2016 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Western Kentucky TE Tyler Higbee

As you should know by now, our attention has now shifted to the 2016 NFL Draft as it relates to the prospects. From now until the draft takes place, we hope to profile as many draft prospects as we possibly can for you. Most of these player profiles will be centered around prospects the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have interest in.

Given Heath Miller’s retirement, we wanted to breakdown a tight end today. Here, we’re turning our attention to Tyler Higbee.

#82 Tyler Higbee/TE Western Kentucky: 6’6 250

The Good

– NFL size with plus length, certainly looks the part
– Impressive athlete with a burst out of his three point stance, doesn’t pop up and gets to speed quickly
– Stems his routes well and is able to create separation
– Adjusts to poorly thrown footballs well, extends away from his frame, and has a large catch radius
– Open field threat and size makes him difficult to bring down by just one defender
– Makes tough catches in traffic and the chaos doesn’t bother him
– Gives effort and is a physical run blocker who is willing to mix things up, even if it isn’t his strong suit
– Asked to pass protect more than your typical college TE
– Moved all over the line, core of the formation, H-Back, displaced from formation

The Bad

– Doesn’t possess innate strength as a blocker and doesn’t generate a tremendous push
– Struggles on drive blocks and has to clean up technique a bit, falls off and takes some false steps off the line
– Need to see a little better effort in scramble drills, working to the quarterback
– Only one season of significant production, one year as starter

Bio

– 2015: 38 receptions, 563 yards, 8 TDs
– Never had more than 15 catches or 230 yards in any other season
– Converted to tight end from receiver for the start of the 2013 season
– Dealt with left knee injury, caused him to miss five games, including bowl game and Senior Bowl
– Redshirted in 2012 after freshman season
– Team captain senior year of high school

Tape Breakdown

Higbee is a bit of the happy medium in college tight ends. He’s athletic and can offer a good bit to your passing offense while giving good effort and doing just enough as a blocker to be passable with room to improve. But in this age, it starts with what you can do as a receiver, and there’s no debate to be had that this is his stronger suit.

Gets out of his stance quickly, pushing off his outside foot to generate power and speed, bends across the field, extends his hands away from his frame, and makes the catch.

He’s a YAC threat, too, making this Marshall defensive back look silly in the open field, turning this five yard drag into a 25 yard gain.

I dig this play from Higbee. Another bending route across the field but watch him stem it halfway through to get that extra bit of separation from the defender trailing him. Clean catch and doesn’t look to duck out of bounds.

As a blocker, I loved this play not just because it’s a nasty crack, but because he sacrificed his body in the 4th quarter with his team leading by 20. That’s effort, heart, and being a team-guy.

There are deficiencies as a run blocker. Out of a two-point stance, he fails to stick to the linebacker, who sheds and makes the tackle behind the line of scrimmage.

Similar issue here, Higbee lined up at the top of the screen, but out of a three point stance. Falls off the edge defender on the run to his side.

But I am more interested in what he can do as a run blocker and when he has an angle and can seal – not that it is too terribly difficult to do – he can be successful. Watch him at the bottom of the screen.

Higbee would be a small deviation from the norm, placing athleticism over blocking and hoping his effort and willingness to get his hands dirty is enough to start and James Daniel is capable of coaching him up.

Hopefully, that knee injury isn’t too much of an issue and he can work out this weekend or at worst, at the Hilltoppers Pro Day. Remember, his body of work is pretty limited. One season starting, cut short to just nine games because of the injury. The more opportunities to watch him, the more comfortable an organization will be in selecting him.

This isn’t a great tight end class and Higbee isn’t a great tight end prospect, but I like his athleticism and I like his effort. And those are excellent starting points for any mid-round tight end. If the Steelers don’t go for a Hunter Henry in the first, or a Nick Vannett in the third, this could be a target in the fourth.

Projection: Late 3rd-Early 4th

Games Watched: vs La Tech, at Indiana, vs Marshall

Previous Player Profiles
Hunter HenryEli AppleLaquon TreadwellDadi NicolasKendall Fuller
Deion JonesJihad WardKevin PetersonVonn BellMichael Caputo
Andrew BillingsMackensie AlexanderTyler ErvinAustin BlytheChris Jones
Sheldon RankinsNoah SpenceJordan JenkinsYannick NgakoueDarian Thompson
Bryce WilliamsCre’von LeblancHenry Krieger-CobleLeonard FloydJosh Garnett
Kevin HoganCorey ColemanShaq LawsonAustin JohnsonDeAndre Houston-Carson
William Jackson IIIVernon ButlerSean DavisTyler BoydJalen Ramsey
Taveze CalhounGermain IfediNick VannettJack AllenAlonzo Russell
Leonte Carroo

About the Author

Alex Kozora

Full-time blogger from mom’s basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.

