As the role of the modern tight end changes, we see more athletic pass catchers and blockers every year This new breed of TE is required to be more versatile than ever before. So, which rookie tight ends will have an immediate impact in the NFL?
Trey McBride – Arizona Cardinals – Colorado State University
The Colorado State offense went almost exclusively through Trey McBride in 2021, as he caught a whopping 90 passes for 1,121 yards. He is a stoutly built TE who is a very strong blocker, moving defensive lineman and linebackers with similar ease.
McBride wins at the catch point well and is very physical allowing him to win contested catches and keep moving the chains. McBride should be the TE2 entering the start of the 2022 Season behind Zach Ertz, and with a high-octane, pass-heavy offense, he should see some targets, or at least draw defenders’ attention away from other receiving threats.
Jelani Woods – Indianapolis Colts – University of Virginia
The best way to describe Jelani Woods is an athletic freak. Woods transferred to Virginia from Oklahoma State and had a hugely productive 2021 season, catching 44 passes for 598 yards and 8 Touchdowns. Wood really boosted his draft stock following an incredible combine performance, posting a 10.0 Relative Athletic Score (RAS) — ranking No. 1 out of 1014 TEs between 1987 and 2022.
Jack Doyle retired after 9 years in the NFL, leaving the Colts with little depth at the position. Woods and Mo Alie-Cox should be TE1 and TE2, and we expect Woods to get starter reps. When any QB is in a new scheme, a good TE is essential as a ‘safety blanket’ for them, and Woods will be the ideal target for Matt Ryan as he becomes accustomed to Frank Reich’s scheme.
Cade Otton – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – University of Washington
Cade Otton was selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, later than anticipated by many entering the 2021 season (most likely due to an ankle injury which required surgery). The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have lost Rob Gronkowski at TE, leaving with them just Cameron Brate as a starter at the position, so adding another dynamic pass catcher who is also a stout run-blocker was a great acquisition, especially in the Fourth Round.
Considering the vertical scheme that Bruce Arians left the blueprint for, Otton should be a productive TE in this system under first-year head coach Byron Leftwich, being given plenty of chances to make plays downfield.
Jake Ferguson – Dallas Cowboys – University of Wisconsin
While Ferguson may not be the best pass catcher in this draft class, he comes from a run-first Wisconsin program that requires him to be a powerful blocker. He joins the Dallas Cowboys offense and automatically slots in as TE2 behind Dalton Schultz as one of the best blockers of any rookie tight end.
Ferguson has a great chance of making an instant impact in 2022, due to all the defense’s focus being on the talented WR group plus Schultz and will have a big impact on improving their run game too. He may not produce crazy stats, but he will have a great impact on the Cowboys offense.