*Editor's note: Our analysts are constantly talking to NFL and college sources about prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft. This week, NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein shares some of what he's hearing from NFL folks about the former minor league baseball player who could be the first tight end picked this year and one of the draft's top wide receivers. *
The scoop: Sometimes it's difficult to tell where teams have prospects stacked on their board until late March or early April when pro days are coming to an end. Now that we've reached this point in the evaluation process, one thing that's becoming clear is South Carolina's Hayden Hurst is emerging as the favorite to be the first tight end selected when the 2018 NFL Draft begins in 27 days. In fact, one personnel man said he preferred Hurst and that it "wasn't even close".
The skinny: Now, I lean ever so slightly to Mike Gesicki of Penn State as the top tight end available this year, but I recognize that he's a pass-catching tight end who simply can't be counted on as a blocker. I had assumed that South Dakota State's Dallas Goedert and Hurst were likely neck and neck to be the first tight end selected, but I was surprised to learn during research for my most recent mock draft that a few teams thought Hurst was clearly better than Goedert.
Hurst is gritty as a blocker, pass catcher and runner after the catch, while Goedert is the flashier of the two with good size but an inconsistent approach as a blocker. While I still believe Gesicki's outstanding NFL Scouting Combine performance and upper-echelon ball skills could make him a first-round pick, signs point to Hurst as the clear preference at the position for TE-needy teams who could address the position in Round 1. I project him to land with the Titans in my latest mock draft, and he has one of the most interesting backstories of anyone in the draft as a former minor league baseball pitcher who walked on at South Carolina as a 21 year old.
* * *
The skinny: It's worth noting that anytime a receiver is taken in the first round, he's obviously going to have more expected of him much earlier in his career. Drafting a receiver in the first round is inherently much riskier than taking one in the third round, so "safe" is a relative term. I see Miller as more of a WR3 who can be used outside or from the slot. He's highly competitive and still carries that chip on his shoulder that most former walk-ons carry throughout their collegiate careers. While he's great at focusing on the deep ball, he will lose concentration at times on the easy ones.
While I would rather look at Miller late in the third round or at some point in Round 4, it appears as though NFL teams have a higher opinion of him and he could come off the board as early as late in Round 2. His pro day next week (April 6) could play a big role in determining how high he'll go, as he did not do any testing, aside from the bench press, at the NFL Scouting Combine.