While most NFL scouting directors and general managers are in agreement on the top tight ends listed on our ratings chart, the life of the scout is to unearth talent. With the ever-changing ways that the tight end position is used in college, more often than not, statistics “hide” the true value of those performers, especially in the art of blocking.
With the spread offenses becoming increasingly popular, college teams have not really embraced the “safety valve” features a tight end can bring to the passing game, especially in the short-to-intermediate range. Scouts are also seeing that the college tight ends are getting quicker, but also smaller, compared to the prospects produced in prior drafts.
Mark Andrews - Oklahoma
Teams looking strictly for a pass catching tight end will be keeping tabs on Andrews during the draft’s Day 2 action, but his glaring weaknesses as a blocker will not see any organizations needing help at this position consider him in the opening round. More of an over-sized slot receiver, he has displayed an excellent pass-catch radius and when lined up in the slot or out wide, he created huge mismatches vs. the smaller defensive backs.
Andrews has battled a serious health issue since he was a child. Andrews was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of nine.
Body Structure...Andrews has a big, well-proportioned frame with good overall muscle definition, long arms (77-inch wing span), good-sized hands (9 1/2-inches), wide hips, good bubble and thick thighs. He has a wide, thick frame with broad shoulders, good chest width, minimal body fat, a tight midsection, good bubble and could shift to the H-Back at the next level, as his main deficiency is a lack of overall strength.
Athletic Ability...Andrews has the size that makes him an imposing presence when he challenges a deep secondary. He is taller than most tight ends and certainly has the explosion and burst to get to the top of the route, but he will get lazy at times. He has the frame to add more bulk without it affecting his quickness. He is a quality pass catcher, but is easily knocked off his route by stronger second level opponents He is the type that opponents need to game plan in the intermediate area, but despite 318 yards on ten deep passes last season, he prefers working in space rather than catching in a crowd and when he catches the ball, he needs to regroup before accelerating.
Football Sense...A glorified receiver, Andrews is not a complete tight end, but has made rapid strides as a pass catcher last year. He is an alert route runner who has good ability to work back when he feels the quarterback is being pressured. He is the type that can easily be challenged when working in a crowd, but when lined wide, he does a good job mismatching vs. the slower linebackers, but until he can develop more upper body strength and develop more power as a blocker, he will struggle at the next level to beat the initial tackle. He has the ability as a runner to smartly move the chains, knowing where to locate and settle into the area’s soft spots, but his drops usually occurred when he heard the feet of an oncoming defender, losing his concentration level.
Release...Andrews has no problem negotiating a clean release vs. smaller defenders. Last season, he is also doing a must better job of using his hands to push off and jerk down those smaller opponents, but still had issues challenging strong-side linebackers. Like most motion tight ends, he will need time to adjust to playing in a three-point stance. He gets much better speed into his route progression when split wide than when he has to navigate through traffic. He must learn to be quicker shooting his hands up from the three-point stance, but when he keeps those hands inside the frame, he has some ability (not great) with his club moves to defeat the chuck. His change of direction agility and lateral movement allow his to slip past the second level defenders and he gets into his route quickly, building acceleration on the way up field, but there are times where he will drift in and out. Still, his best ability to get free is from a two-point stance. When he plays too tall, he will not get his feet set properly and can get walked back.
Acceleration...Andrews is not a typical tight end-quick type. He has very good success when mostly lined wide, as he has the ability to pose challenges doing that vs. NFL second level defenders. He very quick feet and when he gets a clean release, he gets to the top of his route in a hurry. He shows a good burst and balance out of his cuts, but despite his speed and 318 yards on ten deep catches, he is just not the type that will win too long distance foot races, especially if a defender gets a piece of his jersey to knock him off his route. He is suited for being a big target in the short area, but there are too many times where he allows his separation window to close. He has had better success in 2017 when using his frame to sink his pads and come up with the underneath throws, thanks to his above average flexibility.
