Loaded tight end group turns in eye-opening workout numbers at NFL scouting combine

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INDIANAPOLIS — Need a tight end? This might be the year to find a very good one in the NFL draft. And certainly an athletic one.

Saturday’s scouting combine workouts are just one small slice of the evaluation process, but the group’s athletic gifts were on full display. Assumed first-round picks O.J. Howard of Alabama and David Njoku of Miami (Fla.) didn’t disappoint. But they were hardly the only ones to put up monster numbers in many of the drills.

The fastest 40-yard dash time turned in by a tight end was Ole Miss’ Evan Engram at a scalding 4.42. He’s not your typical in-line tight end and will mostly be detached from the line in the NFL at 6-foot-3 and 234 pounds. But that time was faster than all but eight of the wide receivers who ran on Saturday, which is insane. Howard (4.51), Iowa’s George Kittle (4.52) and Virginia Tech’s Bucky Hodges (4.57) also turned in impressive 40 times, along with Njoku at 4.64.

Engram’s 40 time was the third-fastest at tight end since 2006, behind Vernon Davis in 2006 (4.38) and Dorin Dickerson in 2010 (4.40). Howard — considered one of the better blocking tight ends in his class — tied with Greg Olsen for eighth on that list, and it’s only fitting. Howard said he models his game after Olsen. “I think Greg does a great job of blocking,” Howard said Friday. “He’s a three-down tight end. He runs great routes. He has great hands. He’s a guy I studied a lot on film in college.”

Miami (Fla.) TE David Njoku was one of many gifted tight ends to showcase their athleticism at the NFL scouting combine. (Getty Images)
Miami (Fla.) TE David Njoku was one of many gifted tight ends to showcase their athleticism at the NFL scouting combine. (Getty Images)

Njoku said Friday he had hoped to break the combine broad-jump record of 145 inches, set by Dallas Cowboys safety Byron Jones back in 2015. Njoku came up short, still registering an impressive number of 133. But he wasn’t even tops at his position; that honor belonged to Hodges, who rang up a 134. Consider, too, that Hodges is a whopping 6-6 and 257 pounds. Hodges, Njoku and Kittle turned in the top three broad-jump numbers among tight ends since 2006.

Hodges also dominated the vertical jump at his position, finishing tops at 39 inches, tied for sixth among tight ends since 2006, showing he clearly boasts great athletic explosion. He was followed closely in that drill by Florida International’s Jonnu Smith (38, tied for ninth since 2006), South Alabama’s Gerald Everett (37.5), Njoku (37.5), Engram (36) and Kittle (35).

Like the bench press? Sadly, the TE group came up a bit short in that category, with no one coming close to cracking the top 15 marks over the past dozen years. But Howard, Everett, Smith and Drake’s Eric Saubert all rang up a solid 22 reps of 225 pounds, tied for third at tight end. The top two finishers this year at the position were Oregon’s Pharaoh Brown and Ashland’s Adam Shaheen (a fascinating prospect who has gained 80-plus pounds in four years, he says, by eating Chipotle burritos), who each racked out 24 reps.

The tight ends will complete their workouts in the three-cone drill and the 20- and 60-yard shuttles later. But if the first phase of testing is any indication, it should be a showcase as well.

There have not been two tight ends taken in the top 15 picks since 1992, but Howard and Njoku could change that this year. Hodges and Engram have good chances to be second-round picks and even could tempt teams late in Round 1. Everett, despite small hands, has WR-like skills that will be highly sought on Day 2 of the draft. Beyond them, the TE talent pool stretches deep into the Day 3 range, and there almost certainly will be future starters who slip into the later rounds.

This is one of the deepest, most talented groups of tight ends in recent draft memory. Also one of the most athletic, it appears.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!