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2021 Rookie Tight Ends: The Second Tier

What an insane fantasy season 2020 has been. As we approach the finish line, redraft articles begin to fade and dynasty formats take center stage. Recently, I wrote a piece examining the “Big 3” tight ends from the 2021 Rookie Class which can be read here https://fantasyfuru.com/2020/11/27/2021-rookie-tight-ends-the-big-3/

In this article, I take a look at the second tier of tight ends in the 2021 draft. These are the guys who will likely fall into the 4th and 5th rounds of rookie drafts in non TE-premium formats based on the depth of this class. However, there’s a strong case to be made that this second tier is as intriguing, if not more, than last year’s entire tight end class.

Kenny Yeboah, Mississippi, Senior (6’4/240 lbs)

Yeboah played his high school ball at Parkland Senior High, Pennsylvania where he specialized as a wide receiver. While there, he set the school record for career receptions, receptions in a season and receiving touchdowns in a season. On top of that, he was an excellent basketball player. 

A result of spending so much time at wide receiver, Yeboah was recruited as such. He was ranked as the 305th WR in the 2016 recruiting class and committed to play for Temple University, where he made the transition to tight end. In 2020, Yeboah transferred to the University of Mississippi. Below are Yeboah’s receiving totals during his time in the NCAA.

YearGPRecYdsTD
20179141360
20187131541
201910192335
20207275246

Impressively, Yeboah has eclipsed his total receiving yardage from his 3 years at Temple in just 7 games at Ole Miss. He’s been much more involved offensively since joining the Rebels and received an invite to the 2021 Senior Bowl. It also bodes well for Yeboah’s draft stock that this production has come against stout SEC competition including the 7/181/2 line he posted against Alabama.

Strengths

Yeboah’s receiving background has contributed to his adequate route running, an area he continues to show improvement in. Furthermore, he’s turned into a terrific red zone threat since joining the Rebels and NFL teams will surely take note of that. 

Has shown good versatility at Ole Miss, spending time in the backfield, in-line and flexed out. Not a terrific athlete but possesses the speed to make big plays and create mismatches. Fierce competitor with a great motor. 

Weaknesses

A caveat of playing receiver until college, Yeboah’s had to learn blocking from square one. As a result, he still lacks technique and isn’t particularly impressive as a blocker. Thin legs certainly don’t help his cause in that department. 

Lacks polish in many areas of his game but has the ceiling to compensate for it.

Fantasy Outlook

Yeboah has steadily risen up draft boards since the beginning of the NCAA season and will continue to do so with a strong finish and combine. His receiving ability will rightfully garner the interest of fantasy players, and his red zone chops will be essential to his success. He could carve out a nice role early on if he lands in the right spot. Keep your eyes on Yeboah as we approach the draft.

Jake Ferguson, Wisconsin, Junior (6’5/246 lbs)

Ferguson played high school football at James Madison Memorial where he emerged as the 13th ranked tight end in the 2017 recruiting class. Afterwards, he committed to playing his college football down the road at the University of Wisconsin. 

Ferguson’s produced the following receiving numbers during his time at Wisconsin:

YearGPRecYdsTD
201813364564
201914334072
20203181814

While he turned in solid production during his freshman and sophomore seasons, Ferguson is off to a hot start as a junior. Through his first 3 games, he’s averaged 6 receptions, 60.3 yards and 1.3 touchdowns per game. 

Strengths

Ferguson has operated as a very reliable receiver in the Badgers offense while embracing the more traditional safety-valve role. Having said that, Ferguson is more than just a check down option. He’s a capable route runner who combines an understanding of how to get open with deceptive fluidity and burst. 

Elusiveness is above average for his size and allows him to pick up extra yards after the catch. Catch radius and ball skills are both on the plus side and have helped him rack up catches in a low-volume passing attack.

Weaknesses

One of Ferguson’s primary weaknesses is that he lacks the elite athleticism NFL teams covet. As a result, he won’t be able to consistently create the kind of mismatches many of the top tight end prospects do. It’s important to note that tight ends can succeed in the NFL without being freakishly athletic.

Ferguson will also benefit from continued development in his blocking and route running. These are the kinds of things that will get him on the field more often as a younger player and give him a chance to showcase himself as a pro.

Fantasy Outlook

Ferguson probably lacks the ceiling to ever consistently be a Top 8 fantasy tight end. His receiving ability will provide him with a stable floor as he matures but his ability to do the little things will earn him more opportunities. If all goes well, he should settle into a middle of the pack role.

Nick Eubanks, Michigan, Senior (6’5/256 lbs)

Eubanks excelled at both basketball and football during his time at American Heritage high school in Florida. Following his high school career, Eubanks chose to join the Michigan Wolverines over offers from the likes of Oregon, Alabama and USC. He wound up the 15th ranked tight end in the 2016 recruiting class.