Quickness...Andrews is one of the quicker pass catchers you will find at this position. He shows very good “get off” running his routes, except when he is aligned near the line of scrimmage, where he struggles at times to get a clean release. He is quick enough to make the backside cut-off when aligned in a two-point stance (compared to a bit labored coming out of a three-point stance). He shows good quickness off the snap and into his routes, but there are too many times where he drifts going long distances and he needs to work hard during this off-season to improve on his overall route running.
Route Running...Andrews has good straight-forward speed to get up the seam and challenge the linebackers, but when going long distances, he slows down and lacks the sudden burst and acceleration to pull away from safeties assigned to him in man coverage. He is a better route runner in the short-to-intermediate area when he utilizes his head and shoulder fakes to lull a second level defender, but he is not the type that can power through arm tackles, as he will try to shy away from contact and look to save his body by just eluding that defender. He does a good job of lowering his body weight when making his cuts and he knows how to work back to the quarterback and his vision is excellent when trying to locate the soft areas. His best success has come on slants and comebacks, but he is not the type that has the sudden explosion or timed speed to win open field foot races.
Separation Ability...Andrews has a nice “bag of tricks,” with his head and shoulder fakes to sell the route and escape from second level defenders in man coverage, but lacks the valid second gear needed to race up the seam. He has poor strength and linebackers have had good degrees of success in attempts to press him. When taken off his route, he struggles to recover. He gets most of his separation from precise cuts, but has to use his hands better to push off to separate vs. tight coverage.
Ball Concentration...Andrews has good athleticism and can use his flexibility to adjust to the thrown ball, but while he has a big frame, he has just average leaping ability that is exposed when he has to high point the ball. He shows impressive body control to run under the pass and catch it in stride. I like him better when used on drag routes over the middle anyway, as he does not use his body as an excuse to trap the ball. His long reach lets him adjust to off-target throws, showing ease of movement extending to catch away from the body. When he plays tall, it negates his ability to twist and swivel his body well enough to come up with throws outside his frame, though.
Ball Adjustment...In 2017, Andrews saw the ball in flight much better than his sophomore season, doing a good jog of tracking and adjusting to get under the throw. He has above average hand/eye coordination and soft hands to finish. He needs to stop using his body as a crutch when going for the ball, especially in a crowd, where he seems to fear getting hit and is not willing to sacrifice his body. He is alert to the pocket pressure, working back to the quarterback with good urgency, though, but you want a tight end who shows no hesitation sacrificing his body in a crowd. He can catch the ball outside his framework, but must be more consistent doing so.
Leaping Ability...Overall, Andrews has average leaping ability, but he has to work harder to improve his timing to high point the ball. He gets good elevation from a standing position and has the long reach and large mitts for hands to look the ball in, but is not one that will sacrifice himself to challenge for the ball in a crowd.
Hands...Andrews has soft hands and good flexibility to go low for the tossed ball. He is a natural hands catcher, as you see this season that he no longer uses his body to absorb the ball when working in a crowd with defenders draped all over him. He does a very nice job of catching the ball without having to break stride on slants and posts. When he drops the pigskin, it is usually due to him being distracted by a defender closing on him. He just seems to lack timing when challenging for the jump balls, despite posing a tremendous mismatch when lined up vs. smaller defenders (win 3-of-16 jump ball situations this year).
Run After the Catch...Andrews will never be confused for being a power runner, as he is more the type that will tip-toe around a defender. He has the timed speed to be elusive, but he can easily be pushed off his route and is more apt to be brought down in isolated coverage when he fails to use his hands to keep the defender away from his body (poor stiff arm). This is not a Mark Bavaro “drive-through-the-pack mentality” tight end, folks. He runs hard and gets most of his yardage after contact by eluding rather than powering through initial tackles and while he has some split end-like elusiveness, there is little battle in him when facing one-on-one situations.
