With the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine in full swing, I'll be unveiling my picks for the safest prospects at each position.
There aren't a lot of risky tight end picks because few are picked in the top-50 selections, where the biggest investments are made. But some second-round selections haven't worked out in recent years, as teams sometimes reach for the potentially explosive, but one-dimensional, receiving threats too early in the draft.
Selecting a pass-catching tight end prospect isn't necessarily a bad thing, as they can find soft spots in the middle of defenses focused on outside playmakers. But their frame must grow to handle the physical nature of the game, and they must learn the nuances of route-running, or they will fail to make a big impact.
These three tight ends are my safe bets in the 2016 draft class. As with every position group in this series, there is a mix of top-rated prospects and others for whom I project a long NFL career without the early-round hype.
1. Hunter Henry, Arkansas: It's easy to project Henry as the second coming of retired veteran Heath Miller as a consistent receiving threat. He may be a better athlete than Miller ever was, maybe making Greg Olsen a better comparison -- a frightening note to opposing defenses. I expect him to contribute immediately despite leaving Arkansas a year early, and like many players, get better and stronger with age.
2. Thomas Duarte, UCLA: I look for Duarte to be the second-best prospect at the position, using his excellent hands and athleticism to threaten defenses across the league. No, he won't be a great blocking threat, but he's not contact-shy, either. Several teams are looking for legitimate offensive weapons at the tight end position, and Duarte's just scratching the surface of his talent. Look for him to be a favorite in fantasy football leagues in his second or third year.
3. Jerell Adams, South Carolina: Adams may not be quite as explosive as other tight ends available to teams this year, as he's best as a move-the-chains option. Once he catches the ball, his long strides allow him to cover ground and his solid build makes him a difficult tackle for smaller defensive backs. Adding in his strong one-on-one blocking skills to that ability to keep an offense on schedule will make him a valued mid-round selection come April.