The 2022 NFL Draft is finally here but before we get to draft day we have to examine in the incoming tight end class. Last week we took a look at what seems to be a weak crop of quarterbacks for dynasty leaguers to choose from this year. Similar to quarterbacks, the quality of tight end classes can fluctuate wildly from year to year. Last year, we had a truly generational unicorn in Kyle Pitts became one of the highest-drafted tight ends of all time. Even the second 2021 tight end taken, Pat Freiermuth, would probably be the number one player in this class despite not going until No. 55 overall last year.
This year, the Vegas over/under for tight ends drafted in the first round (0.5) at +450 implies that it would be a significant upset to see any of the below listed players taken on Day 1. I think it’s safe to say we aren’t going to find any dynasty roster cornerstones here, but at a position this scarce with production that can be heavily buoyed by landing spot via quarterback play and red zone targets, we certainly want to have a feel for these players so we can adjust quickly and try to find value after the dust settles on the NFL draft.
Greg Dulcich, UCLA (6’4”, 243 lbs, DOB 3/26/2000, Age 22)
With no sure things in this class in terms of future NFL status and production, I lean towards gambling on pass-catching upside, which Dulcich has seeping out of his pores. His career 17.6 yards per reception average is elite for a receiver, let alone an in-line tight end of his size. He has excellent releases off the line of scrimmage that enable him to be a vertical seam stretcher who also has the moves to make defenders miss after the catch. Fluid route running that includes regular use of double moves enables him to easily find soft spots in zones and get open downfield. At the NFL Combine, he showed requisite NFL athleticism with a 4.70 second 40, 10’2” broad and 34” vertical jumps.
Dulcich does not have an early breakout or huge volume on his resume, but his last two seasons where he combined for 68 receptions for 1,242 yards (18.3 YPR!) and 10 touchdowns against a Power 5 schedule is more than enough for me to roll the dice on his NFL potential. That yardage total represented a 29% market share of UCLA’s receiving yards over that time, which is a very strong number for a tight end. His blocking will need to improve to stay on the field consistently, which is a teachable trait he reportedly improved on at the Senior Bowl. He was no gadget hybrid receiver at UCLA, they consistently had him lined up in-line and occasionally split him out. He and Trey McBride are the only two players at the position who have a chance to sneak into the first round on Thursday.
Trey McBride, Colorado State (6’3”, 246 lbs, DOB 11/22/1999, Age: 22)
McBride racked up receiving numbers (157 grabs for 2,011 yards) over the last three years, good for a 27% dominator while maintaining a fairly efficient 12.8 YPR. More than half that production came in 2021, when he exploded for 90 receptions and 1,121 yards (12.5 YPR). On a Colorado State team that was bereft of talent around him, that represented a 37% market share. Despite all that production, he only managed to find the end zone 10 times in college, which is a lowly 6% of his career receptions.
What concerns me more with McBride than his scoring production is his lack of dynamic athletic ability, which is evident when watching his tape and in his mediocre output at the NFL combine. He offered little in terms of separation and after the catch ability in college against a weaker Colorado State schedule, a fact which inspires little confidence about his ability to become a difference-maker for fantasy purposes in the NFL. Still, he is generating similar late first-round buzz to Dulcich because of his strong blocking abilities and all-around game. That should give him an opportunity to earn playing time right away. Ultimately, I think he is going to be in the Cole Kmet purgatory type zone of dynasty value: good enough to want to keep on your roster but not good enough to ever feel comfortable starting him. I would shoot for more upside at other positions in the second round of dynasty rookie drafts.
Jelani Woods, Virginia (6’7”, 253 lbs, DOB 10/9/1998, Age 23)
This is probably higher than a lot of people will have Woods, but his physical upside is tantalizing and for me stands out as a worthy dart throw in a weak class. Initially recruited to Oklahoma State as a quarterback out of high school, Woods transitioned to tight end after redshirting his freshman year. Playing in a Mike Gundy offense that uses tight ends, H-backs, and fullbacks all in one muddled hybrid “Cowboy Back” role, Woods was limited to just 31 catches for 361 yards and 4 touchdowns over his three seasons on the field for OSU. Woods clearly felt he was being misused when he transferred to Virginia for the 2021 season, quickly eclipsing his career production up to that point in just one season (44 grabs for 598 yards, 13.6 YPR, and 8 touchdowns) while earning all-ACC honors.
Woods then proceeded to absolutely shred the pre-draft process at the NFL Combine and his Pro Day: 4.61 40, 37.5” vertical, 10’9” broad, and a 6.95 3-cone. These numbers are truly remarkable for a player of his size and puts him statistically among the most athletic tight ends to ever enter the draft all things considered. What’s exciting about Woods is that you can see these physical tools on display when watching his tape. He towers over defenders and is a monster both in the red zone and after the catch. He is an older prospect due to being redshirted, but that doesn’t worry me at a position where that physical maturity could help him get on the field quicker in the NFL. If he gets Day 2 draft capital, he may leapfrog McBride for me.