Blocking Ability.. Andrews will struggle taking on linebackers in the open, but simply gets walked back when he is taking on defensive ends at the line of scrimmage. You can see marginal effort when he has to fire off the snap from a three-point stance. He is too inconsistent when trying to get out on backers and seal for the ground game, showing a poor concept for angling. Last season, he had a knee issue early in the schedule and it hampered him in attempts to sink his hips and play with proper knee bend blocking in-line. He has the long arms, but lacks good upper body power, along with showing inconsistency maintaining contact in the backfield as a pass protector.
Compares To...Coby Fleener-New Orleans Saints...Andrews is an over-sized pass catcher who will give you production in that area, but his blocking is very ineffective. He has the short area speed and agility to threaten the seam, along with soft hands when working in the red zone (22 scores), but unless he is utilized strictly in passing situations, he offers little as a blocker.
Christopher Herndon IV - Miami
It seems like scouts have seen this before, recently. An emerging tight end is having a banner campaign, only to suffer a late season injury that suddenly puts the player’s draft status into a bit of a freefall. Last year, Mackey Award winner, Jake Butt of Michigan, tore knee ligaments in the bowl game and it was not until the third day of the draft that this former first round projection was selected by Denver.
After waiting in line for veterans to leave the program, Herndon was given his opportunity to start and he ran with it - at least until the team’s regular season finale vs. Pittsburgh. His left knee buckled running a pass route and the ligament damage sent him to the sidelines for the bowl season, all-star games and the NFL Scouting Combine.
Body Structure...Herndon has a solid frame with good muscle definition, long arms, athletic physique and room to carry at least another ten pounds of bulk. He has solid chest muscles and good shoulder development. He possesses a tight waist, firm midsection, good bubble and thick thighs and calves.
Athletic Ability... Herndon has above average hand/eye coordination, making it look easy getting under throws. He shows good ball skills and body control, doing a nice job adjusting and keeping his feet along the sidelines. He is not overly sudden or explosive, but has deceptive quickness and fluid movements to get into his patterns nicely. He shows good flexibility catching outside his frame and the change of direction skills to elude second level defenders. He moves well in the open field, but is best on controlled routes or working underneath, as he does not have the pure speed to challenge deep, making him a better fit as an intermediate target. While he won’t surprise a defender with suddenness, he is an athletic mover who is light on his feet for a player his size, showing impressive upper body flexibility extending for the ball in flight.
Football Sense... Herndon needs only normal reps to learn. He does a good job of taking plays from the chalkboard to the field and is an instinctive athlete with a good sense for the down markers and boundaries. He does well in school and is one of the smarter players on the team. He does a nice job of scanning the field and will have no problems handling the mental aspect of the game. He is alert to coverage, doing a nice job of settling in the zone.
Release ...The Miami system did not see Herndon flex or line up wide much, but he uses his hands to get a smooth and fluid release when battling vs. the press. He has the size and enough strength to power through second level defenders and has adequate quickness to elude. The thing you do see from him is his craftiness at the X’s, where he has had good success creating a lane up field. Unlike most big tight ends, he has good balance and it is rare to see him on his heels in his stance off the snap. He works hard to push and shove off the line of scrimmage, demonstrating solid change of direction agility and swim moves to escape. Whether swimming over or fighting through the jam, he knows how to get into stride, but needs to do it more quickly. He is smooth coming off the line, but will drift and lacks ideal straight line speed or any explosiveness to challenge the secondary.
