The 2017 NFL draft class is filled with talent at the tight end position. Dynasty players and college football fans alike are surely familiar with names such as O.J. Howard (Alabama), Evan Engram (Ole Miss), and Jake Butt (Michigan). While those names may be the most familiar, I’m not so sure that the best tight end in the class is definitely going to be one of those three.
Draft eligible redshirt sophomore David Njoku of the University of Miami (FL) is my sleeper rookie target at the position.
Njoku did not see the field as a true freshman in 2014. As a redshirt freshman in 2015, Njoku started four games and caught 21 passes for 362 yards and one touchdown. His 17.2 yards per catch was best on the team.
In 2016, Njoku was the full-time starter at tight end and burned opposing defenses for 654 yards (seventh best among all FBS TEs) and seven TDs (third best among all FBS TEs).
Njoku ended the regular season on a high note against Duke, torching the Blue Devils for touchdowns of 58 and 76 yards, respectively.
Standing at 6 feet 4 inches tall and 245 pounds, Njoku has amazing explosion and body control for an athlete of his size. He posted the second-best high jump in Hurricanes’ history at six feet and ten inches (2.09m) during the 2016 Indoor Track and Field season. His personal best jump is actually even higher. Njoku jumped seven feet and one inch in a high school meet, albeit at a much lighter weight of 210 pounds. Framing that result, to qualify for the 2016 United States Men’s High Jump Olympic Trial, athletes were required to post an opening jump of seven feet. The high jump requires a combination of speed, timing, awareness and hip thrust, all of which are highly transferable skills to the tight end position. I imagine if Njoku hits in the NFL, we will be hearing about his high jump exploits from color commentators every game for his entire career, just as we have heard about Antonio Gates’ former basketball prowess.
Njoku’s fastest recorded 40 yard dash time is 4.54 seconds, although the athlete claims he has posted times as low as 4.49 seconds. Those times would place Njoku among the fastest NFL tight ends, including Greg Olsen (4.51 seconds), Eric Ebron (4.58 seconds), and Ladarius Green (4.45 seconds).
Njoku also spent time as a running back in high school, rushing for 339 yards and six TDs in addition to his receiving line of 981 yards and 11 TDs as a senior. The experience as a runner should be a positive for his vision and open-field play-making ability.
Njoku has yet to make his decision public regarding whether he will return to Miami for a fourth season or declare for the NFL draft. I expect him to wait to find out teammate Brad Kaaya’s decision before making an announcement.
College tight end production can be spotty – even for the most talented prospects – and teams have shown a proclivity for emphasizing traits when evaluating tight ends. This should benefit Njoku. I expect him to be a combine rock star and fly up the boards, a la Vernon Davis.
I believe he will be selected in the first or second round of the NFL draft, which means his dynasty value will be quite high. If things play out this way, Njoku would be an excellent selection any time after the late second round of dynasty rookie drafts.
Author’s edit: Njoku scored a TD in the Hurricanes’ bowl game and announced afterward that he will enter the 2017 NFL Draft. The NFL Draft Advisory Committee issued Njoku a second round grade.