Is the tight end buzz we've heard in just about every draft season season since Graham and Gronkowski entered the league about to die, though?
There have been 19 tight ends selected in the first three rounds since the Graham-Gronkowski-Aaron Hernandez draft of 2010, including eight in the first two rounds of the last couple drafts. A year ago around this time, we were debating whether TEs Eric Ebron, Jace Amaro and Austin Seferian-Jenkins would all go in the first round (Ebron went in the first; Amaro and ASJ went in the second).
This year, however, there's not the same excitement about the position. There are some talented players at the position, no doubt, but is there a first-rounder in the bunch?
If there is anyone with that type of talent, it's Michigan's Devin Funchess, but he's playing wide receiver for the Wolverines this season and has been very impressive, despite the team's struggles. I think he fits best as a tight end at the next level, though, and is in the mold of Graham as a move tight end.
This season, there's not a tight end in the FBS' top 50 leaders in receiving yards or receptions per game. In fact, there's only one tight end in the top 100 for receiving yards. The leaders among tight ends in receiving yards are Florida International's Jonnu Smith (485), Georgia State's Joel Ruiz (406) and UMass' Jean Sifrin (359).
Now, those guys deserve credit for their production, but they're playing on teams with a combined record of 6-17. Scouts are not exactly flocking to watch those teams play.
So, while NFL teams looking for help at the position might not be completely out of luck in next year's draft, the cupboard is closer to bare than we've seen in some time.
In addition to Funchess (who might not even be available next year if he elects to return for his senior season at Michigan), here are some of the most intriguing talents -- all seniors -- at the position in the college ranks.
Oklahoma's Blake Bell
Bell is in his first season as a tight end after transitioning from quarterback in the offseason. He has the right build for the position (6-foot-6, 259 pounds) and a pro pedigree (his dad and uncle both played in the NFL). Given his background as a passer, he can envision what a quarterback is seeing as he runs routes, and that only helps him. He's playing well, even if his numbers (11-132-2) don't jump off the page.
Ohio State's Jeff Heuerman
Heuerman is a really underrated talent. He's good at the point of attack as an in-line blocker, but catches the ball well, too. He's a true combo tight end, and there's always room in the league for players like that.
Florida State's Nick O'Leary
O'Leary, the grandson of golf legend Jack Nicklaus, is a more traditional tight end, compared to some of the highly athletic pass catchers we see dominating the position nowadays. He's another guy whose numbers (27-289-2) this season don't do him justice. He's an outstanding player.
South Alabama's Wes Saxton
Saxton, a first-team All-Sun Belt pick last year, is the least publicized of the players on this list, but I've talked to some evaluators who have him as one of the top five tight ends in college football. The 6-4, 235-pounder is said to run a 4.5 40-yard dash. His numbers are down from a year ago and he's working with a new starting quarterback (Brandon Bridge) this fall, but he's on the radar for NFL scouts, who like his upside ability to create mismatches.