  • Cols714

    I think there are enough of these 3rd round TEs that it would be hard to justify taking one in the first unless you think Hunter Henry is the next Heath.

  • Bill Sechrengost

    Thanks Alex. There is definitely some quality here at TE in the 3rd or 4th rounds. I’m not sure there is much quantity, though. I do like Jake McGee from Florida, but it seems they are projecting him later. I’m sure there are some blocking type TE’s available in the 7th round, if they want to go that way.

  • falconsaftey43

    David Morgan is a heck of a blocker.

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    I think I would be OK with this pick! I think Munchak can work with his blocking and I think his ability to make tough catches and break tackles makes him my favorite if it comes to a middle round pick! I’m on board!

  • Paddy

    They already have a guy like him don’t they? Jesse James is his name

  • Alex Kozora

    Higbee definitely a better athlete. James is much stiffer.

  • PittsburghSports

    Actually looks like a better blocker than I thought he’d be.

  • Absolutely, Alex! I’ve been mocking him to us for a week or more–keeping my eyes on him re Fanspeak every time round 3 or 4 pops up. He looks like a serious TE weapon in the passing game and looks to have real potential as a blocker. How would you rate him against Henry Hunter, Cooper, and Vannett? If you were the Steelers draft guru–and you thought you could get Higbee in the 4th, would any of the others be worth an earlier pick? What if they were all available in the same round [say the 3rd] and you could only pick one? Who would you pick and why? Thanks for the write up!

  • LucasY59

    looks like there are a couple more options other that Henry and Vannett, Hooper and Higbee are a couple that could get consideration if the Steelers don’t want to invest a pick higher than the 3rd rd. (I think both Hooper and Higbee should be available in the 4th) I still prefer Vannett, but the other guys are growing on me, and I am definitely looking into the TE prospects more than I was a week or so ago.

  • steelmann58

    could be a very interesting pick

  • PaeperCup

    Yes please. I think he’d be looked at as a higher draft pick if he played for a big time school instead of WK. Looking the part is an understatement….he really has the prototypical size, frame, quickness, moves. I just wonder if he will gain the muscle to be an effective blocker at the next level. He’s capable, but already added 60 lbs since being a HS receiver…how much more can he grow? I like him…like him a lot. Could be a nice pick that wouldn’t require a first 2 round pick.

  • PaeperCup

    Tough choice. With Vannett you are looking at an excellent blocking TE, hopefully reaching a higher level in the passing game. In Higbee you have an excellent pass catcher with hopes of becoming a better blocker. So which skill is easier to develop? With higbee, we do know that he will be working with a great blocking coach in Munchak. In a way this is why Henry is so appealing, he really is more of a complete package. But if it’ll take a 1st round pick for him…that makes for a tough call.

  • PaeperCup

    I keep hearing it’s a bad TE class, but really there are 4 you listed that are not bad prospects at all.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Ive seen Higbee on a few sites as a guy who is a sleeper in this draft.

  • LucasY59

    yep I wasn’t high on the TE class at first look, but they are growing on me (I was forced to consider TE being a higher priority, which still makes me sad)

  • LucasY59

    I think Vannett has the best chance of contributing early (the Steelers aren’t going to put a guy out there unless they trust his blocking)
    I think Vannett was very underutilized at Ohio St. and could be a good pass catching threat.
    I really like the duo of Jesse James and Vannett for the future, both will be solid blockers and decent intermediate pass catchers (neither will be as clutch as Heath, but few are…) I think with the other weapons on O that getting guys that can contribute without getting a lot of looks is what they need, they already have a lot of Weapons (Henry has the impressive stats because Arkansas had no other options and he was the focal point of their passing game, kinda like Kelce in KC. with the Steelers he would be #4 or worse)
    your last point is also my deciding factor. I do not want to use a 1st rd pick on a TE, I don’t even want to use a 2nd (but to get Vannett it might be necessary) that is also why I am looking into guys like Higbee and Hooper for a later pick (but I think those guys might have more developing to do than Outlaw did last yr) Vannett looks to be a guy that they would be able to use as #2 early on (and unfortunately they will need it, Spaeth is a solid #2 as a blocker, but I thought he would be gone before Heath, so his days are limited)

  • Spencer Krick

    I wouldn’t hate this pick.

  • Paddy

    You are correct Alex, as usual. They need a guy like Vannett earlier in draft

  • Nick Sabatella

    This is a kid I really like. Really like his YAC ability. Rather see us spend our first pick on defense [billings please] and get this kid later on.