The NFL seems to be going "all-in" in the tight end evolution, with most teams taking three or more tight ends in the past 5 drafts. And with that desire for teams to add tight end talent, the position has become more and more coveted on draft day.
Adding to this already solid tight end class, Michigan State's Dion Sims, the 6'5, 285 pound physical specimen, has declared early for the 2013 NFL Draft, according to Joe Schad. The question now is: How will NFL teams view him?
Sims is not your average tight end prospect. At 6'5, 285, he's built like a seasoned NFL blocking tight end despite being just a junior. After flashing as a freshman, he redshirted in 2010, and only really caught on in the offense this season, when he finished the year with 30+ catches and two touchdowns.
But from an evaluation perspective, Sims hasn't quite impressed as a tight end prospect. As a blocker, seemingly a strength for a tight end with his build, is actually where he's most concerning. His hand placement isn't consistent in the run game, he over-extends at times when attacking wide split defensive ends and reaching for linebackers, and struggles to lock in as a run blocker. His leg drive isn't what it should be for a tight end with his build, and much of that has to do with poor body positioning and understanding of leverage, two things that shouldn't be as under-developed for a four year college tight end.
As a pass catcher, he certainly flashes the ability to be effective in the short area, particularly on out routes where he can get in the open field against defensive baacks. But he isn't overly quick off the line, he doesn't adjust his route in the seam to give his quarterback throwing lanes, and struggles to adjust his body to the catch-point in the short area. As a pass blocker, he flashes the ability to sink his hips, slide laterally very well, but still lets rushers get inside of him after he over-steps.
While most of those scouting notes are negative, the old adage "you can't teach size" certainly makes him an intriguing option for NFL teams. He can control the seam and dominate the second level with better route and pass catching understanding. He has the length and natural size to pave the way as a run blocker. Both skill developments could make him a premier tight end in this league.
Also something to point out, he's only 15 pounds away from being in the left tackle-size discussion. If a team feels he's a project in the 3rd round, they could experiment with him as a tight end or offensive tackle project (thanks for the idea Josh Norris of Rotoworld Draft). It's not the most likely option at this point, but thanks to his size, natural athleticism, and flashes in pass protection already, he may be actually just as ready to develop there as well as at tight end.
Because he's such a project, it's clear he shouldn't be a Top 50 pick. But if he can impress at the NFL Combine/in workouts, he could make his way into the mid to late 2nd round area. If not, it'd be surprising for a team NOT to consider him in the 3rd-4th round area.