Troy Niklas (6’6, 270, Notre Dame) shows up as one of the biggest TEs in the top 100. He's your prototypical big man who’ll do more to move the chains than make the Top Ten Plays lists.
Obviously, he’s not gong to beat you deep, but he’ll beat you off the line, he’ll box you out, and on the next play he’ll wall you off and let his back get upfield. A good inline blocker, Niklas can also move around and play H-back, he can pass protect, and he has been split wide, so he’s a guy who makes some sense moving around despite his strong inline ability. He’s a player you can throw on the second level easily and do more than just wall off linebackers, and he’s a guy who seems to wall off ends well.
It’s completely anecdotal, but he played a season at OLB, where he started one game and had 20 tackles. He’s a tough player who would seem to stay willing as a special teams guy, too. He has to work on his routes as a pro, where he’s not that precise.
Niklas would fill various needs for Carolina. If there’s two things they have to have more of, it’s guys who catch and block, and Niklas is one of the few that should be able to add both. He’d add to the depth at TE (he’s obviously not going to start over Greg Olsen, but is a good complement to him). Carolina uses that type player for about 30-40% of average snaps plus extra on special teams, and they haven’t shied from working on the short game with Cam Newton and a ball control offense. He is an able receiver who can work underneath Olsen’s deeper routes.
Plenty of people love this stuff – Niklas is the nephew of Bruce Matthews. He’s a junior, and it was apparently controversial that he came out early. He only has one full season starting at TE, and was a lineman in high school so it’s a situation where he has a lot of growth ability, but isn’t athletic. Depending on the need, that makes him a guy who could fill a starting role for one team, but roleplay for another. Like any prospect you never totally know where a guy like this might fit in, he’s rated around 50 in one spot, and 80+ in another. For the role he would play here, that’s probably a third, and he’s definitely behind the slipping Austin Serafian-Jenkins and maybe Jace Amaro, who are all guys that are way behind Eric Ebron right now. I don’t know if he brings a significant amount more than CJ Fiedorowicz, either (who rates closer to the 100s).
As a potential level of commentary on where offenses/receivers are going, I think it’s interesting that only Ebron of the top group is 250. The 6’5, 260+ guys are all at TE; you have to get down to small-school Joe Don Duncan (Dixie St) before the average analyst has a sub-6’4 TE listed, and that’s more in the 5th-6th range. Similarly, Oregon’s Colt Lyerla is the first sub-250 guy. It used to be that there was a strong mix of H-back type athletes in the TE mix, but this year almost everyone fits the mold of the big blocker. The spread revolution has made sure that anyone with significant athleticism in the 230-250 lb range becomes a defender, and the reminder apparently become massive WR (Kelvin Benjamin, Mike Evans, Donte Moncrief are three guys I have in the WR top ten over 220, and Benjamin’s 240)