Acceleration...Herndon is more quick than fast. He is more productive in the short areas, as his craftiness, change of direction and lateral agility allows him to create separation needed to generate yards after the catch, but he does not have the explosive burst to escape past the second level. He is good at finding the holes in the zone and settling underneath. With his big hands and body, he is capable of making the tough catch in traffic. He understands how to leverage and sit in the zones, but needs to be quicker in coming back when the quarterback is pressured. He lacks the top speed to be a vertical threat, and fails to cover ground quickly with his long stride. He lacks an array of moves to slip past and separate. On short routes, he displays the ability to get open and adjust to the ball in flight, as he is crisp running drag or stop routes when working underneath. You just don’t see good acceleration to find the space working in the zone. He is just much more effective when uncovering and separating when working in a crowd, as he is capable of sitting down and coming back for the ball. His long reach and arm extension allow him to get to the off-target tosses. He does a nice job of tracking the ball over his outside shoulder on longer patterns (see 2007 Wake Forest, Florida State and Miami) but does not have the ability to get separation after the catch.
Quickness...Herndon does not show the foot quickness to consistently find ways to get to his assignments. He does not seem to accelerate out of his breaks and can gain advantage on the defender with his marginal second gear. He moves easily in lateral-run routes, but must get more explosive in his attempts to attack the seam. He shows good balance in and out of his cuts, but without a strong initial burst, it is rare for him to be on time coming off the X’s (just does not blow past defenders on patterns). He is a nifty route runner who shows good urgency getting under the ball, especially for a player his size. He moves easily in the open field, but must be quicker to get into position as a down field blocker.
Route Running... Herndon runs the short area routes well, doing a good job of finding the soft areas in the short zone defense. He has regressed a bit in his pattern sharpness, possibly due to his 2008 midseason leg injury. He can do a good job of executing crisp angle cuts. Even though he is used mostly on underneath routes, shallow crossers or the tight end delays, he can slip by and get deep vs. a lethargic defender, but just does not have the stride to pull away from secondary opponents. He is not overly explosive into his patterns, but runs precise routes, getting good depth. He is adequate at gathering at the top of the route to get out of his breaks.
Separation Ability...Herndon has a knack for finding the soft areas in the zone, but does not have the pull away speed to separate. He needs to be more active with his hands, as he might not get reroutes, but does take too much time trying to negotiate past the jam. He just does not seem to have enough strength to power through arm tackles. He is too methodical in his stride to look up field and generate positive yardage, but he knows where the holes in zone coverage are. He has the size and reliable receiving skills to settle there and be a security blanket. The thing you see on film is his ability to lean on an opponent (see 2017 Toledo, Syracuse games) and push off. He just needs to develop deceptive quickness, along with the stick moves to freeze a defender when trying to gain separation. He can get caught from behind by speedier opponents, but with improved body lean and weight transfer, it might allow him to snap off his breaks and separate.
Ball Concentration...Herndon has a good feel for the ball in flight. He does a nice job of following through with his hands. He also does a good job of looking the ball in and holding on in the face of heavy contact. He demonstrates good concentration, dropping just 3-of-53 passes targeted to him in 2017. He’s a big target who knows how to use his body well to shield defenders from the ball. The thing you see on film is that he can consistently make the catch with defenders all over him. He is very good at adjusting to high and low throws, using his body properly to gain position. He uses his body well to fight for the ball in a crowd and is always focused on locating the ball in flight.
Ball Adjustment...Herndon has no problems adjusting to the ball, especially when it is under-thrown, thanks to his long reach and quick reactionary ability. He will not hesitate to compete for the pigskin working in traffic. He has the balance and body control, but must make quicker moves in and out of his cuts. He is very effective at securing the ball outside his body’s framework and does a decent job at positioning his body to make the catch. He is athletic enough in his leaps to go after the thrown ball at its high point. He is adept at adjusting to off-line throws and with his back to the ball, as he has that natural flexibility to make those difficult grabs.
Leaping Ability...Herndon is a good leaper, with the timing, balance and reach to extend and catch away from his frame. He uses his long arms well to get to the ball at its highest point and gets very good height on his leaps, showing the timing skills to get to the ball, even when working in tight quarters. He has above average timing to get to the over-thrown tosses, thanks to his good body control. He is a quick leaper, especially when given room to plant and jump, but even in a crowd, he can extend and get to the ball over the reach of most defenders.
