KUSA—There were 20 NFL tight ends who had at least 50 catches last season.
None of them were Denver Broncos.
There were 37 tight ends who had at least 25 catches last season.
None of them were Broncos.
The most lethal of NFL tight ends is Travis Kelce, who led his position with 1,125 receiving yards last season while finishing second with 85 catches.
Kelce plays for the Kansas City Chiefs. As in one of the AFC West teams that overtook the Broncos in the division standings last season.
As new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy tries to open up the Broncos’ passing game beyond the receiver duo of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders – who will both be 30 years old by Christmas – the Broncos need to find their own Travis Kelce.
By all accounts, this draft class has a few. The Broncos have two decent in-line tight ends in veteran Virgil Green and promising Jeff Heuerman. They also have a fine, off-line tight end in A.J. Derby.
Meaning no disrespect to those players, they are confused with New England’s Rob Gronkowski or Carolina’s Greg Olsen.
If the Broncos’ most coveted offensive tackles are drafted before their No. 20 selection, they could consider a tight end with their first-round pick. Here are the top six tight ends the Broncos may consider if they’re available with either their No. 20 pick in the first round, or No. 51 selection in the second round:
1.O.J. Howard, 6-5, 249, Alabama
He’s had two, 100-yard receiving games in his four-year stay with the Crimson Tide. Both came in national title games against Clemson. He had five catches for 208 yards and two touchdowns in Alabama’s 45-40 win two years ago. He had four catches for 106 yards and a touchdown in a 35-31 loss to cap the 2016 season. And no Nick Saban tight end plays without knowing how to block.
2.David Njoku, 6-4, 246, Miami
What linebackers once were to Penn State and tailbacks to USC, tight ends are to the University of Miami. Njoku – pronounced eN-Joe-Koo – follows the likes of Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow II, Jimmy Graham and Greg Olsen. Njoku is a physical specimen who had 43 catches for a 16.2-yard average and eight touchdowns as a redshirt sophomore last season.
3.Adam Shaheen, 6-6, 278, Ashland
Brandon Stokley loves this guy. Look again at his size. Now look at this: In his redshirt sophomore and junior seasons, Shaheen recorded a combined 127 catches and 26 touchdowns. Granted, Ashland played against the likes of Saginaw Valley State, Tiffin and Northwood. But Shaheen wouldn’t be the league’s first small college gem.
4. Jake Butt, 6-5, 246, Michigan
I rank him ahead of Engram and Everett because the last two are a little small. A four-year starter, Butt tore knee ligaments in his senior bowl game which will likely cost him a round or two in the draft.
5.Evan Engram, 6-3, 235, Ole Miss
He may be undersized but the likes of Florida State (9 catches, 121 yards, 1 TD), Alabama (9 catches, 138 yards, 1 TD) and Arkansas (7 catches, 111 yards, 1 TD) found him unguardable. Could have Shannon Sharpe potential.
6. Gerald Everett, 6-2, 239, South Alabama
Bounced between junior college to Alabama-Birmingham (which dropped football four months later) to South Alabama.
Combined for 90 catches, a 14.4-yard average and 12 touchdowns in two seasons for the Jaguars, who play in the Sun Belt Conference.