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Which tight end prospect is the best value for the Giants?

The Giants will almost certainly draft at least one tight end. The tight end you would most like to see the Giants select is ...

Iowa State v Texas Tech
Charlie Kolar
Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images

The New York Giants are in a position to almost certainly select at least one tight end option in the upcoming 2022 NFL Draft. All three of the Giants’ primary tight ends from a year ago - Kyle Rudolph, Evan Engram, and Kaden Smith - are no longer with the team.

To help fill the void, New York signed former Washington Football Team member Ricky Seals-Jones. He’s not a true inline tight end, and he has limited blocking upside. Seals-Jones spent the 2020 season with Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka in Kansas City. The only other tight ends on the roster are Jake Hausmann, a 2021 undrafted free agent with some blocking upside, Rysen John, a third-year wide receiver convert, and Chris Myarick, who played a limited role with the Giants last year.

There’s no proven tight end on the team beyond 2022, and the only proven asset is one-dimensional and often injured (Seals-Jones). The Giants currently have nine picks in the draft, with five in the first 100. There are holes to address on both sides of the football, but it’s safe to assert that tight end is one of the major holes.

There is no tight end like Kyle Pitts in this draft, but there are solid perceived Day 2 and Day 3 options. The question that arises for New York would centralize around asset allocation for the tight end position. What value are they comfortable spending on the tight end position relative to the players available at other positions of need on the team?

Recent history

It’s safe to say that Daboll and Kafka utilized their tight ends differently in their respective offenses. Those reasons may not be entirely certain. We’re currently unsure of the Giants’ 2022 personnel usage and how the offense may look under these two very creative offensive coaches.

As the play-caller with the Bills in 2021, Daboll was a heavy 11-personnel team; they ran it 71 percent of the time, which ranked fifth in the NFL. According to Sharp Football Stats, no team ran 12 personnel less than the Bills. They also ranked 31st in 12 personnel in 2020.

Kafka wasn’t the play-caller in Kansas City, but he’s waxed poetic in interviews about establishing mismatches, which is easier when Travis Kelce is the tight end. The Chiefs offense ran 12 personnel 20 percent of the time in 2021 and 17 percent in 2020 - both rank around the middle of the league in double tight end sets.

Daboll was the offensive coordinator for rookie Josh Allen in 2018. The primary tight end was veteran Charles Clay. In the 2019 draft, Daboll, new Giants’ general manager Joe Schoen, and Bills’ general manager Brandon Beane turned their sights to Ole Miss’ tight end Dawson Knox in the third round at pick 96 (one selection after the Giants selected Oshane Ximines).

Knox was an athletic tight end with good size who wasn’t very productive in college, mainly because he played alongside wide receivers D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown, and Demarkus Lodge. Knox never scored a touchdown throughout his college career, and he slipped to the back end of Round 3.

Knox was selected in front of West Virginia TE/FB Trevon Wesco, LSU’s Foster Moreau, Stanford’s Kaden Smith, and another future Buffalo Bill - Tommy Sweeney. The Boston College product had college production but wasn’t the athlete Knox was, nor did he have the same upside. The Bills doubled up on tight ends when they didn’t have reliable options on their squad. Will the Giants do the same?

2022 NFL Draft

There are quality tight end options in the upcoming draft, and they all come in different shapes, sizes, and with different athletic capabilities. No one is first-round caliber, and only a few may see second-round consideration. The Giants should prioritize tight ends with true Y (inline) blocking ability. The selection of Evan Engram - who was more of a move tight end - proved to hurt the rushing approach of the Giants.

The Giants’ decision will involve their valuation of a player and where they’re comfortable making them a New York Giant. I would love to have Trey McBride on the Giants, but I have reservations with that choice if it costs the 36th pick. Would I consider it at 67 or 81? Yes, I would.

It is, however, difficult to precisely know where the NFL values some of these players. The media could be overlooking skilled tight ends that are perceived Day 3 options, who could eventually be selected late on Day 2. The value of the player and where they should be drafted is crucial to analyzing the player the Giants should choose. I will do my best to guess the player’s valuation.

Day 2 prospects: inline upside

Many, including myself, view Colorado State’s Trey McBride as the most complete tight-end option. He’s not overly big; he’s a shade under 6-foot-4, 246 pounds. McBride isn’t a dynamic athlete, but his athletic ability is plenty functional. He accelerates from his breaks quickly and possesses excellent spatial awareness to get open.

