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The red flag that should scare NY Jets away from Brock Bowers

Brock Bowers
Brock Bowers, Getty Images

Is Brock Bowers really enough of a difference-maker for the New York Jets to select him in the top 10?

Georgia tight end Brock Bowers is the consensus favorite to be drafted 10th overall by the New York Jets – and it’s by a wide margin, too, one that is only growing wider each day. According to NFL Mock Draft Database, Bowers is the Jets’ pick at No. 10 in 54% of mock drafts across the internet over the past two weeks. That’s the sixth-highest percentage for any of the 32 slots in the first round.

Jets X-Factor’s Joe Blewett recently released an in-depth film breakdown of Bowers’ game, brilliantly showcasing all the strengths and concerns of the far-and-away No. 1 tight end prospect in this year’s class. Bowers certainly has a plethora of special traits that justify his hype as a potential top-10 pick. At the same time, there are concerns suggesting he is possibly being overhyped.

And one of those concerns stands out to me more than any other: Bowers’ extreme reliance on schemed-up production at Georgia.

Amidst all of the Bowers hype, it puzzles me that many people overlook how reliant he was on plays where he did not have to create separation on his own. If you flip on a Bowers highlight tape, many of his catches are wide-open because of the play design or a blown coverage. He often does not have to do anything at all to get himself open.

His YAC skills on these plays are undoubtedly special, and it’s those YAC skills that make him a tantalizing prospect. Still, if I’m drafting an offensive playmaker in the top 10, I want somebody who can create opportunities, not just capitalize on them. For a pass-catcher, that means getting yourself open down the field without help from the scheme, whether that’s winning one-on-one against man coverage or expertly reading zone coverage.

Bowers did not do very much of this. One stat proves it, and this stat jumps off the screen as a huge red flag for me: In 2023, 27 of Bowers’ 56 receptions were made behind the line of scrimmage. That’s a whopping 48% of his catches.

When you compare that to some of the most successful highly drafted tight ends in recent memory, it stands out as a massive outlier.

Over the past 10 drafts (2014-23), these are the five best tight ends drafted in the top 40 based on career receiving yards per game in the NFL:

  1. Sam LaPorta, 2023, #34 (52.3 YPG)
  2. T.J. Hockenson, 2019, #8 (49.3 YPG)
  3. Kyle Pitts, 2021, #4 (46.6 YPG)
  4. Evan Engram, 2017, #23 (46.0 YPG)
  5. Dalton Kincaid, 2023, #25 (42.1 YPG)

Here is the percentage of receptions that were made behind the LOS by each of those players in their final college season:

  • Sam LaPorta (2022, Iowa): 13 of 58 (22%)
  • T.J. Hockenson (2018, Iowa): 11 of 49 (22%)
  • Kyle Pitts (2020, Florida): 2 of 43 (5%)
  • Evan Engram (2016, Mississippi): 8 of 65 (12%)
  • Dalton Kincaid (2022, Utah): 4 of 70 (6%)

None of the five players reached even half of Bowers’ 48% rate.

In fact, no top-40 tight end in recent memory had as high of a rate. Bowers’ 48% is the highest mark among the 11 tight ends drafted in the top 40 as far back as college stats are available at PFF (2015-23). To find the prospects who were closest, you have to go back to 2017, when two tight ends were drafted in the first round. Both relied heavily on schemed receptions in college.

Among the aforementioned 11 tight ends, the second-highest rate of behind-LOS receptions in the final college season belongs to none other than O.J. Howard. In his 2016 season at Alabama, Howard caught 40% of his receptions behind the LOS (18 of 45). Howard was selected 19th overall by Tampa Bay in 2017 and went on to be a bust, racking up just 1,737 yards and 15 touchdowns over five years with the Bucs before they let him walk.

Next up behind Howard – joining Bowers and Howard as the only players in the 11-man group with a rate even as high as 30% – is fellow 2017 first-round pick David Njoku.

