent hands, runs crisp routes and is deceptively speedy for a big man.This was displayed in the National Championship game against Clemson, where Howard scored a 68-yard touchdown against the Tigers.
Despite being limited by the run-heavy offense of the Crimson Tide, Howard finished his senior campaign with 45 receptions for 595 yards and three touchdowns.
Another option at tight end is Miami’s David Njoku. Originally a wide receiver for the Hurricanes, Njoku is a guy that jumped on the scene after switching to tight end last fall and has been getting more and more attention this spring due to his absurd athleticism.
Much like Howard, Njoku possesses above average size and can make an impact in both phases of the offense. Although Njoku is still raw as a run-blocker, which makes sense considering he really only has played tight end for one season.
Unlike Howard, Njoku made a name for himself primarily as a pass-catcher for the Hurricanes. Njoku started just nine games in two seasons with the Hurricanes, but he caught nine touchdowns during that period.
A player like Howard or Njoku would provide the Broncos with a constant red zone threat and gives the quarterback a fallback option when the receivers are covered downfield. For a team rebuilding its offensive line and working with two young quarterbacks, that is a valuable thing to have.