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Coach’s Corner: NFL Draft Tight Ends

A look at the trio of Mountain West TEs

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl Practice John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the first in a brand new series. John Lloyd is joining the MWCConnection team, bringing with him a new skill set to to the site. He is a high school football coach, and has a background in film breakdown and analysis. Thus, Coach’s Corner has been born and is kicking off today. The first aim of this feature will be to looking at MWC players gearing up for the NFL draft. Take a look at the tight ends today.

Dax Raymond: Tight End #87, Utah State

  • Where he wins:

While watching four games of tape his senior season at Utah State, Dax Raymond appears to be a “jack-of-all-trades” type of tight end. He has shown an array of versatility in where he lines up: slot, wing, in-line tight end, even split out wide. His best position, in my opinion, is as a “H-Back.” Meaning that he would be a wing-type tight end creating holes in run game and creating holes in underneath zones in the passing game. Showing versatility in college is huge at the next level because it shows a willingness to adapt to positions and can keep him on the field for all three downs, and maybe even a fourth down special teamer as well.

Raymond appears to be a able and willing blocker. He makes jarring hits on defensive ends and linebackers and can even knock them off their path, driving them out of the hole. He also appears to have a great intelligence for the game because he shows a high awareness on who to block while on the move or even combo blocking to the next level. He also blocks with a wide base and quick feet, running his wide feet and giving him a lot of lower body balance and strength. He was asked to “trey” block as well (meaning that he follows a guard on a counter through the hole on the opposite side of the formation). When a trey block happens, it’s important to pick up the right linebacker that the guard/tackle does not take. He does a good job in identifying and adjusting to his offensive lineman’s blocks and finding the correct guy to block in space.

Although Raymond is not going to wow you with his superb athleticism like other tight ends in this class, he has enough to get by. He is more of an explosive athlete rather than a top-end speed athlete. His NFL Combine numbers reflect his tape that way. He ran an average 4.73 in the forty-yard-dash and was average at the bench press, repping 225 pounds 15 times. Where he won at the combine is the broad jump (109”) and the vertical jump (32”), showing great power in his hips and legs in those events. His tape reflected those times and nothing stood out poorly at the Combine, which is huge.

Lastly, Raymond has above-average hands. He shows a willingness to fight for the difficult catch and can even get jump balls. While his numbers might not reflect a high amount of targets, when he was targeted, he showed that he has a big catch radius and strong hands. On top of his hands, his after-the-catch power and speed reflect his combine numbers, a quick, explosive athlete. He is strong enough to fend off safeties and fast enough to take on linebackers. His frame is what also makes him special prospect (6’5” 255 pounds).

  • Where he needs to improve:

Raymond has a lot of strengths to his game; however, there are still things he needs to work on at the next level. For one, his route awareness ability could use some help. While watching tape, Utah State appeared to run a lot of RPO plays. In those plays, it’s extremely important to choreograph everything perfectly so I’m not going to worry about some of the plays he shows a slow first step or cutting out of breaks slower than usual. That being said, he still struggles with rounding routes, not making crisps breaks out of those routes. Out routes cannot be rounded as much at the next level. He shows a toughness going over the middle and getting vertical but I worry that his top end speed might affect that at the next level. He uses his strength, rather than his finesse, to get by linebackers. He shows a good amount of hand fighting techniques to get hands off of his body when linebackers are in zone coverages. In man coverage, he does not show that he stems his routes to a side of a defender, instead, tries to take on defenders with his entire body, which is fine at the Mountain West Conference level, but not at the NFL. Despite that, he deciphers whether a defense is in zone or man quickly and adjusts his routes accordingly. He ran a lot of the same routes week-to-week in college like “over” routes, or deep-crossers, and would like to see him develop more routes compared to what his college coaches gave him.

Another things Raymond needs to work on is staying on his blocks. I know he missed time with a broken hand, but even before then, he struggled to lock onto defenders and get his hands extended. However, when he extends his hands and arms, linebackers and edge players have a hard time getting out of his grasp. When a defender gets inside of his wide frame, that’s where the defender wins and is able to get off his blocks. He appears to make great initial contact, which is great, he just needs to control defenders a little bit more and his blocking would be elite.

