This is the second in a series of position previews for the 2022 NFL draft, which runs April 28-April 30. We continue with tight ends.
THREE NAMES TO KNOW
Trey McBride, Colorado St.: A three-sport star at Fort Morgan High School, McBride stayed in his home state to play for the Rams. From there he grew into the nation’s most productive tight end, leading all at his position with 90 catches for 1,121 yards last season, which earned him the John Mackey Award as college football’s best tight end. McBride (6-4, 246 pounds) also has the size and effort level to be a solid blocker in the NFL. He’s not a freak athlete like last year’s No. 4 overall pick Kyle Pitts, but his well-rounded profile could make him one of the top tight ends drafted if not the first.
Jeremy Ruckert, Ohio St.: Once a heralded four-star recruit by the Buckeyes, Ruckert was buried in pecking order by a talented receiver group that could produce two first-round picks this year in Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. So Ruckert didn’t see the ball often, but his one-handed, 36-yard grab in the 2020 national title game loss to Alabama flashed his talent. Ruckert (6-5, 250 pounds) is regarded as a solid blocker with size to match NFL competition, and perhaps has untapped upside as a pass catcher. A foot injury suffered at January’s Senior Bowl kept him from pre-draft athletic testing in which he was expected to thrive.
Greg Dulcich, UCLA: A former high school receiver in Glendale, Calif., Dulcich walked onto the Bruins football team and earned a scholarship while packing on the pounds in his move to tight end. Receiving remained his hallmark, leading Bruins coach Chip Kelly’s offense as a big-play threat with 19.9 yards and 17.3 yards per catch the past two seasons. Dulcich (6-4, 243 pounds) reportedly gained more than 30 pounds in college and might need more strength to succeed as a blocker in the NFL. But his speed and elusiveness could make him fit for a creative coaching staff.
Cade Otton, Washington: Coming from a family of football coaches, Otton was an unheralded three-star recruit out of Tumwater, Wash. who stayed in state over other offers that included Harvard. His pro prospects are a matter of potential over production. He’s lauded as a savvy route runner and blocker, but struggled to connect consistently with Huskies quarterback Dylan Morris after topping out in 2019 with 32 catches for 344 yards from quarterback Jacob Eason, a 2020 fourth-round pick by the Colts. Otton missed four games last year and underwent ankle surgery in November.
Tight end Irv Smith Jr. was expected to have a breakout campaign last season, his third in the NFL, before undergoing knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus before Week 1. Now he’s healthy and new Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell said they’re going to ease him back into the mix this summer to make sure he stays that way. Smith has downfield receiving potential in what is expected to be a creative playbook that moves its targets around the formations. Entering a contract year, he could be set up well to cash in if he starts to realize that potential in 2022. Ben Ellefson; and Zach Davidson.
VIKINGS’ LEVEL OF NEED
Moderate: The Vikings currently have one tight end – Mundt – signed beyond this season. While that may change, the team could also be in the market for long-term options tailored to fit the new offensive system. There isn’t a bona fide all-star prospect in this draft class, but the Vikings might find some depth to develop in middle to late rounds.