This year's tight end class made their media rounds at the NFL Scouting Combine Friday.
One highly touted athlete, Jake Butt out of Michigan, was in Indianapolis despite recovering from an ACL injury suffered during the Orange Bowl in December. Butt brought a lot of positive energy to the podium despite being unable to compete in the on-field drills.
He said he's ahead of schedule with his rehab, is optimistic about his progress and looked forward to the medical testing at the combine.
"I know where the average man would be at this point in time, and I know I'm ahead of that. I've been really excited to show teams that," Butt said. "But aside from that, this is something you dream about as a kid – just getting to be out here and recognized with some of the best players in the country."
Butt has formed a connection with Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, who reached out and has spent time talking with Butt and helping him prepare for the process leading up to the pros. In addition to modeling his game after Olsen, Butt said he's spent a lot of time studying film of successful NFL tight ends, including one that Vikings fans will recognize.
"I don't want to say I compare my style of play to anybody, but I definitely study some NFL guys," Butt said. "I did a film study for [Michigan tight ends coach] Jay Harbaugh on Kyle Rudolph last year, and Jason Witten would be another guy."
Butt wasn't the only one to reference a Vikings player during his combine podium session.
Evan Engram out of Ole Miss talked about his relationship with Vikings receiver Laquon Treadwell and said that Treadwell had congratulated him on the combine invite and often offered advice.
Engram said he knew Treadwell was disappointed after a quiet rookie season but was confident that year two would be a significant step up.
"His work ethic is through the roof," Engram said of Treadwell. "That guy pushed me to be the kind of worker I am at Ole Miss and now. I'm not worried about him. He had a little down year … it just wasn't up to his expectations. I definitely see him being a threat in the league next year."
Here are a few additional statements from some of the top tight end prospects ranked by NFL Media analysts Mike Mayock and Bucky Brooks:
O.J. Howard, Alabama
Pre-combine draft rankings: Mayock TE1, Brooks TE1
On why he thinks he could go in top of first round:"Just the way I play. I think I have a lot of athletic ability for the next level that can get used a lot. I can go out wide, I can make plays in the passing game, I can stay in and block … it's kind of rare to see a guy that's a three-down tight end nowadays. I think that's what I bring to the table."
On who he studies in addition to Greg Olsen:"Yeah, Jordan Reed is a guy I love to watch, also. He's kind of considered a receiver by a lot of guys, but he runs really good routes. The way he runs routes is fantastic. So I try to steal a lot of things from his book."
David Njoku, Miami
Pre-combine draft rankings: Mayock TE2, Brooks TE3
On interviewing with teams he grew up watching:"It's crazy. It feels like yesterday that I was a little kid, biggest fan, watching them on TV and hoping one day I would go to a game. Now I'm here, and I could possibly be on that team next season, so it's just a great blessing […] Anywhere I go, it's a blessing. But being raised in [New] Jersey and watching the Giants and the Jets, having them as my top two favorite teams when I was younger, it would be awesome."
On what he brings to the table:"I think wherever I go, I could definitely bring speed. I'm willing to block anywhere – attach or detach."
On being competing in the high jump in high school:"You're going to find out what my vertical is [Saturday] – maybe you guys will be kind of impressed by that. I believe high jump is a lot of power, to run and get your body over seven feet or whatever. It's really exciting."
View images from the first day of player workouts Friday at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine.
Evan Engram, Ole Miss
Pre-combine draft rankings: Mayock TE3, Brooks TE4
On the biggest strength in his game:"I would probably say my versatility. This class is so deep. All these guys bring a lot to the table. But for myself, just being able to do anything. Be split out, flexed out, get down field in the vertical game, and then have the tenacity to get in and get physical as well. I definitely see myself as a total package and definitely a threat down field in the vertical passing game."
On deciding not to declare for the 2016 draft:"It was pretty close. I just loved to compete, and I wanted to get to the next level. It was a smart decision. A lot of it was through my coaches and through my family, just getting feedback from teams and what they thought. It was a smart decision to come back and grow and get more involved in the offense and grow as a player off the field as well. It was definitely a big decision, but I'm glad I decided to come back."