NFL draft preview: the best tight ends
Minnesota's Maxx Williams had two years of eligibility remaining when he elected to leave school, a wise decision considering he's the top tight end on most draft boards.
The odds are no tight ends will be picked in the first round. But Williams could be chosen early on Day Two of the draft (Rounds 2-3), maybe before the Bears pick seventh in the second round (39th overall).
Williams, who recently turned 21, says he agonized over the decision to leave early. It helped that he had an ideal confidant in his father, Brian, who was a first-round pick (18th overall) in 1989 and played center for the New York Giants for nine seasons.
The decision was not one Williams took lightly.
"Being a redshirt sophomore, it was a long process for me," he said. "It started about midseason. It crossed my mind that maybe I had an opportunity to leave. I finished the year playing well and, after our last game against Wisconsin, I sat down with my parents and we actually made lists."
The pros easily outweighed the cons in Williams' mind, which was eased by positive reinforcement from his father.
"Just knowing I could turn to him like, 'Dad, what was it like? Dad, am I prepared?' Knowing that any question I had or wanted to figure out, I could turn to him and say, 'Am I making the right decision?' "
In what is considered a weak class of tight ends, Williams' talent, potential and production stand out. Even though Minnesota ran a power, run-based offense, Williams still caught 36 passes for 569 yards and 8 touchdowns last year, averaging 15.8 yards per reception.
Pro Football Now's 2015 Draft Guide said this about Williams: "Young, athletic and explosive big-play tight end. With his speed and athleticism, will create a lot of problems for defenses."
After Williams and Miami's Clive Walford, the top-tier talent at tight end runs out quickly this year. But there are numerous third-day options who could help a team like the Bears, who already have a clear-cut No. 1 at the position.
One of the most productive tight ends over the last two seasons was Florida State's Nick O'Leary, whose grandfather is PGA Hall of Fame golfer Jack Nicklaus.
O'Leary had 81 receptions for 1,175 yards and 13 touchdowns the last two seasons, and he has soft hands and is a fiery competitor, but he's undersized at 6-foot-3 and 252 pounds with short arms (29 ¾) and limited athleticism.
Considered a try-hard overachiever whose effectiveness as a receiver is likely to be limited to underneath and intermediate routes, O'Leary won't stretch the field, but he could be an ideal backup and a key special teams contributor.
O'Leary doesn't look like your typical golfer, but he said he shoots in the 70s when he's able to play frequently. Still, his decision to choose football over golf was a no-brainer.
"Golf would have been better on my body," he laughed. "But I love football. I love contact."
O'Leary has played a few rounds with The Golden Bear, who has dropped some grandfatherly advice on the tight end, and not just about playing out of green-side bunkers.
"We talk a lot," O'Leary said. "(He says) it's all about carrying yourself. We talk more as grandfather to grandson."
O'Leary doesn't seem to need anyone to pump up his confidence, even though his production is unlikely to carry over to the NFL.
"I feel like I can do it all," he said. "People say my route running is not that good. I feel like it is. There are a lot of guys at Florida State who weren't able to cover me, and guys we played against. We'll see how it is."
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NFL draft preview: tight endsPlayer, college Ht. Wt. 40
Maxx Williams, Minnesota 6-4 249 4.78
Excellent pass catcher can stretch the field but needs route refinement.
Clive Walford, Miami 6-4 251 4.79
Not an elite playmaker but an all-around TE with grit as a run blocker.
Devin Funchess, Michigan 6-4 232 4.70
Hybrid TE-WR could create matchup problems but hands are questionable.
Rory Anderson, South Carolina 6-5 244 4.73
Could be a complete player if he avoids injuries that have hurt his career.
My Cole Pruitt, SIU 6-2 251 4.58
Faced lower-level talent in FCS but had elite production with plus hands.
Jeff Heuerman, Ohio State 6-5 254 4.81
Looks the part and has good measurables with the exception of speed.
Tyler Kroft, Rutgers 6-5 246 4.75
More than athletic enough to factor as a receiver and a willing blocker.
Blake Bell, Oklahoma 6-6 252 4.80
3-year QB for Sooners who is still learning his position but shows flashes.
Nick O'Leary, Florida State 6-3 252 4.93
Jack Nicklaus' grandson is a tough, try-hard guy who lacks athleticism.
Ben Koyak, Notre Dame 6-5 255 4.77
Underutilized talent is raw but has size, skills to mature into a solid pro.