Hands... Herndon has outstanding hands, as he catches the ball easily outside his frame. You will never see him body catch or fight for the ball. He has the soft “mitts” to pluck the ball with great ease when trying to reach and extend. He is a natural and smooth hands catcher who does a nice job of adjusting to over-the-shoulder throws. He can extend high and low to make the off-target catch. He is consistent, whether catching with his hands or body and does a good job of securing the ball before turning up field.
Run After the Catch...Because he has just adequate speed, Herndon is not good at gaining yards after the catch. He has good moves and fakes to set up the defender when trying to elude, but lacks the lower leg power to run through arm tackles or run hard with the ball in his hands. He seems to have an adequate burst after the catch, but restarts his acceleration once he catches the ball in a crowd, though. He does not have enough shake to elude or the leg drive to run through side tackles by linebackers, despite showing good hip snap in attempts to execute moves.
Blocking Ability...Herndon has shown improvement in attempts to sustain blocks as an in-line blocker, but on the move, he has a strong concept for taking angles and stalking second level defenders as a cut blocker. He gives good effort at the line of scrimmage, but when he leads with his head, he can be pulled out of his stance and jerked to the ground. On the edge, he can get out and mirror in space, as he works hard to lock up and sustain. He is better when trying to finesse than over-power when stationed at the line of scrimmage, but he has the balance to stay square with his man. He plays at a good pad level, but would be even more effective blocking in-line if he kept his pads lower to generate a stronger base and use his hands more to deliver a punch rather than go for placement.
Compares To...Greg Olsen-Carolina Panthers...Herndon can extend his arms to get to the off-target throws, showing very good awareness of the sticks. He has a good burst after the catch when isolated on a linebacker. He runs at a good pad level and is consistent at generating the leg drive to break arm tackles. He has that easy release when lining up vs. physical defenders, as his hand punch is enough to shock and jolt his opponent, giving him an advantage to make plays up field.
Dalton Schultz - Stanford
The 2017 season is perfect example why Schultz wears that “best complete tight end” tag. He’s caught 68.75% of the passes targeted to him (22-of-32) and those ten non-catches came with his quarterbacks misfiring on seven of those attempts. Among his receptions, 72.73% of them (16-of-22) have resulted in first downs, producing two scores while setting up three other touchdown drives and three series that resulted in field goals.
As a blocker, even MC Hammer would say “can’t touch this,” in regards to Schultz’s tight end competitors in the draft. His blocking consistency grade of 90.25 percent is not only the best mark for any tight end in college football during the 2017 campaign, but the player with the second-best grade is three percentage points lower (Wisconsin’s Troy Fumagali at 87.03 percent). Of the 20 touchdown runs by the Cardinal ball carriers, Schultz has delivered a key block on fifteen of those scoring scampers.
Body Structure...Schultz displays the frame of an H-Back, but he has an athletic physique with a thick lower body and still has room for further growth. He has large, soft hands with muscular calves and thighs, good ankle thickness, tight waist, broad shoulders and big chest.
Athletic Ability... Schultz has average foot quickness, but can accelerate off the ball, but his weight room numbers are adequate and he will need more strength to sustain blocks at the next level. He does come off the snap with a good surge to shock and jolt a defender working in-line. He lacks suddenness to be a vertical threat, but he is a polished route runner who comes out of his breaks cleanly. He is a deceptive player, as you get surprised with his flexibility, especially when he locates an edge rusher at the opposite side of the field, only to redirect and prevent the opponent from reaching the quarterback from the backside. He has the balance, flexibility and change of direction skills to be effective working underneath. He runs with a smooth stride and demonstrates good hand/eye coordination to look the ball in and separate without having to gather. He has the body control to get to the off-target throws and the loose hips to adjust to the ball in flight. He has functional acceleration, but plays up to his timed speed.
