The 2017 tight end draft class is very deep and should provide several teams with versatile offensive weapons. Heading into the combine, players like Evan Engram (Ole Miss), O.J. Howard (Alabama), and Jordan Leggett (Clemson) are all considered top 100 prospects that have produced for their team when called upon.
There are several tight ends, however, that can help themselves tremendously with good results at this year's combine. Here are five that have the most to prove in Indy:
NOTE: Click on each player's name for a full combine scouting report.
Hodges proved himself to be a reliable target at the collegiate level, but teams must satisfy their questions about what role he will play in an NFL offense before using a premium pick to bring him aboard. If he comes into Indianapolis at 6-foot-6, 235 pounds, will teams take him out of the tight end category and slot him as a big wide receiver? If so, Hodges must show the suddenness and speed at the to be considered a legitimate outside threat and a top-50 value. If he proves to be average athletically, Hodges will end up a third- or fourth-round pick in the Ladarius Green/Julius Thomas mold. Obviously, he can still have NFL success if picked there (and I'm guessing he will), but it will keep his rookie contract figures lower.
Njoku has shown great potential as an athletic pass-catcher in his two years on the field for the Hurricanes. It's already likely that Njoku and O.J. Howard will be selected in the 18-23 range (possible landing spots: Titans, Dolphins, Giants). If Njoku displays elite speed and agility during his workout, it might force those teams to initiate trade talks with franchises selecting in the early teens to secure his services.
Any player from a small school like Ashland is going to have a lot to prove when he's competing on the big stage that the combine offers. But Shaheen's talent gives him a chance to make the week pay off. He showed glimpses of very good athleticism and a whole lot of punishing running during his time in Division II. If he performs well in comparison to players from major college football programs, teams won't have any reason to doubt his potential as a future starter, resulting in a third- or early fourth-round draft grade.
NFL scouts will have questions about Brown's reported off-field altercations, and team doctors will be very interested in examining his right leg, which was nearly amputated after a November 2014 injury. He could he use a great on-field performance to show he's past that leg injury, and also a sincere, reasoned attitude when teams broach the subject of reported fights with teammates and an alleged domestic violence incident (in which no charges were filed and his girlfriend was reportedly determined by authorities to be the primary aggressor).
I'm guessing that most NFL coaches attending the combine won't have made it to UTEP tape before arriving in Indy for the event. Many times, a prospect's combine results will push coaches and scouts to watch their film to see if their play on the field matches the athleticism they showed on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf. Plinke seems to get off the line and down the seam well for his size, so it won't be surprising if NFL folks are grabbing for their tablets to view UTEP games after his workout.