"Well I just think a tight end is involved in a lot of plays," Belichick said. "He’s involved in the running game, he’s involved in the passing game, he’s in the middle of the field, he’s involved in pass protection. There really aren’t hardly any plays where that guy is out of the play. He’s the central guy in pretty much whatever you want to do. And the more versatile he is, the more things he can do, defensively the harder it is to defend".
Finding the next Mark Bavaro had been Belichick s white whale treasure hunt, until he met young lad TE Robert Gronkowsky. Belichick does acknowledge this: there are not many guys who can be a threat at both blocking and catching the ball. Those so called complete Tight Ends are very hard to find gems.
Personally i dont believe that Belichick s New England is abandoning his philosophy and his particular love for this position. In fact seems inminent that New England will strenghten up this position on early draft rounds. The more sounded candidates for filling this role up are undoubtedly Austin Seferian Jenkins and Troy Niklas. Any of these monsters could definitely engage up nicely on this complex mechanism, which directs itself to overwhelm enemy teams that dare to go lighter on defense (in part to heavy pass influenced offensive tendencies), well by running through / displaying physical passing game on short-intermediate routes.
From a current team weakness (relying so much responsability only on the great Gronk), its very possible to think that Belichick would end up finding an opportunity to build up a strenght, and maybe outdare opposite defenses by playing Gronkowski and ASJ/Niklas simultaneously.
Having said this:
Enter 6 feet 7 in., 270 pounds, Notre Dame Tight End, Troy Niklas.
- Outstanding "nightmare prototype TE" body type (see above), plus 34 1/8 in. arm lenght.
- Dominant blocker at both 2 levels. Seems to enjoy blocking, rocking opponents with an impressive initial punch and latching on to control throughout the play. Keeps his legs driving through contact. Bends his knees, shuffles and fans rushers wide. Works also well in tandem, can combo block effectively.
- The physical nature displayed on the blocking game is also noticed on his receiving game. Uses his height and strength to get open against tight coverage, consistently winning the physical battle with opponents to create space. Good leaping ability, flashing the ability to extend and pluck. Big target over the middle, excelling at seam and corner routes, and of course a nightmare to defend when in red zone. Good hands.
- After the catch turns into an aggressive ball carrier, who isnt afraid of contact.
- Former OL and DL (OLB/DE).
- Does not have elite speed, and just average elusiveness and imagination after the catch.
- Work in progress on his route running.
- 2 year experience at the position.
1. Blocking breakdown.
1.1. The pass protection, is Niklas a good pass protector?
- Good usage of arms and hands
- Knee bend and good leverage
- Feet neembleness and quickness, and good lateral agility to properly mirror on rushers
a) Pass protection against Left OLB (#31, Anthony Johnson): Niklas playing right end, holds his own effectively against Johnson s "outside faint" attempt.
same play, other angle:
b) Pass protection against Left OLB (#52,Carl Bradford): again Troy playing right end frustrates Bradford s attempt to take the corner.
same play, other angle:
c) Its all up to the proper technique, Niklas at right end faces Left DE (#53, Mario Ojemudia) who attempts to bull rush on him, but note on the feet work on Niklas, just as the books indicate.
He can survive these matches with relative ease, but how about bigger matches?
d) Pass protection against a "5 tech DE": Niklas playing right end faces #95 left DE (Gannon Conway), he is able to man handle Conway s push.
e) Not a coincidence at all, take a look at Niklas (right end) taking on a stunt play on which the 1 tech DT (#96, Ryan Glasgow) crosses over with the Left DE, and ends up bull rushing Niklas, who ultimetely recognices the stunt and takes a nice angle to absorb and disipate the rush.