Football Sense... Schultz not only does very well in the classroom, but he has keen field instincts. He is a minimal rep type who knows his assignments and easily takes the plays from the chalkboard to the field. He makes good adjustments on the field and is quick to find and settle into the soft areas. He is alert to the blitz and stunts, showing good urgency with his kick slide. He just has a natural feel for his position, doing a nice job of working back to the ball when the quarterback is pressured.
Release...Schultz might lack suddenness, but is a savvy route runner with average flexibility. He has the change of direction agility to avoid defenders, but also possesses the ability to attack the press and beat it with very good hand usage. Once he beats the jam, he is quick to get into his routes. With his initial burst and textbook hand punch, Schultz has no problems getting a clean release and accelerating off the line. He shows good strength in his initial step and gets off the line at a low pad level.
Acceleration...Working underneath, Schultz has the movement skills to settle in and the size to shield the ball from defenders. He is used mostly on screens, curls and crossers, so you really can’t see his deep route speed, but based on his agility tests, he could be effective running down the ball past the intermediate area. He builds nicely to top acceleration and has a functional second gear to stretch the field. His strength in his RAC is evident by his consistency in breaking tackles. He is quick to get open in a crowd, using his hands to get a push off the defender, but won’t explode and escape vs. the smaller defenders (relies on array of moves to break tackles). His ability to find voids and adjust is evident, as he has a good feel when working underneath.
Quickness...Schultz has the just average foot speed, but it is his balance and body control that helps him gain advantage over second level defenders coming off the snap. He won’t explode off the ball, but has functional acceleration to get to the top of the route quickly. He is never utilized on deep routes, as he does not have the speed to be effective there. He is better when used as a motion tight end on short area routes, thanks to his good lateral quickness to be utilized that way. He won’t generate sudden moves to eat up a cushion, but has enough quickness and athletic agility to get through route progression.
Route Running... Schultz is a solid route runner who shows very good balance and acceleration in and out of his cuts. He is not the type that will round his cuts or drift in his patterns. He has the ability to leverage and shows the change of direction agility and hip snap to weave through traffic, but has been limited to controlled, crossers and curl routes. He makes crisp open field cuts and can drive through the defender, showing good awareness of coverage. His flexibility shows in his cutting ability, as it is rare to see him gather on his breaks. Because of the system he is used in, you can’t really evaluate his route running skills, as he’s had only limited opportunities to catch the ball. With his athletic ability and a little patient coaching, he could be a nice addition to some team’s short-to-intermediate passing game.
Separation Ability...Schultz enough pull-away speed to elude second level defenders, but he is not one you want to use to challenge the deep secondary. He can never match up vs. speedier safeties in the deep zone. Still, he shows good pad level and change of direction agility settling in the soft areas, along with a strong hand punch to get a good push off a defender, turn in a fluid motion and head up field. He is precise when cutting and has the valid strength to power through tackles. He will ride up and eat a cushion vs. second level defenders (linebackers/safeties). If used to challenge linebackers, he will succeed. He has worked hard over the years, showing steady improvement in his initial burst off the snap. He just has not had many opportunities to run away from people due to limited amount of passes targeted to him, though.
Ball Adjustment...In limited chances to combat for the ball, Schultz showed a fearless attitude and little regard for his body in attempts to get to the pass. He has solid balance and body control to extend and adjust to passes at its high point. He also displays the flexibility to make grabs on tosses behind him. He has the soft hands to catch away from his frame, good hand/eye coordination and the body control to adjust to the off-target throws. He is a physical second level run blocker and has the strength to out-fight the defender for the ball. His only problem is a lack of leaping ability to battle for the jump ball.
Leaping Ability...Schultz has the body control to make adjustments on the ball, but has only average leaping ability. He will combat for the ball, but elevating to get to the pass at its high point might be an issue. He will extend for the off-target throws, but needs to work on his timing, as he jumps too early sometimes.