In his 2016 season at Miami (FL), Njoku caught 39.5% of his passes behind the LOS (17 of 43). Selected 29th overall by Cleveland, Njoku is certainly not a bust, as he remains with the Browns today on a four-year, $55 million contract. However, Njoku was an extremely late bloomer who didn’t truly blossom until his sixth season. Over his first five years, Njoku generated 1,754 yards and 15 touchdowns, almost identical to Howard. That’s only 351 yards and 3 touchdowns per year, far from worthy of a first-round pick (let alone the top 10).

Bowers proved himself to be an elite play finisher at Georgia, but he has not proven he will be an elite play maker in the NFL. We simply didn’t see enough of it to be certain he can generate receptions at a high volume in the NFL, and if you’re drafting a tight end in the top 10, you need to be certain he is capable of being a reliable high-volume producer in your offense.

It’s not promising that the best highly drafted tight ends in recent history were significantly less reliant on schemed receptions than Bowers. It’s even more concerning that the only players who were used similarly are Howard and Njoku, who went to perform nowhere close to the level that New York would want from Bowers after selecting him 10th overall.

You don’t use the 10th overall pick on a tight end for him to run some gadget plays as your third or fourth option. That same pick has recently been used on two 1,000-yard wide receivers, Garrett Wilson and DeVonta Smith. If you’re going to take a tight end in that spot, he better be a fixture in your offense, not just a complementary weapon with a specialized skill set.

And I’m not suggesting Bowers can’t be that kind of guy. As Blewett described in his scouting report of Bowers’ strengths and weaknesses, Bowers is smooth out of his route breaks, has good releases off the LOS, and even shows off the “rocker step” in his route package (something Tyler Conklin thrives at). The potential is there.

However, the sample size of non-schemed-up production is too small for me to trust Bowers as a top-10 pick. When you draft a tight end in the top 10, it’s already a significant reach based on positional value, so the player must be an extremely safe prospect to justify the pick. In my opinion, Bowers doesn’t meet the level of safety that I’d need to feel comfortable about him at No. 10.

I highly doubt Bowers will be anything less than a solid starting tight end in the NFL. So, don’t take this article as me suggesting he will be a bust. I’m just skeptical of whether he’ll be enough of a game-changing star to warrant a top-10 pick over a wide receiver or offensive tackle.

His extreme reliance on behind-LOS receptions is the main reason why I feel that way. Bowers won’t be able to rely on those catches to nearly the same degree in the NFL. Consider that in the 2023 NFL season, among the 26 tight ends with at least 50 targets, Gerald Everett saw the highest percentage of his targets coming behind the LOS at 20%. Bowers’ rate in 2023 was basically double that – 39.4% of his targets.

Among all 26 of the NFL tight ends with at least 50 targets in 2023, the average behind-LOS target rate was 10% – barely more than one-quarter of Bowers’ rate.

Bowers’ flashy highlights on wide-open catches behind the LOS are a major driving force in his reputation. Yet, in the NFL, he will have to at least slice those plays in half, bringing the rest of his game into the spotlight. And that is a huge concern.

As Blewett mentioned in his scouting report, Bowers’ hands are average at best. He is disappointing in contested catch situations, does not track the ball as well as you’d like, and is prone to some drops. He also had two fumbles in 2023. These parts of his game will be emphasized much further in the NFL than they were in a college offense where half of his catches were freebies. If Bowers does not squash the concerns about his hands, he will be much less dangerous in the NFL than he was at Georgia.

Again, don’t count me as anti-Bowers – I simply don’t see him as the wisest choice for the Jets at No. 10. There are red flags in his profile that lead me to believe he will not become the elite weapon he is often billed as, causing the Jets to miss out on a prospect who would have had a much greater impact.

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Jonathan Richter
Jonathan Richter
1 month ago

This article makes me even more anti-Bowers than I already was.

TRADE BACK!!!

Robert Papalia
Robert Papalia
1 month ago

Agree with your analysis. The Jets cannot afford to take a maybe player. They need to draft a player who is a no doubt it player who will contribute right away. They do not need another Kyle Brady.

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