  • Conclusion:

Dax Raymond is a big-bodied, strong, explosive athlete and can gain quite a few pounds if need be at the next level to become stronger. I would like to see him play closer to 265 and become a dominating blocking tight end at the next level. Raymond is going to make a great second tight end and special-teamer at first and might even start a few games here and there. He has a high floor and his ceiling is a little bit lower than the other Mountain West Conference tight ends, which makes him a quality guy to pick him up around the sixth round. The reason I say that is because he’s quite a bit older than most players in the draft at 24. I have a late-fifth, early-sixth round grade on him and if he’s drafted around then I would not be shocked at all. If he is drafted earlier, I would not be surprised because I’m sure some coach/GM is going to fall in love with his physical style of play, his versatility, and his willingness to block.

Josh Oliver: Tight End #89, San Jose State

  • Where he wins:

Josh Oliver is a lean tight end that can run, block, and catch at a high level. The first thing that jumps out on tape is how much he is involved in every aspect of their offense. Keep in mind that San Jose State’s record was nothing to write home about, but he played hard despite their lackluster performances on both sides of the ball.

Oliver’s run blocking ability is at high level. He punishes small defenders with long arms and strength at the point of attack and has a great first punch. He can block small defenders because he is quick and a good athlete to keep up with smaller defenders’ ability to run around blocks. On bubble screens, he would line up either in the outside slot or out wide and you can see how good his blocking really is. He can square up small defenders and keep them on tracks to allow his teammates to get open in space with the ball in their hand.

Not only can he block and push around smaller defenders in space, he can move bigger bodied ends and linebackers in the inside game as well. The Spartans would use him a lot as a lead blocker in the hole and also as a blocker to clear out the backside end on zone plays. With bigger defenders he chops his feet well with a wide base and makes sure he punches and keeps his hands extended. He can also block as an in-line blocker in a three-point stance, a rarity in today’s college spread game. Oliver also shows that he can block edge rushers while passing. It’s surprising how well of a blocker he is as a pass blocker because he is such a good threat in the receiving game too.

Not only is Oliver’s blocking skill elite, but his hands and adjusting to the ball are really good as well. He looks to hands catch everything he can instead of letting easy balls go into your belly and accidentally dropping them. Even on bobbled catches he still tries his best to get his hands in the right position to control the ball. You can tell how strong he really is just by him grabbing passes that were errant or off target.

On jump balls and diving balls, he can really control his body better than most tight ends in this class. He shows great body awareness on outer throws and good positional awareness on inside/seam throws. He rarely gets hit hard or loses the ball. I could easily see Oliver at the next level split out wide on the goalline against a safety and go up and get jump balls or run slants in traffic.

On top of his hands and blocking skills, he shows a passion for the game that is hard to match. He fights for extra yards whenever he can and makes sure that he keeps the ball tight into his arms and body. His passion for the game shows because he was still playing with everything he had in all games throughout the season; a rough season for San Jose State. He also runs his routes hard even though he is not the primary option in a sequence. Even on outside release verticals (I call them “MORs” for “Must Outside Release”) he shows an explosive first-step throughout every single game and route.

  • Where he needs to improve:

While his blocking technique while engaged is elite, he needs to work on making correct angles in the outside running game. When the offense is running sweeps, bubbles, or any other outside run type of play, he appears to attack a defender at an odd angle. He keeps getting horizontal and letting the defender attack him instead of vice versa. While attacking horizontally is fine, you still need to get vertical and attack the defenders, especially at the next level, because linebackers and safeties will come down hill hard and set the edge by blowing up blockers. Oliver can get away with it at this stage of his career, he might not be able to at the next level. Against smaller defenders you can attack horizontally fine, but when he faces bigger players, it’s going to be tougher. When he attacks a defender vertically, it shows how strong he really is. In other words, he needs to not catch defenders in the outside run game and instead attack defenders on a shoulder and violently strike opponents like I know he’s capable of doing.

While he shows explosive bursts in his routes, he can still develop into a more polished route-runner. I noticed on “stick” he does not quite stem well enough to get himself more open, instead, Oliver uses his long and strong arms to get off defenders. Stemming defenders on stick is crucial because it allows you to decipher whether the defense is running zone or man based on the defenders’ position. Oliver can help himself a lot by choosing a side of a defender—likely the outside shoulder of the zone defender—and getting himself open. He has a good awareness of what the defense is trying to run and sits on zones well and also can use his top-end speed to get away from defenders.

Another picky thing I noticed was that on out routes he does not whip his head around fast enough and sometimes the ball is on him before he can even get his hands out. While this might not be entirely his fault, he could help his quarterback a little bit more by getting his head around and being able to react to the ball faster.