Hands... Schultz has the ability to consistently catch away from his body. He looks natural with the ball in his hands and knows how to use his frame to shield the pigskin from defenders. He has a strong punch and above average placement to lock on and steer wide a defender when blocking in-line. His ability to catch the ball with ease makes him an inviting intermediate area target.
Run After the Catch...Schultz has good quickness, but even in limited chances to stretch the field, he did not show that he had a good second gear. After the catch, he’s gained 37.82% of his total yardage (205 of 542). He uses his change of direction agility well in attempts to elude defender, but in man coverage, he is a load to bring down once he lowers his head and squares his shoulders to drive through. He shows no flinch going for the ball in a crowd and he rarely will lose concentration (only five drops, none since the first game of the 2016 season).
Blocking Ability...This is Schultz’s best asset. He shows very good initial quickness off the snap and into the defender lined over his head. He shuffles his feet and keeps his base wide in attempts to gain position and has the strength to create movement and control defenders for the team’s successful running game. He has no problem sinking his pads and keeping his hands inside the framework to counter moves by his opponent when blocking in-line. He has the balance to adjust to second level defenders on the move and shows good intent while stalking. You can also see his solid body control when he tries to mirror and make contact in space.
Compares To...Nick Vannett-Seattle Seahawks...Vannett is bigger and has developed his receiving skills since he was in college, but both athletes play with the same intent as blockers - seek out and destroy. Schultz is a blue collar type that will fly under the radar, but he is the consummate team player who will perform any task put in front of him. He has few peers as a blocker and he just might surprise some team if they try to utilize him as an intermediate area receiver.
Ian Thomas - Indiana
Thomas is another well-developed athlete known for his blocking skill.
Body Structure...Thomas has a developing frame with good core structure – long limbs, V-shaped torso, good chest thickness, broad shoulder, very good arm length, large hands, good bubble and well-developed thighs and calves.
Athletic Ability...Thomas has very good foot work coming off the snap, showing quickness getting into his routes. He shows good agility and balance navigating through a crowd and fluid flexibility, which allows him to make quick and decisive moves when changing direction. He demonstrates good acceleration throughout the route’s progression and is a normal strider who has the body control and arm extension to catch away from his frame. Thomas is a tough player and good contact seeker who enjoys his performance as a blocker almost as much as he does as a receiver. He could be more physical as a blocker, but will not hesitate to face up to a bigger opponent. What he does best is come up with clutch catches in pressure situations. He shows no hesitation going up and competing for the ball.
Football Sense... Thomas is very alert to sticks and boundaries. He lines up mostly wide, so he must become comfortable playing with his hand down at the next level. He retains plays with normal reps, but his test score is just average, but he does better on the field that he does in the meeting room. He is still learning the game, but has shown the willingness to work at it. He is not the most instinctive when it comes to recognizing defensive coverage (will run into spots), but should be able to handle the mental aspect of the game at the next level.
Release...Thomas has good quickness off the snap, but what earns him most of his success getting a clean release is that unlike most tall receivers, he knows how to keep his pads down and this helps him generate a better thrust off the snap. His speed in the open field creates mismatches for second level defenders and he is the type that needs to be accounted for, as he can easily ride up on and get behind a safety. The thing you see on 2017 film (see Ohio State, Georgia Southern, Penn State games) is his ability to generate a quick thrust off the snap. He has the long reach and decent punch to power through the chuck and if a linebacker tries to hold him up, he has a strong enough punch to put the man on the ground and get open. He can also lull a cornerback with his quickness and savvy, as he has loose hips and efficient head and shoulder fakes.
Acceleration...Thomas reminds me of the Bills’ Charles Clay with the way he can ride up on a defender, execute a quick fake, plant-&-drive and break into the open. When working in the short area, he does a nice job of dropping his weight and demonstrates proper foot work to gather, using his body well to box out. He is a nice target that has shown good agility when adjusting to the ball and is a pretty fluid runner on the move. He just seems to find ways to get open in time for the quarterback to deliver the ball to him. He is an especially effective target on the drag patterns.
