Name: David Njoku
Position: Tight End
School: Miami (Fla.)
Class: Redshirt Sophomore
Games Watched: 2016: vs Pittsburgh, vs West Virginia, vs Virginia
Overview: Native of Cedar Grove, NJ. Won national high school high jump championship in his senior year. (For comparison, Olympic silver medallist Mutaz Essa Barshim weighs 154lb – at the time Njoku weighted 220lb plus!) Was converted from wide receiver to tight end at Miami, and recorded 43 catches for 698 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2016. Has just a season-and-a-half of starting experience. Will not be 21 until July 2017.
What do we mean when we talk about “mismatch weapon”, referring to tight ends? Well, we mean someone who has a sizeable physical or technical advantage over their opponent, generally in coverage. David Njoku has that in spades. He lines up in-line, in the slot, and outside, presenting a different issue for whoever he lines up against. At 6’4” with 35” arms, he’s taller and longer than most cornerbacks, particularly slot corners. At 246lb, he’s tough enough that he’ll out-muscle a lot of safeties. And as a converted wide receiver, he has the route-running, catching and body-positioning nous to outsmart linebackers.
All that would mean nothing if the tape didn’t back it up. Njoku runs nicely down the seam to free himself. He drifts anonymously into the backfield to catch a dump-off. When he does, he demonstrates the athleticism, speed and tackle-breaking toughness to record serious yards-after-catch. His TD against West Virginia was exactly that, complete with a stiff-arm to shed a tackler and an athletic leap into the endzone to avoid going out of bounds.
His receiver pedigree shows in his footwork and hands. He made one fade-route catch against Pitt where he ran a lovely route, fought off near-PI and still tapped his feet to stay in bounds. You see that, and you know this guy can be a reliable receiving tight end.
But can he be more? Our survey says yes, but it’ll take a few years. Like another converted receiver – Jordan Reed – he can improve his blocking in the NFL but must work. Run-blocking is the stronger side of this, and it didn’t help that he was left on an island too often. But he still does look like a player who’s only been blocking for one year. His angles and hand-work is okay, but he’ll need to get savvier about redirecting defenders’ momentum.
I don’t think you’d need Njoku pass blocking that much, but in any case, he needs much more work on that front. That figures, given outside pass rushers tend to be more athletic than slightly more inside-y run stuffers.
The other thing – there were a couple of concentration drops in the games I watched. For a tight end – who a quarterback will need to be a reliable option – that’s slightly worrying. Njoku seems driven and committed, so I’m not overly concerned it’s a major problem, but it’s worth considering.
With Njoku you’re getting a tight end who’s more of a lump of clay than a refined prospect. Yes, he’s already a good receiver, with good footwork and the ability to drift out of coverage. But there’s so much more here. He’s fairly fast, but is very athletic – I fancy his ability to be make difficult catches in traffic. He’s a tremendous threat after the catch, with strength, wiggle and footwork to avoid defenders. As such, he’s a threat to take it to the house every time he gets the ball.
Although as a player, Greg Olsen’s a better comparison than Jordan Reed right now, I think Njoku will have development mirroring Reed. Yes, Njoku will contribute early, and put up two decent seasons. But he’ll take a couple of years to refine his blocking, and during that time he’ll look a bit lightweight generally. Then he’ll get it, have that early-veteran savviness a tight end needs, be bulked up a little but still with that athleticism. And he’ll be terrifying.
Grade: Mid-first round