In 2021, McBride led the nation with 91 receptions and 1,125 yards. He only had one touchdown, which was somewhat of an anomaly. He finished his college career with 10 touchdowns. The Mackey Award winner (best tight end in the nation) possesses a good blend of receiving skills, route running nuance, body control, blocking prowess, and versatility. He’s not a dominant blocker (who is?), but he can lose slow enough to succeed. I understand the appeal of McBride, but it all comes down to value.

Ohio State’s Jeremy Ruckert is a better blocking option than McBride, but only slightly. Ruckert destroyed Big-10 unblocked end man on the line of scrimmage players when he was tasked in split-zone as a sniffer. As a Y, he held his own but would get caught leaning a bit. Ruckert isn’t a dynamic athlete either, but it’s safe to say he was underutilized as a receiver playing alongside Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, and Jaxson Smith-Njigba. Ruckert finished the 2021 season with just 26 catches for 309 yards and 3 touchdowns. There’s some prognostication with Ruckert since we haven’t seen his receiving upside flash much.

Washington’s Cade Otton is probably the best blocker, but he too struggled to handle initial power at times. However, once his hands are fit, he does an exceptional job using angles and sustaining blocks. Otton was a beast when blocking in space against smaller defenders. He held his own well enough to be a Y at the next level, but there really aren’t any dominant blocking tight ends with receiving upside.

Otton possesses some receiving appeal. He has soft hands, is a functional athlete (he isn’t going to stretch the defense), and understands route leverage and how to get open despite his lack of burst. He will be able to play H/F, Y effectively or even as a big slot in a pinch.

Day 2 prospects: move tight ends

Greg Dulcich out of UCLA has more move upside than he does as a Y tight end, but he can truly be a mismatch weapon for an offense. Blocking isn’t his strength, so I don’t want to say he’d be fine as Y, but if asked, he shouldn’t be counted entirely out from contributing in that area. Dulcich was a John Mackey Award finalist in 2021; he caught 42 passes on 65 targets for 725 yards and five touchdowns.

I’ve seen him be unfairly compared to Evan Engram, and I don’t believe that does him justice because Dulchich is a better overall football player than Engram. Engram is the better all-around athlete when testing. Still, Dulcich has natural separation ability, is a much better route runner than Engram, and does a much better job securing the football in just about every way imaginable when compared to Engram.

His hands are almost 11 inches, his arm length is under 34 inches, and his ability to make players miss in tight spaces was very nimble. Dulcich is a good football player who would be a weapon at all three levels of the field.

Coastal Carolina’s Isaiah Likely is another great athlete with less Y-appeal than Dulcich. He has 10-inch hands, he’s 6-4½, 245 pounds and he has good separation quickness with a solid release off the line of scrimmage. He’d be a good big slot option who can use his frame and length to win against defensive backs and his speed and athletic ability to defeat linebackers. I don’t care that he ran 4.8 at his Pro Day; his play speed is much faster than that time. He has quick feet, does well in and out of his breaks, while also showing plus receiving skills.

Day 3 prospects

One of my favorite day three prospects is Iowa State’s, Charlie Kolar. He is 6-6½, 252 pounds with almost 35-inch arms and 10-inch hands. He isn’t a sudden athlete, but he’s functional enough to have NFL success. Kolar understands route leverage, how to manipulate defenders up his stem, and the micro-movements to gain the slightest edge against defenders out of his break. His route tree was diverse; a lot of quick-hitting outs, seams, digs/overs, quick slants, seams/gos, and corners with some double moves through his stem.

He also possesses good ball skills. He has soft hands, a very wide catch radius, is fearless over the middle of the field, and he does a great job high pointing the football. Kolar adjusts very well away from his frame and tracks balls well into his hands.

He isn’t the most athletic, but he is solid at creating yards after the catch. Kolar is a try-hard blocker who can lose slowly enough to succeed as a Y. He has more upside in the area of blocking than Engram did coming out of Ole Miss, especially since the technique can be cleaned up.

Virginia’s Jelani Woods is another day three player who carries a ton of intrigue. Woods is all of 6-7, 259 pounds, and ran a 4.61 40-yard-dash. He’s much more of a build-up speed type of player and not an overly fluid athlete when asked to cut and change direction quickly. He spent most of his college career at Oklahoma State, blocking for Mike Gundy’s offense.

