Tonight we’ll continue our Q&A series with the SB Nation college blogs. Next up, another first round pick, Miami TE David Njoku.
Cam Underwood, Managing Editor of SB Nation's Miami Hurricanes site State of the U, was kind enough to answer a few questions pertaining to our newest tight end. Check out what he had to say below.
1. Miami is known for producing great TE's. Is Njoku next in line?
Absolutely. Njoku is a great TE, and his potential is immense. To come to Miami, following in the footsteps of former 1st round picks Bubba Franks, Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow II (BY THE BROWNS, by the way), and Greg Olsen, and other NFL TEs like Jimmy Graham, Clive Walford, Asante Cleveland, Richard Gordon, and Erik Swoope, Njoku is the latest in a long line of top tier NFL caliber players at his position.
Njoku took a huge step forward in 2016, combining his elite athleticism with greatly improved skill. Njoku ended his redshirt sophomore season with 43 catches for 698 yards and 8 touchdowns. Njoku has the athleticism to take a short pass and turn it into a long gain. And, as a former champion high jumper, he's showcased his vertical by jumping over players on several occasions in the recent past, including at least 2 TDs in 2016.
Compare Njoku's 2016 season to those of the other Miami Hurricanes TEs drafted in the first round:
Bubba Franks: 45 catches for 565 yard and 5 TDs
Jeremy Shockey: 40 catches for 519 yards and 7 TDs
Kellen Winslow II: 60 catches for 605 yards and 1 TD
Greg Olsen: 40 catches for 489 yards and 1 TD
Njoku gained more yards and scored more touchdowns THAN ALL OF THOSE PLAYERS.
So yeah, David Njoku is next up for great Miami Hurricanes TEs.
2. He's billed as an athletic freak, but how good of a TE is he right now, is he more than just a workout-warrior?
Njoku is a very good TE right now, but he's barely scratching the surface for his potential. Yes, Njoku is an athletic freak, and shows well in workouts and is SHREDDED. He's 6'4, 246lbs of lean muscle, and looks like it. He runs in the 4.5's for the 40 yard dash, has a standing vertical of 37.5 inches, a max vertical of 44.5 inches, and was a champion high jumper who jumped over 7ft. So, any way that you slice it, David Njoku is a monster in workout metrics.
But, he's more than just a workout warrior. He shows up on the field, and those testing numbers are validated when you see him jumping over DBs into the endzone, and running away from LBs who don't have the speed to keep up with him.
That's not to say Njoku is a perfect prospect, however. He's only been playing Tight End for full-time for 2 seasons. He redshirted at Miami in 2014, and was tried out at WR, TE, and even LB (only for 2 days, but still...WHAT ARE YOU DOING, AL GOLDEN!?!?!) during his redshirt year. But, as we've seen, Tight End was definitely the place for him.
A couple things Njoku can work on are his concentration (there was usually 1 BAD drop per game, and that can be eliminated with focus and repetition), route running (he's bigger, stronger, and faster than most players covering him in college, so that didn't need to be the most refined part of his game, although he ran some GREAT routes, like the whip route for a TD at Notre Dame. That was gorgeous), and blocking (we'll get to that in a second).
So, for now, I think David Njoku is an incredibly athletic player, with good skills that will only continue to develop over time.
3. Was he asked to do much in-line blocking, and how does he handle the blocking aspect of the position?
Njoku was used all over the place at Miami, including in-line blocking. When you see a lean, athletic player like Njoku, in-line blocking is far from the first thing you think of. But, when asked to do so, Njoku fared well.
Here's a look at Njoku in a blocking drill during Miami's Pro Day:
TE David Njoku going through blocking drills. pic.twitter.com/WUUDhCpdAK— Trevor Sikkema (@TampaBayTre) March 29, 2017
And, I know this isn't in-line, but the block that Njoku throws at the 38 second mark of this video of Miami's game-winning return at Duke in 2015 should alleviate any concerns about a lack of physicality on his part:
Now, moving forward, there is work to be done on his blocking technique, but Njoku has good size at 246lbs and very good strength to be an effective blocker. No, he won't be Joe Thomas pt 2, but he won't be a wet paper towel out there, either.
The misconception, in my mind, is that Njoku can't block. Again, it's not the strongest part of his game, but it's not entirely absent, either. And, with NFL coaching and player development, there's no reason why David Njoku can't be a capable blocker AT THE LEAST.
All of that being said, you picked him to catch passes and make plays in space, so that should be the primary focus, even while still developing him as a blocker.
4. He's still so young, and has a lot of room to improve. What's his number one thing he needs to work on?
This is a great question. If you don't know by now, David Njoku was the youngest 1st round NFL draft pick, at just 20 years old. He doesn't turn 21 until July. So, he's not even scratching the surface of his athletic potential yet, and that's scary considering his physical build and explosive athleticism.
As far as what Njoku can improve upon, I'll give you 3 things (even though you only asked for one): 1. blocking, 2. concentration, and 3. route running.
Why? Well, Blocking is the weakest part of his game, although it's better than most people think it is. So, there's room for development there.
Concentration needs to be consistent. On one play, Njoku can be seen making a highlight reel catch over a defender while being held/interfered with. On the next play, he'll drop a wide open crossing route. If the focus from the tough catches were present for the easy ones as well, Njoku would be an even more dangerous weapon than he already is.
Lastly, on route running, Njoku didn't really have to be pinpoint precise. He's too fast for LBs to cover, and too big for DBs to cover. So, Njoku just used his physical advantage to make plays. WHICH ISN'T A BAD THING. And, again, I'm not saying he's HORRIBLE at route running (he's not), but there is room for improvement here, just like the other area that I listed.
Overall, David Njoku is a very, very good football player, and is a good get for the Browns. If you're able to highlight what he naturally does well, while developing the things that could use improvement, then I have no doubt that Browns fans will be more than pleased with this draft pick.
A big thank you again to Cam for taking the time to share his insight!