Who's The Better TE Prospect: Fiedorowicz Or Niklas?
By Bill Lund
Tight end have been regarded as a safety net for a quarterback, whether it’s as checkdown or just moving the chains. In recent years, the position has become more of a weapon with players such as Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten, Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham giving defensive coordinators fits.The ability of offensive coordinators to utilize the position to create mismatches in the passing game has produced a demand for tight ends who have the ability to generate matchup nightmares in a given offense. C.J. Fiedorowicz of Iowa and Troy Niklas of Notre Dame are two players in the second tier of this year's tight end draft prospects, both of whom create some intriguing matchup possibilities because of the size and reach they each bring to the table.
Which one is the better tight end prospect going into the 2014 draft?
C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa
C.J. Fiedorowicz, listed at almost 6-foot-6 and 262 pounds, has been a huge target in the Hawkeyes offense. His length will prove most intriguing to many NFL execs, but his lack of top-end speed may be his biggest detriment. He runs technically sound routes and does a good job of re-directing on cuts to create some separation. He utilizes his size well to shield defenders away from receptions and has an ability to catch the ball in heavy traffic. In 2013, Fiedorowicz showed soft hands and a large catch radius, making him a great red zone target.
As a blocker, Fiedorowicz is physical at the point of attack on runs. He is at his best when he engages defenders and uses his tremendous reach to lock them out. Fiedorowicz is a high-effort player as a run blocker. He does lose leverage on defenders at times due to poor body position, playing high at times bending at the waist rather than the knees, allowing players to slip away. In pass protection, Fiedorowicz possesses the ability to set against edge rushers, providing a level of versatility teams can use in protection.
Fiedorowicz’s football acumen, work ethic and durability are some of his biggest pluses, all of which can make up for any lack of speed. He will likely be a mid-round selection, but don’t be surprised if he becomes a steady and reliable threat to move the chains for whoever drafts him into the NFL.
Troy Niklas, Notre Dame
Niklas, who played behind Tyler Eifert in 2012, is an underclassman who declared early after. After pllaying in only his second season at tight end, Niklas remains a raw prospect. He was originally recruited as an offensive lineman, was shifted to linebacker before finally finding a home at tight end.
At almost 6-7, 270, Niklas is massive for his position. His upside will create a lot of interest amongst NFL scouts. As a pass catcher, his long arms create a larger radius, and he shows soft and sure hands, which enable him to make catches with defenders draped all over him. Niklas uses his height and strength to create space high-pointing balls in the red zone. His route running does need some work, but it is a skill he will make improvement upon with repetition. When he does have the ball in his hands, Niklas shows some agility and an ability to get yards after the catch.
In the run game as a blocker, he has a strong initial punch and extends and controls defenders well. Niklas does a good job of driving his legs through contact and can control the edge against defenders. At times he can slip off of blocks when he gets too high in his body position. A good but not an elite athlete, he has the raw skills to develop into a solid starter in the NFL.
Who’s the better TE prospect?
Both players have the talent to be a contributing factor for an NFL team. C.J. Fiedorowicz’s primary role will likely be as a blocker with ability to make tough catches on third down and in the red zone as a second tight end. Niklas shows more raw talent and versatility to be an every down tight end. Though Fiedorowicz has been more consistent and experienced as a player, Niklas has a greater upside and shows more athletic ability to be a downfield threat. Either prospect would be a great addition to an NFL team, but Niklas has the greater ceiling to be a top-flight tight end in the NFL.