Sadly, Eubanks has been used sparingly as a member of the Wolverines frequently inept offense. Posting the following receiving totals during his tenure.

YearGPRecYdsTD
201712610
2018681571
201912252434
20205101171

There’s not really a ton to say about those numbers other than Eubanks isn’t solely to blame for the lack of production. 

Strengths

Eubanks is exceptionally athletic and twitchy by tight end standards. Defenses will struggle to match up with his blend of size and speed which will surely interest NFL teams. His size and long arms also provide him with an excellent catch radius. 

As a receiver, Eubanks is an exciting prospect with good hands. He’s proven himself to be a capable route runner with the ability to consistently create separation against zone, and especially man coverage. Equipped with the speed and elusiveness to make things happen after the catch. 

Weaknesses

Blocking is undoubtedly Eubanks’ biggest weakness. To put it plainly, he doesn’t offer much in the pass or run game as a blocker. Quite likely he never will.

Lack of production is also a legitimate concern.

Fantasy Outlook

Mercifully for fantasy players, there are no points awarded for blocking. Eubanks’ primary skill is his receiving ability and that’s what he’ll be drafted to do. He’s currently in the mix to wind up a Day 2 pick. With the right fit and opportunity, Eubanks could find himself in the weekly tight end conversation sooner rather than later.

Hunter Long, Boston College, Junior (6’5/253 lbs)

Long played his highschool football at nearby Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts before committing to play for the Eagles. He was ranked as the 80th tight end in the 2017 recruiting class.

During his time at Boston College, Long has done nothing but work hard and improve. Below are his receiving totals with the Eagles.

YearGPRecYdsTD
2018441032
201911285092
202010495764

As the numbers illustrate, Long has continued to develop as a receiver and looks poised to lead the Eagles in receiving yardage at the conclusion of this year. At this point in the season, he’s accounted for 24% of quarterback Phil Jurkovec’s completions.

Strengths

Long is a fun player to watch because he does so many things well. First, he has the football IQ and work ethic to succeed without possessing the elite athleticism many exciting prospects do. Has some nuance to his route running and understands the concept of timing better than most. Consistently able to find the soft spots against zone coverage and work the middle of the field. Hands, body control and ball skills are good, not great.

Versatility is among the best in this class. Can be lined up all over the formation and expected to do his job. Good blocker who exhibits solid technique with hands and body positioning. 

Weaknesses

Athleticism tends to be the primary knock on players in this mold and Long is no exception. His lack of explosiveness will raise questions about his ability to get separation at the next level and those are more than valid. Hasn’t been used in contested catch and red zone situations as much as you would like to see.

Fantasy Outlook

Sadly, Long reminds me of one of those players who’s destined to be a much better player in real life than in fantasy. Ceiling will likely be capped at respectable yardage totals with the odd score sprinkled in. On the other hand, his ability to do the little things right will draw the praise of coaching staffs and land him on the field earlier than most. He’s probably a better fit for 2 TE and deeper formats. 

Charlie Kolar, Iowa State, Junior (6’6/257 lbs)

Kolar played his high school football at Norman North in Oklahoma. During his time there, he thrived as a multi-sport athlete who excelled on the basketball court and the gridiron. Kolar helped lead a prolific Norman North offense to the state championship game during his senior season. Ultimately, he was ranked as the 57th tight end overall in the 2017 recruiting class.

After receiving offers from the likes of Oklahoma State, Kolar committed to playing his college football at Iowa State University. Below are his NCAA receiving totals to date:

YearGPRecYdsTD
20187111373
201913516977
20208314174

Kolar’s averaged a robust 13.5 yards per reception and provided Brock Purdy with a consistent red zone weapon during his time with the Cyclones.

Strengths

Versatility is one of Kolar’s primary strengths as he boasts plenty of experience both in-line and flexed out. Kolar’s big frame and toughness make him an above average blocker who hasn’t yet reached his ceiling in that department. 

As a receiver, Kolar is lauded for having some of the strongest hands in the 2021 draft class. This is undoubtedly part of the reason why he thrives both in traffic and contested situations. Has a massive catch radius that he compliments with a clear understanding of how to effectively high point the ball.

Weaknesses

Kolar’s biggest weakness entering the draft will be the lack of athleticism he brings to the table. Simply put, he won’t offer much after the catch and getting separation consistently will be very difficult. 

Fantasy Outlook

Kolar’s best bet for fantasy relevance is to emerge as a consistent red zone threat in the NFL. If he’s able to excel in that area of the field, there’s a chance his blocking will keep him on the field and he’ll see enough volume to produce respectable numbers. He’ll probably wind up an inexpensive stash in the majority of leagues.

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