The tight end group is currently under the spotlight as I continue to breakdown 2014 NFL Draft prospects. With the Jets need at tight end more apparent than ever, I recently took a look at Eric Ebron. Next up is Troy Niklas, a mammoth of a prospect out of Notre Dame.
The 6’6, 270 pound Niklas was an outside linebacker his freshman season at Notre Dame. Before his sophomore year, head coach Brian Kelly converted him to tight end to be Tyler Eifert’s back up. Throughout his first year as a tight end, Niklas saw limited action and only recorded five catches for 75 yards and one touchdown.
In his junior year as a starter, Niklas turned some heads. His receiving stats will not “wow” anyone (32 catches for 498 yards and five touchdowns), but his rounded out game was impressive for a second year tight end.
As a senior in high school, Niklas was the Los Angeles Times lineman of the year. He played offensive guard and defensive tackle at Servite High School in Anaheim, California.
Lets start with Niklas’ blocking, which is by far his strongest asset he will bring to a team from day one. He is a shade over 6’6 and a solid 270 pounds, allowing him to match up with just about any defensive end or edge rusher he faces. He is excellent at getting his hands on defenders and uses his strength to force them backwards.
As seen in the clip above (thanks to draft breakdown), Niklas has the power to bully defenders off the edge. Unlike many college tight ends, he knows when to go for the pancake and when to strictly focus on getting his hands on the defender.
For a larger receiving threat, Niklas displays pretty good routes when given the chance to showcase his ability. He often uses his height to “swim” over defenders on seams and has a decent cut on out routes, as seen below.
After the catch, Niklas is not explosive but he is a load to take down. When he gains momentum in the open field, he is difficult to wrap up and usually falls forward for extra yards.
He seems to have soft hands and was most likely under-utilized in the receiving game while at Notre Dame. Their inconsistent quarterback play did not aid his cause either.
Niklas is not a blazer and is not a similar tight end to an Eric Ebron or Jace Amaro. He has not had enough time playing tight end to be labeled as a game changer in the passing game, although his size and athleticism is intriguing.
While his blocking is extremely impressive, it was head scratching how Notre Dame used him at times. Whenever they wanted to set up a wide receiver screen, they would split Niklas out wide. Defensive backs would fly up and Niklas did not have the lateral movement to get his hands on them.
At the college level, Niklas was bigger by a wide margin than every defender he faces. Standing over 6’6, he was a giant even compared to linebackers. In the NFL, linebackers will pop him much harder at the line and he will struggle using his “swim over” move he abuses on seam routes.
All in all, it is hard to knock a player on what he used (that worked often) in college. His receiving game just needs time to develop, but he is a large target underneath from day one.
How does he fit with the Jets/Conclusion:
The Jets have resigned tight end Jeff Cumberland to a three year deal and plan to use him out wide as a TE2. Their is a dire need for an in-line tight end at the moment, but they may use free agency to fill that need.
Niklas could be used as an in-line tight end to block from day one, but his receiving game between the 20′s may take time to develop. He would still be a weapon in the red zone (an area the Jets desperately need help in) due to his size and how he uses his length to catch the ball.
If he can be had in the second or third round and develop while playing TE3 for one season, he may turn into an excellent asset.
Follow Connor Rogers on Twitter: @Real_CR3