Blanton has shown considerable versatility at Missouri – he has lined up as a conventional TE, a slot receiver, an H-Back and a FB. He has an imposing frame (6-6, 265lb) and is a fluid, powerful athlete. So far in his career, he has been part of a 3 or 4 man platoon of TEs, which has limited his opportunities to shine; he did, however, show enough in the 2016 season to suggest that he could be a major sleeper in what is a markedly less impressive 2018 TE draft class than the 2017 equivalent. Blanton has very good hands and will make the contested catch; his TD catch in the South Carolina game is a good example. He uses his frame well and will bully smaller DBs. His route running, however, can be a bit sloppy and he needs to become more precise in his breaks. At the moment, he is more polished as a pass blocker than in the running game. In pass protection, he anchors well and shows a strong punch, whereas he lacks a bit of explosiveness as a run blocker; I’d like to see a bit more aggression in the running game. With Sean Culkin, last year’s starting TE for Mizzou, in camp with the LA Chargers, Blanton should get more opportunities this season and I have a funny feeling that this current 5th/6th round borderline grade might improve dramatically over the course of the 2017 season.
This is a TE class with some fascinating tales to tell. Breneman was a blue-chip recruit coming out of high school, who went on to flash enormous potential as a freshman at Penn State. After a couple of serious knee injuries, he had virtually retired from football and was preparing for life as a political campaign manager, when he received a text from his best friend at high school, who was about to start spring practice at U-Mass. The rest is history – Breneman, in his comeback season, caught 70 passes for 808 yards and 8 touchdowns, catapulting him back into the mix for an NFL future that he had given up as lost. On tape, you can see why he was so highly rated coming out of high school; he has extremely soft hands for a 6-4, 250lb TE and can make highlight reel catches. He has a natural feel for the soft spot in a zone and is a real threat in the red zone. He doesn’t get much separation, however, and, in 2016, looked like a good athlete but not a great one. His blocking in 2016 also left something to be desired; he played too high and found himself being propelled backwards with tedious regularity in the running game. He looks like a skinny 250, however, and it will be interesting to see if, with a whole off-season behind him, he can a) demonstrate a bit more explosion as a route runner and b) build enough muscle and hone his technique sufficiently to demonstrate the sort of functional strength he will need to be an effective blocker at the next level. If he can do so, he could conceivably vault himself into the Day 2 discussion, as he has some very desirable traits as a pass catcher.
Hurst’s is an interesting story. Having been drafted as a pitcher by the Pittsburgh Pirates coming out of high school, he spent a couple of years trying to make it in the major leagues before deciding to walk on at South Carolina. The Gamecocks fans will be delighted he did; Hurst looks to me to be a bona fide NFL TE. He is a big, physical receiver, with an excellent catch radius and the ability to adjust well to the ball in the air. When he catches the ball, he runs angry; I love how he really seeks to punish would-be tacklers. As a blocker, he gives really good effort and is physical and committed. He’s not George Kittle (in my view, the best blocking TE in the 2016 draft) but, compared to most college TEs, he grades out pretty favourably in this part of his game. He still needs to work on the crispness of his route running, which looks a bit sloppy at times and I’m not sure how great an athlete he is – the combine will be crucial for him, should he decide to come out this year. Overall, though, I’m very high on Hurst. He is clearly a high-character guy – he was voted one of four permanent team captains for the Gamecocks in 2016 as a walk-on sophomore – and I don’t think an NFL team will regret drafting him in the least. I’m looking forward to seeing how he progresses in 2017.
I suspect the NFL may have Goolsby ranked higher than I do, due to his potential in the passing game. He is very athletic, possesses good, though not great, hands, and, for a tight end, he is surprisingly elusive as a ball carrier in space. He has an instinctive feel for the soft spot in a defence and a nose for the first down marker. All of these are valuable skills in today’s NFL. As a blocker, however, Goolsby is – let’s be kind here – a work still in progress. He finds it very difficult to maintain blocks and appears to be lacking the functional strength to be effective as an in-line blocker. Against Alabama in the SEC Championship game, you saw the good and the bad of Goolsby in abundance. He worked to get open, was productive in the passing game and ended up with 7 catches for 91 yards and a TD. When he was asked to run block, however, some of the Alabama could have been charged with assault and battery, given the way they treated him. He is listed at 6-4, 244 but he looks a very slim 244 to me. This lack of strength and blocking ability means I can only see him as a developmental prospect – I would only consider him late on Day 3.