Jeremy Ruckert, Ohio State (6’5”, 252 lbs, DOB 8/1/2000, Age 21)
In terms of box score production, Ruckert wasn’t exactly stuffing the stat sheet in his four years in Columbus. His career totals of 54 receptions for 615 yards (11.4 YPR) and 12 touchdowns are not very impressive, especially considering the quality of quarterback play he has had in Justin Fields and CJ Stroud. Certainly, it should be noted that his competition for targets included multiple future NFL first-round picks at wide receiver and that he only played in 26 games in his college career for a variety of reasons. He also is the youngest draft relevant player at his position in the class. A foot injury has prevented him from participating in much of the pre-draft process.
Ruckert intrigues me because despite his lack of production he put some truly spectacular highlight-reel catches on tape in big-time moments, including two touchdowns against Clemson in the 2021 CFP semifinal and one of the best one-handers I’ve ever seen from a tight end against Wisconsin in the 2020 B1G title game. Limited as his highlights were in frequency, combined with his blocking abilities they show me a player who can be a contributor at the next level. Like Trey McBride, his all-around game will provide him with solid draft capital and a floor for playing time in the NFL. I think he is a more fluid athlete than McBride, but obviously, the production discrepancy speaks for itself. It’s concerning for Ruckert given the run of recent OSU tight ends who had similar production profiles and failed to become fantasy contributors, but I think there is a chance he bucks that trend.
Isaiah Likely, Coastal Carolina (6’4”, 245 lbs, DOB 4/18/2000, Age 22)
Likely is the complete opposite of Ruckert as a small school prospect with an elite production profile, unproven in-line blocking skills, and a wide range of outcomes for his draft capital. Playing in Coastal Carolina’s spread offense, Likely often lined up out wide and did plenty of damage as a result: he had a career line of 133 catches for 2050 yards (15.4 YPR) and 27 touchdowns, including a junior year where he averaged an insane 20.0 yards on his 30 receptions. His senior year, he racked up 12 scores and 912 yards on 59 grabs (15.5 YPR, 26.4% market share).
Likely did not run at the NFL Combine but had a 36” vertical jump which was promising. He then proceeded to underwhelm at his Pro Day, however, running a 4.80 40-yard dash. It’s far from a death knell, but it’s less than ideal for a player we are projecting primarily as a pass catcher because his blocking is going to be an issue in the NFL unless he drastically improves in that area. His draft capital will be fascinating to watch as he has a production profile that would indicate potential fantasy juice. He’ll be a worth dart throw later on in rookie drafts if he lands in a situation that utilizes him as a pass catcher and doesn’t force him to try and be a traditional in-line tight end.
Charlie Kolar, Iowa State (6’6” 252 lbs, DOB 2/10/1999, Age 23)
Kolar might end up being too low on this list when all is said and done as a riser who is generating legitimate Day 2 buzz. He is acing the pre-draft process coming off a consistently productive career at ISU, where he racked up 168 receptions for 2,181 yards (13.0 YPR) and 23 touchdowns over four seasons. In his sophomore through senior seasons, he averaged 52 grabs for 681 yards and 7 touchdowns. Not what you would call a vertical threat, Kolar was still efficient on a per catch basis and made the most of his red zone opportunities.
While Kolar didn’t participate in drills at the NFL Combine, he put up strong athletic numbers at his Pro Day: 4.67 40, 35.5” vertical, 10’0” broad, 6.98 3-cone. The 3-cone is indicative of his excellent change of direction for a player of his size, a trait which can be seen on his tape with fluid hips that help him evade defenders both during his route and after the catch. The Cyclones often lined him up out wide, where he had excellent releases that helped him get open. His blocking is good enough not to hamper his draft capital, even if it needs some refinement. If he does go in the first three rounds to a productive offense, I can see him jumping Ruckert and Likely in my final rookie rankings in May.
Jalen Wydermyer, Texas A&M (6’4”, 255 lbs, DOB 12/20/2000, Age 21)
As someone who is always combing through college football games making mental notes for the eventual day players will become dynasty rookie picks, Wydermyer is truly a conundrum to me. As a 18/19-year old true freshman in the SEC, he burst onto the scene with 32 grabs for 447 yards (14.0 YPR) and 6 touchdowns. His production was steady the next two seasons, but he never saw much growth from there, maxing out at season highs of 46 receptions, 515 yards, and 6 touchdowns.
Box score aside, he also just did not show the dynamic ability he displayed as a true freshman that put his name on the map of devy and dynasty leaguers alike. It was puzzling he did not participate in drills at the NFL Combine, and we may have found out why given his abysmal performance at Texas A&M’s Pro Day: 5.03 40, 9’1” broad, 25.5” vertical. Those measurables are so below average that is has some wondering if Wydermyer will even be drafted. Assuming he does get drafted, I’ll still be willing to try and stash him in deeper leagues with taxi squads given his youth and early career breakout, but the warning signs are there that he could be a non-factor in the league.
Keep on the Radar
- Cole Turner, Nevada
- Chigoziem Okonkwo, Maryland
- Peyton Hendershot, Indiana
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- 2022 NFL Mock Draft 2.0: Where Will WRs Jameson Williams, Garrett Wilson and Drake London End Up?