This year’s draft, unlike most drafts, has a lot of top-end tight end talent, particularly receiving tight ends. It’s easy to get enamored with the likes of Jace Amaro, Eric Ebron, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, or to hope your team takes a chance on Colt Lyerla, and they strike gold by helping him get his act together. However, there’s a tight end that everyone is sleeping on right now, that I think is an incredibly good prospect, and that would be Iowa’s C.J. Fiedorowicz. Fiedorowicz doesn’t do anything flashy, won’t wow you with insane talent, and doesn’t have the receiving skills that the Jimmy Grahams and Rob Gronkowskis of the world have. However, Fiedorowicz is an all-around talent that reminds me a bit of Heath Miller (although the Iowa jersey colors might have something to do with it). He’s the type of guy who will never be a star, but will likely be on that second tier of starters that their team wouldn’t want to let go if they could help it.
At 6’7″, 265 lbs, Fiedorowicz is more of the prototypical tight-end of the first 80 or so years of the NFL than the leaner ex-basketball player trend of the past decade. As a matter of fact, the only (listed) difference in size between him and Rob Gronkowski is one inch of height, and he’s the exact same size as Jimmy Graham. As is, Fiedorowicz not only has the large frame to be a big target in the red-zone, he has the bulk needed to block effectively and to muscle balls away from defenders attempting to break-up passes.
As with most tight ends of his size, Fiedorowicz comes with some very good physical skills, and he knows how to use them. He’s not terribly fast, he’ll never be mistaken for players who switched from wide receiver like Niles Paul or Fred Davis, but he’s fast enough for a tight end to still be a receiving threat. Of course, a player with his size is going to be strong, the question is if he knows how to use his strength to his advantage. Fiedorowicz is a very physical receiver who does just that, muscling balls away from defenders and absorbing tough hits while holding onto the ball. However, one thing that comes with being physical is that he has a tendency to push off more than he should. It didn’t seem to get called a lot in college, but he could get called for a lot of offensive pass interference in his first couple years in the league. He seems to be a solid vertical leaper who can go up and get the ball, but that’s something that will be determined more accurately at the combine this weekend.
In the modern NFL, you absolutely must be able to be a receiver as a tight end. There will always be roster spots on almost every team for a purely blocking tight end, it’s what keeps guys like Tom Crabtree and Kellen Davis employed, but being a blocking tight end only limits how much playing time you’ll see, and won’t warrant a high draft pick. Luckily for Fiedorowicz, he’s more then good enough in the receiving game to be a reliable every down option at tight end. He will catch the ball he’s supposed to catch, and he won’t drop any easy throws, but if the quarterback’s throw is off-target, he’s not going to make a tough catch to haul it in. He also has solid route-running ability, but he won’t be called a wide receiver any time soon. He doesn’t get the best explosion off the line, so quick passes aren’t the best thing for him. He does handle the block and release very well though, and Iowa was able to count on him to run it effectively quite often.
While receiving may make or break your ability to be a starting tight end at the NFL level, being able to block as well as catch determines just how good of a starter you can be at the professional level. It’s also another thing that Fiedorowicz does quite well. He does a very good job of keeping his hands inside his man’s shoulders to keep engaged and avoid holding penalties. He keeps his legs moving while blocking and doesn’t get flat-footed, allowing him to continue to drive his man out of the play. He gets a decent pad level, but nothing exceptional when it comes to leverage. Basically, he gets enough leverage to make his block, but not enough to completely blow his man out of the play. Fiedorowicz also has an issue of attacking his man and basically run blocking when he should be pass blocking. This works fine on a block and release because those are usually to sell the play action or help him get downfield, but on straight up pass blocking, it’s usually not a good idea to run block.
When all of his different skills are accounted for, Fiedorowicz adds up to a very good tight end prospect. He doesn’t have a stand out skill, and he won’t be a first-round star player talent, but he will likely make whatever team takes him very happy. He’ll likely be a starter for years for a team, and he reminds me a lot of tight ends such as Heath Miller and Zach Miller. Fiedorowicz looks likely to go in the latter part of the middle rounds, but I feel he could be a 2nd round talent, so look for him to go anywhere from the 2nd to 5th rounds. He’ll likely go to a team that doesn’t have an entrenched tight end, and will probably make that team very, very happy.
Games used for this analysis: 2012 vs. Purdue, 2012 vs. Nebraska, 2012 vs. Michigan, 2012 vs. Iowa State, 2013 vs. Nebraska, 2013 vs. Michigan State