  • Conclusion:

At 6’5” and 249 pounds, Oliver has the frame that most scouts and GMs look for in a tight end. He also ran an excellent 4.63, which I thought was faster than what his tape showed. On top of the speed that he showed, his vertical jump (34”) and broad jump (9’9”) match his first step on tape. He looks a lot leaner than his 249 pound frame, which could allow him to gain some weight and not lose much of his speed. In today’s NFL, Oliver shows enough positional versatility and athleticism to line up anywhere the team needs him. I think Oliver could start on a team that is in desperate need of tight end help, but he could also be a great second option at tight end.

His blocking, ball skills, and athleticism will allow him to see the field and develop quicker than the other two tight ends in the Conference. I would rank Oliver the best prospect in the Mountain West Conference, and would put a third round grade on him. However, with the depth in this tight end class, it will be interesting to see where he goes and on what day. But, if I were a GM, Oliver would be our third round selection if we needed a developmental tight end that could produce relatively quickly.

Kahale Warring, Tight End #87, San Diego State

  • Where he wins:

Kahale Warring is a pro-style tight end that played in an NFL friendly offense at San Diego State. The Aztecs wanted to run the ball until time stopped. However, when they wanted to pass, Warring was a solid option for them. Warring is a good blocker that uses his footwork to dominate opposition. He is a good in-line blocker coming out of a three-point stance with quick feet and strong hands. He can under block on runs opposite his side better than anyone in this class. He shows a rip move to get underneath defenders and then sets his body and moves his feet to stay in front of the defender. What I like about Warring is that he blocks to the whistle and finishes guys. He also blocks bigger defenders with ease because his feet were so technically sound. He does get a little caught up when defenders get in him, but he uses his strength to bench smaller defenders and faster edge players.

His catching ability, while not high-lighted in a run-heavy offense, is a nice addition to his blocking ability. I know this sounds crazy, but he can catch and run/move at the same time, which is a hard trait to do when linebackers and safeties are homing in on you trying to dislodge you from the ball. He also shows a good ability of diving for balls and sliding and catching the ball. He has a gigantic catch radius and strong hands, it has all the raw materials you want in a developmental tight end.

When his quarterback was scrambling, he would come off his route and find an open area quickly. He hustles to the spot and works his way into zones that defenders often cannot see. I think he was coached well too, because his intelligence shows in his blocking angles and route angles.

  • Where he needs to improve:

Warring is a very “handsy” blocker. He grabs a lot and holds onto bigger defenders. He does not keep his hands inside enough, causing his hands to grab shoulders while blocking. It really shows when he tries to reach block on outside zone plays to his side. When he does not have to move to a defender’s outside shoulder he does a great job at keeping his hands inside, if he gets coached well enough on that, he should be able to fix that issue because he does well on all other blocks.

I think Warring needs to add a little weight too. At the Combine he looked lean and long. However, he is still strong and could be able to play at his Combine weight. While adding strength, might take away his speed, his speed I think will carry because on film he appears to show the same Combine speed he showed.

At San Diego State, he was not asked to run complex routes in their pro-style, run-heavy offense. He was mostly used as a blocker and most of his routes were intermediate crosses, stick, and corner routes. Not saying that he cannot adapt to the changes an NFL offense will bring, he just did not show a route tree you want to see on tape; again, not his fault.

  • Conclusion:

Kahale Warring is another 6’5” tight end coming out of the Mountain West Conference. He ran a 4.67 at 252 pounds while repping 225 19 times in the bench press and jumped way above-average (36.5” vert and 122” broad jump). His speed was slightly surprising, I didn’t think his tape matched a sub-4.7 speed but he might have trimmed down and started really worrying about the Combine’s measurement on speed. While he’s not as polished as Dax Raymond or Josh Oliver, I think Warring could be an interesting developmental tight end because he has all the raw materials you want in today’s tight ends. He showed that he is strongest as an in-line blocker, but I think he might be able to play in the slot at the next level and even as a wing in multi-tight-end sets. He did not play a lot in some games but his raw ability and athleticism are what makes Warring an intriguing late-round flyer. I would put him in the late sixth-early seventh round range. I think some team drafts him in hopes that his extremely high ceiling can be met. And at the level in the draft, that’s what you’re looking for the most, a guy that can be developed without any ridiculous expectations.

How I would rank the three tight ends in order:

1. Josh Oliver

2. Dax Raymond

3. Kahale Warring