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During the 2017 NFL Draft we saw three tight ends selected in the first round. That’s the first time in the history of the NFL Draft for that to happen. When there are players like O.J. Howard, Evan Engram, and David Njoku available, then it’s understandable to why it happened. Each of these players is an athletic freak who has an incredible amount of upside to his game, from all-around route running to getting vertical up field.
With that draft in the past, what does the future look like for tight ends in the 2018 NFL Draft? Mark Andrews from Oklahoma and Dallas Goedert from South Dakota State are getting a lot of praise. The one tight end that needs more praise, though, is Troy Fumagalli from Wisconsin. On some draft boards Fumagalli is the top-ranked tight end, while on other boards he’s in the middle.
In 2014, Fumagalli was a walk-on at Wisconsin. A depth player his first two seasons, he went on to become a starter as a junior. The Badgers love running double tight sets and at times have a third tight end out there. At 6’5″ and 245 lbs, Fumagalli is a tight end you can line up all over the field. He’ll line up as your standard tight end in a three-point stance or in the backfield as an H-back, or he can flex out wide to the slot. Let’s dive into my film studies and take a look at if he’s the top tight end in the 2018 NFL Draft:
This play is nicely done by the quarterback. He climbs the pocket and finds an open receiver downfield. That receiver is Troy Fumagalli, who does an excellent job with body control along the sideline, getting both feet in-bounds (yes, I know you only need one foot for college) and securing the catch with both hands. One of the key things I’m looking for is the down-and-distance. It’s 3rd down with 7 yards to go. Fumagalli is more than just a safety valve; he has big play upside to him, and this is an exemplary play.
During his evaluation process he’ll get a ton of credit for what he does as an in-line blocker. It’s rare that he misses his key or doesn’t finish his block until the whistle. On this play he down-blocks and pushes his key into a pile. What we’re looking for is his hand placement, lower body technique, and overall effort. His hands are inside, he’s got a square base, and he turns his back to where the running back should be going. That’s one of the keys for a blocker. You never want to see him turn himself into the running lane that’s designed for the running back. As for his overall effort, you see the leg drive and determination in his game.
Designed tight end screens are one of my favorite plays in the playbook. For the Badgers, this is one of their more common plays, and they can run it at any given time during a game. With a player like Fumagalli, it makes sense for this play to be a “starred” play in the book. He checks and releases off to zero coverage around him. After the catch he quickly gets upfield and looks like a fluid athlete in open space. The Badgers run this play for a variety of reasons, one of which is that it keeps a defense honest on first down. Clearly, the Buckeyes weren’t expecting this type of screen. Also, the Badgers know their strengths, and they play to them, from running the ball to finding their talented tight end. This is one of the reasons he finished the 2016 season with 47 receptions for 580 yards and two touchdowns, all career highs for the former walk-on.
Evaluating most of his games, this might be my favorite play from Fumagalli. In the NFL there’s a handful of tight-ends who can run an angle-route as sharp as this. Had I not known who I was studying, I would have thought he was a running back. Again, another key third-down for the Badgers and they target their tight-end. Getting upfield after securing the catch is another strength of his. He doesn’t dance around. Rather, he plays football the way it’s supposed to be played as a tight end. He runs precise routes and secures catches with his hands (not his chest), then gets upfield for positive yards. When you turn on tape of the Badgers this year, be prepared for Fumagalli to be a key player and not just a safety valve.
I mentioned above that Fumagalli as a really good in-line blocker. While that remains true, he does struggle in as a blocker in the open field. You’ll notice he attacks the second level, and with quicker defensive players he struggles to stay squared, and he often guesses the direction they’re headed. One thing teams will be looking at is what he does beyond just down-blocking or base blocking. Teams will want to see what he can do as he chips off to a linebacker or defensive back. He struggles to distinguish himself in the open field as a blocker throughout much of this game against Iowa.
More times than not, Fumagalli can secure the catch, but concentration drops are going to be something to look at going forward. This corner route is money, and it is designed for a big gain. Dropping this pass was all about concentration, and it’s something that he lacked on this particular play. It’s not a common mistake from the talented tight end, but it’s not a mistake he’ll want to repeat.
Potential Bills Fit
Looking at the overall tight end class, the only tight end that I could see becoming a first rounder is Mark Andrews from Oklahoma. There’s a lot to like from both Andrews and Troy Fumagalli, but if I had to choose the tight end I’m taking in the first round, then I would choose Fumagalli, and it would have to be near the end of the first round.
Would you really want the Bills to take a tight end in the first round? I’d guess not. However, if we assume they spend an early first round pick on a linebacker or defensive end, then there’s no reason to believe they don’t attempt to add another weapon in the late stages of round one or early stages of round two. Pending how the receivers fall in the first round, Troy Fumagalli might be one of the safer picks in the draft. Defending my case for him as a selection of the Buffalo Bills, here’s where why I think he’d be an upgrade for them:
Charles Clay is the only starting caliber tight end on the Bills’ roster. Above is what Clay averaged for the 2016 season. With an average of 3.4 receptions on 5.5 targets per game, it’s very similar to Fumagalli.
Last season, the junior tight end had 3.6 receptions per game, but overall, he’s an upgrade for a variety of reasons. Namely, he’s a better route runner and actually a better pass-catcher than Clay. On the 2016 season Fumagalli had 47 receptions on 60 targets. That’s a catch percentage of 78%, which is markedly better than the 63% from Clay.
What does this mean for the future? It means a lot, actually. Assuming that Nathan Peterman has a shot at starting for the Buffalo Bills within the next couple of seasons, there’s a safe chance he’ll need a consistent weapon. That weapon could be Troy Fumagalli, if the Bills decide to use one of their six top-100 draft picks in the 2018 NFL Draft on him. After all, the Bills targeted their tight ends 37 times this pre-season.
Here’s how Peterman did when throwing to his tight end at Pitt (see above). Altogether, it was 35 receptions on 45 targets for Scott Orndoff. That’s good for a catch percentage of 78%, eerily similar to Troy Fumagalli. The Wisconsin product will have to become more consistent in the red-zone with only his two touchdowns as a junior, but there’s no reason to believe that the Bills and Nate Peterman wouldn’t benefit from the addition of Fumagalli.
Let’s not forget the Buffalo Bills have two picks in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Where those selections will be made are still to be determined. Fumagalli has great versatility as a receiver and will be considered as one of the best in-line blockers in college football. There’s no reason to believe he can’t be a late first round pick, but it’s safe to say he should hear his name early on day two. Currently, I’ve got a fringe first-round grade on him and want to see more consistency entering his senior season. Without question, though, the Bills would benefit from selecting a tight end of his skill-set.