For casual NFL fans, the NFL combine is what kicks off NFL Draft season. The event, that's held annually in Indianapolis, starts up on Tuesday, February 28th this year and runs until Monday, March 6th.
Right now, some would say we're experiencing the calm before the storm and that storm might as well be, Hurricane Njoku. University of Miami Hurricane Tight End, David Njoku, that is. The redshirt sophomore is the next big name Tight End prospect to come out of "The U"; following in the footsteps of former Miami greats at the position like: Bubba Franks, Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow Jr., Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham and Clive Walford.
Athletically Njoku (pronounced nJOE-koo) stacks up with the best of them. Standing in at 6’4”, 245 pounds and having a high jump national championship under his belt, Njoku is on the cusp of destroying the combine. We all know that it takes more than just being athletic to succeed in the NFL so let’s see what the Njoku buzz is all about.
Games Watched: Duke (2016), Notre Dame (2016), NC State (2016), Pittsburgh (2016, Virginia (2016) & West Virginia (2016)
What immediately stands out about Njoku is how skilled of a receiver he is for a tight end and given room to run he’s got a special second gear that is angle erasing. With Al Golden no longer weighing down one of the most prestigious programs in the nation Mark Richt finally freed Njoku and took advantage of his athletic gifts and incorporated him into Miami’s offense on a regular basis.
Njoku flashed as a receiver to all levels of the field from bubble screens to deep shots 40-yards down field. As you would assume, Njoku will be a mismatch against most defenders and even showed the ability to beat cornerbacks with his speed, route running, and body positioning at the catch point.
After the catch, Njoku shows off his game-changing abilities. In the open field, Njoku becomes a load for defenders to handle. He routinely runs through arms tackles, dishes out stiff arms and is able to absorb a shot to his body and bounce off defenders. Njoku isn’t the most quick-twitchy agile athlete but his acceleration and long speed are impressive for a man his size.
(Use the arrows to scroll through more GIFs of the playmaking Njoku)
What is most encouraging about Njoku, and a major reason why his game will immediately translate to the next level, is his willingness to play physical and ability to win in contested catch situations. Njoku doesn’t shy away from physicality and is able to haul in passes with defenders draped all over him. The below play is a prime example. Njoku runs a fade route here and hauls in a TD pass with one arm, while fighting through pass interference, tightrope walking the sideline and keeping his feet in bounds. That takes an enormous amount of body control and concentration.
(Use the arrows to scroll through more GIFs of Njoku playing through contact)
Although he was often lined up in the slot or the middle receiver in a trips formation, Njoku actually did spend a good amount of time inline. I wouldn’t recommend running behind Njoku on a 4 & 1 but he showed enough as a blocker to have the hope of him becoming an all-around TE a few years down the road. Guys, he’s still 20 years old! The below clip is a reach block by Njoku where he reaches the DT and seals off a running lane for the RB, with a little bit of help from the LT. It’s not perfect but Njoku’s technique, punch, hand placement, rolling his hips upward to stand up the defender was regularly seen.
(Use the arrows to scroll through more GIFs of Njoku blocking - #86 )
The area where Njoku needs to improve the most is probably just his play strength. He’s rocked up but lacks the strength or anchor to handle a bull rush from an NFL caliber edge player. Njoku can’t skip leg day anymore. He’ll need to improve his lower half to generate more power as a blocker or he’ll just be a joker TE – that’s still valuable.
(Use the arrows to scroll through some not so good GIFs of Njoku)
As a receiver, I think Njoku can tighten up his route running by becoming more sudden within the route so that NFL defenders are not able to anticipate his breaks. I don’t want to assume, but knowing the athlete he is I don’t think that will be a problem. I should also mention that Njoku does have the occasional concentration drop but that doesn’t bother me because when you bring that much tactical value to an offense it’s something I’m more than happy living with.
Njoku is a move-TE prospect with a ceiling to become an All-Pro tight end. Njoku should be able to contribute as a receiver right away and will be extremely valuable in the red zone. While he might have 400 yards and 6 TD’s as a rookie I still want to preach the importance of patience with a guy like him. Again, he’s just 20-years old. He’s essentially a ball of clay and will be playing a position where it routinely takes a few years to acclimate to the NFL. Players like Jordan Reed, Martellus Bennett, and Greg Olsen didn’t break out until the age of 25 or later. So while the future is bright, it might take a few years to mold him into the Pro Bowler you expected when your team drafted him in the 1st Round. The reason why teams are willing to take a player like Njoku in the 1st Round is because he has the potential to be someone that defenses game plan around yet still don't have an answer for. Even if Njoku doesn't improve he'll still add an element to any offense due to his mismatch and field stretching ability as a receiver. He's got a high floor and tremendous ceiling.
NFL Comparison Spectrum: Greg Olsen, Martellus Bennett/(X), Fred Davis, Ladarius Green, Jeff Cumberland, Adrien Robinson