Woods blocking in 2021 wasn’t as good as in 2020, but this player was recruited as a quarterback - he’s still raw and new to the tight end position. There’s a lot of upside with Woods; he is strong, plays a bit too high, but is also very physical. Get him with a good tight end coach, and there’s a lot of upside that could be unlocked (peers at Andy Bischoff).

Nebraska’s Austin Allen is a 6-8, 252-pound tight end with a 91st percentile wingspan. He was absorbing contact and securing the football well against Minnesota and showed some elusiveness for a big guy against Fordham and Ohio State (through physicality on the latter). Overall, he was a solid blocker in college but struggled against Iowa and Wisconsin. He’s a developmental option but not one who should start right away.

Maryland’s Chigoziem Okonkwo ran the fastest 40-yard-dash at the Combine with a 4.52 at 6-2½, 238 pounds. He’s undersized and not to be relied on as a blocker. Okonkwo is an incredibly athletic move tight end who lacks the physical and instinctual nature to be an effective blocker at the next level. Okonkwo has the upside to be a good route runner who can stretch the seam and use his athleticism to pick up extra yards after the catch. Okonkwo can be an F/H-Back or a big slot; he’s a developmental option at tight end who can have an impact sporadically but needs to become stronger at the point of attack as a blocker if he’s going to earn more snaps in the NFL.

I haven’t evaluated Wisconsin’s Jake Ferguson yet. Still, I’ve seen the Badgers play on Saturday, and I like the idea of Ferguson as a number two blocking tight end who is functional enough to run short to intermediate routes and catch the football. He also had a beautiful 29-yard seam catch against Rutgers in 2021. He showed excellent concertation, route running savvy to bend in the perfect spot between the safety and linebacker while also high pointing the football away from his frame.

Then there’s Texas A&M’s Jalen Wydermyer, who may fail to be drafted after running north of 5.00 in the 40-yard-dash at his Pro Day. I didn’t hate Wydermyer’s film, outside of the insanely frustrating drops, specifically in the Auburn matchup. I think he’s too high as a blocker, he’s not sudden at all (which was apparent on film), and his route running wasn’t crisp. However, he used his length well as a receiver and seemed to adjust his routes well with his quarterback extemporizing. He’s a big-bodied target who had 515 yards on 40 catches with 4 touchdowns. He could be an interesting priority-free agent or late-Day 3 pick.

Some players I haven’t seen yet who seem to be interesting are Nevada’s Cole Turner, SDST’s Daniel Bellinger, UAB’s Gerrit Prince, SMU’s Grant Calcaterra, and Boston College’s Trae Barry.

Final thoughts

This decision will be based on perceived value. If I had to choose a tight end regardless of value, it would be McBride, but I wouldn’t want to select that player at No. 36 with the quality options that will still be on the board at safety, EDGE, IOL, or linebacker. Depending on how the board falls, I wouldn’t be opposed to using one of the Giants’ two third-round picks on a tight end; If that happens to be McBride or Ohio State’s Jeremy Ruckert, great!

Ideally, a player who can successfully fulfill Y responsibilities would be the Giants’ selection. Hopefully, the player would be able to block enough not to be a glaring liability in any rushing scheme, albeit the blocker has to be good with angles/strength at the point of attack in DUO.

I like the idea of Dulchich or Likely, especially the former, but I’m not confident in their ability to consistently not be liabilities on the line of scrimmage. With perceived value considered, I like the idea of Iowa State’s Charlie Kolar or Wisconsin’s Jake Ferguson. Both are currently perceived as Day 3 options, and I think, while not dynamic athletes, they’re both capable receivers with upside who can effectively block and lose slowly enough.

Between the two, Ferguson seems to be a more consistent blocker (from what I’ve seen), and Kolar is a better natural receiver and route runner. If I had to choose between the two, I’d go with the 6-6 Charlie Kolar on Day 3. I don’t envision McBride falling to 81; if he’s at 67, I’m fine with that pick as long as someone else of glaring value didn’t fall that far. If Otton or Ruckert tumble to Day 3, I’d be very pleased with that selection.

I don’t mind the idea of doubling up if the Giants want to select a tight end on Day 2 and Day 3. One of the developmental tight ends like Woods or Allen makes sense when paired with a McBride, Ruckert, or even a Dulchich. However, if I had to choose one tight end in terms of how the media is currently valuing them, I’m going with Iowa State’s Charlie Kolar with one of the early Day 3 picks.