Martellus Bennett was a lot of things in Chicago. Some of those things were good and some were not, but there is no denying that he was a threat to opposing defenses. He was the first Bears TE in a very long time that opposing defensive coordinators had to account for every week. That threat in the middle of the field and down the deep seam caused defensive shifts that created other opportunities for players on Chicago's offense. It meant single coverage for the #2 WR. Stacking the box with an 8-man front was easily countered by sliding Bennett out into the slot. That in turn made running lanes open up on the inside of the defense. In general it provided offensive balance which has been sorely lacking since he left.
The upcoming draft is filled with quality TE's of every type: all-arounders, "move" type pass catchers, red zone threats and blocking hulks. If Chicago wanted to make sure its best offensive weapon (RB Jordan Howard) had some extra room to run they could certainly start by adding a modern TE who is a gifted pass catcher.
O.J. Howard, Tight End, University of Alabama
Howard is a rare player who had the chance to be the top option at a position in a draft class, but declined and returned to school for another season. After that season passed he was (and is) still the top option at his position. That situation almost never occurs and the fact that it happened to O.J. is a credit to just how good his overall game actually is. He is the pinnacle of TE talent to come out of the college ranks in the last 5 years.
Two things make O.J. stand out, even in this year's gifted field of TE's. First it is that he is amazingly well-rounded as a football player. He does all of the things teams need a TE to do. He is not a role player and that means he doesn't need to leave the field. Need a blocker to open a running lane? No problem. A receiver who can flex to the slot (or even outside) and win the matchup? O.J. has you covered there too. What about both in the same play (a solid block on a DE, then release into a flat route)? No need for two players when you have one who can do both.
The second thing that sets him apart from his contemporaries is how well he can accomplish all of those roles. He adjusts to poorly thrown passes better than many WR's I have watched this year. His concentration while the ball is in the air and looking it into his hands is magnificent. His ability to handle most defensive players in blocking assignment and put them where he wants to is not often seen in players from the TE spot. Frankly he is better at it than some offensive tackles in this class. He ran a 4.51 second 40-yard dash at 251 pounds which is better than many WR's and CB's who weigh 50 pounds less. Having a player so physically skilled and technically sound at the same time adds up to a prospect who will truly be able to change games.
Alabama has so many skilled players on the offensive side of the ball that Howard was not featured to the extent he likely would have been elsewhere. Once you dig into his tape it is obvious that he was grossly underutilized. Whenever he was given the chance he responded by making plays. His numbers in a system that focused more on feeding him the ball would have been gargantuan. I fully believe that if he had been in a system with competent passing quarterbacks and a plan to get him more touches on offense, he would have shattered NCAA receiving and yardage records for tight ends. He's that dominant.
The scariest thing about O.J. is not how good he is at everything he does, but rather that because his load has been so light in college that he can be an even better pro. Just the thought of that idea should be keeping defensive coordinators who will have to face him next season awake at night. Howard is a matchup nightmare who will be able to win early and often on Sundays because of his immense physical prowess, sound technical skills and willingness to do all the dirty work and little things to help his team come out on top.
David Njoku, Tight End, University of Miami
Some players flash so much brilliance in certain moments that you cannot help but believe there is near unlimited potential to tap. David Njoku has those flashes. You have probably seen the highlights of him by now, taking short passes, breaking a tackle or two and then vaulting himself five feet into the air to fly over a defender into the endzone. After all he did it twice this past season alone. It is in those moments that scouts get excited that what he is showing us now is not the full extent of his powers, but rather just a taste of what is to come. After digging into his tape a little more deeply, they may well be right.
Njoku was track athlete in high school and it shows. Not in the negative way that football people often try and belittle athletes that came from that discipline as "soft" or unable to withstand the violent physical rigors found on the gridiron. Rather it shows in a positive light in his game: he can flat out fly. More than once I found myself rewinding his game film to make sure I was watching his release off the line and not one of Miami's WR's. David's burst when entering his routes definitely makes it easy to get confused. Miami's Pro Day was Wednesday March 29th and Njoku clocked an unofficial 4.49. Even if you add the standard 0.05 second scouting buffer for hand-timing and home field advantage, that is still a time in the mid 4.5 second range, which is incredibly impressive for a man weighing 246 pounds.
Based on his background and speed, you might think that that David is simply a "move" TE who isn't physical or doesn't block. That's simply not the case. He sports a ridiculously chiseled physique and he is not afraid to use it. He's a high-effort blocker and doesn't shy away from contact. His technique (particularly his hand placement and bend) certainly need improvement, but the "want to" that coaches are looking for is most certainly present. Given his lower body build and impressive agility I'm sure that his blocking prowess will be elevated once he lands in a pro program. Right now, he is more of a "wall-off" type blocker and isn't going to move a technically proficient defender out of the way... but he isn't going to let him through easily either.
Talking about Njoku's blocking is necessary but it is a little like talking about the forklift sitting next to an F1 car: it's just not the main attraction here. David's speed and size make him the kind of player that most linebackers in the NFL are simply not going to want any part of on passing downs. At his size, safeties aren't going to be thrilled to draw coverage on him either. His ability to burn them with speed, stiff arm them to the ground or simply plow over them en route to the endzone will make all but the best of them seriously wary of this former Miami Hurricane.
The life of TE is not all flash and dash. In fact most of it is hard work and smaller contributions that go unnoticed. Davis can play this game too. He is more than capable of grinding out catches on hitch routes and short crossers to keep the chains moving. However the main attraction of him as player will always be those times when he takes a short throw, pops open his jersey to reveal the superman uniform he has on underneath and then flies away into the endzone. That kind of game-breaking ability is uncommon in any offensive player and even more so in a true tight end with any semblance of balance between pass catching skills and blocking ability. When all three of the traits converge in a single package you end up with a first-round draft pick, and Njoku is certainly worthy of that.
Would you rather have the all-world Mr. Everything that makes it look easy in O.J. Howard, or the still-improving occasional show-stopper who hints at an even higher ceiling in David Njoku?