Quickness...Thomas shows good quickness off the snap and into his routes. He is also a quick position blocker with the quick-twitch movement skills to sustain and mirror. He displays good foot speed at the top of the route to set defenders up and separate.Route Running... Thomas can run a variety of routes, whether it is in the short area or getting into the deep secondary. He does a good job of changing direction and running tight routes in traffic. He easily fools second level defenders with his fakes and hip shake to elude after the catch and also is alert to soft areas on the field to settle under. He is a valid threat to take the ball up the seam and is adept at using his body to shield the ball from the defender. He has the quick feet to gather and get in and out of his cuts, thanks to savvy head fakes and ability to angle. The thing I like is the body control he shows when jabbing one direction and breaking off a route squarely.
Separation Ability...Thomas brings both power and quickness into his route running regimen. He uses his long stride to gobble up the cushion and get behind the defender, even though most teams will put a cornerback on him. When the defensive back is his assigned coverage, he has more than enough power to blast through arm tackles. He is one of those rare tight ends with the wide receiver’s ability to stretch the field. He uses his hands well to push off or throw down a linebacker in attempts to get open. He shows a smooth running stride that allows him to readily separate. He has the foot quickness and balance to get in and out of his cuts cleanly and knows how to use his hip shake and head/shoulder fakes to set up the defenders when trying to separate.
Ball Adjustment...Thomas sees the ball well in flight, doing a good jog of tracking and adjusting to get under the throw. He has above average hand/eye coordination and soft hands to finish. He will rarely use his body as a crutch when going for the ball in a crowd, and he has only one drop through four seasons on the college gridiron (in 2017 on 34 targets). He is very alert to the pocket pressure, working back to the quarterback with good urgency. He shows no hesitation sacrificing his body when he needs to get to off-target passes. He can catch the ball outside his framework, but must be more consistent doing so.
Leaping Ability...Thomas has solid leaping ability (36-inch vertical jump), along with good timing to high point the ball. He gets good elevation from a standing position and has the long reach and large mitts for hands to look the ball in.
Hands... This is probably his most underrated area, as he never reverts to using his body to absorb the ball and rarely will he short-arm when working in a crowd. He will make difficult catches going for off-target throws and he does a nice job of adjusting and positioning when facing the quarter-back. He has the hand/eye coordination to snap his head around and catch the ball delivered to his outside shoulder. He is not the type that loses concentration with defenders closing in on him, as he makes sure he has the ball secured better before turning and trying to head up field.
Run After the Catch...Thomas is a load for isolated cornerbacks to bring down. Linebackers are too slow to mirror him through the route’s progression. He shows good body lean moving forward in attempts to break arm tackles. He is a threat to stretch the seam and is best served when used on vertical patterns. He will make every effort to avoid, but when needed, he has the ability to power through an opponent, showing both quickness and a burst to escape. As a Hoosier, he generated 246 of his 399 receiving yards after the catch (61.65%).
Blocking Ability...Thomas has the reach to keep defenders at bay when blocking in-line. There are times when he will get too upright in his stance, causing his base to narrow, but he is quick to recover and keeps his hands active to prevent the more physical defenders from walking him back into the pocket. He has the ability to angle when blocking in space and his field vision keeps his head on a swivel looking for other bodies to block coming off his initial assignment. He seems more comfortable getting into a second level defender on the move when blocking for the running game in 2017 that he did in the past, but his forte is getting out on the edge and neutralizing the speedy rushers blocking in pass protection.
Compares To...Charles Clay-Buffalo Bills...Thomas is a much better blocker, but both have that ability to stretch the play after the catch. For a tight end, he shows great ease-of-movement running those fluid routes. He has also had great success stretching the seam, evident by his high yards-per-catch average. With his big mitts, he secures the ball nicely, never using his body as a crutch.