We’re into the sixth round of our Dead Tree Media draft review for the Minnesota Vikings’ Class of 2017. The purple only wound up having one selection in the sixth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, but in terms of where the Vikings picked him, he might be the biggest steal Rick Spielman made on draft weekend.
With selection #201 overall, the Vikings selected tight end Bucky Hodges out of Virginia Tech. This year’s tight end class was thought to be one of the deepest in years, but even with that caveat, it’s still hard to imagine that the Vikings got a player of Hodges’ caliber as late as they did.
Both of our “dead tree media” draft guides had Hodges ranked as the #4 tight end available in this year’s class going into this year’s draft. Both guides had O.J. Howard of Alabama and David Njoku rated higher than Hodges. Both of those players went in the first round. The guide from Lindy’s Football also had Evan Engram of Ole Miss, another first rounder, ranked ahead of Hodges, while the Athlon Sports guide had South Alabama tight end Gerald Everett (a second round pick) ahead of him.
With that sort of hype, you’d expect both of the guides to have positive things to say about him, and they don’t disappoint on that front. Let’s start with the Lindy’s Football guide, which had a 2nd/3rd round grade on him..
In Our View: Hodges might just be the freakiest pass-catcher in the country. If he works hard on refining his position skills, the future looks bright, with a possible first-round selection waiting for him.
Hodges starred as a dual-threat quarterback in high school and redshirted his first season at Virginia Tech while transitioning to tight end. Hodges emerged as a standout tight end, earning freshman All-American honors (USA Today) after setting freshman tight end school records with 45 receptions for 526 yards and six touchdowns while starting just 10 of 13 games. He proved in 2015 that his impressive debut was hardly a fluke, hauling in another 40 catches for 530 yards and six touchdowns (and running for another 27 yards and a score) to earn second-team All-ACC accolades. In 2016 he added 48 catches, 691 yards, and seven TDs.
Strengths: What makes Hodges special is a raw combination of size, strength, and athleticism. He is a classic mismatch, towering over defensive backs often asked to cover him and proving too fast for most linebackers. He has agility, balance, and strength to escape the jam and quickly get into his routes. Hodges possesses rare speed for the position and tracks the ball well over his shoulder, making him an ideal threat down the seam. He shows zero hesitation going over the middle, extending to collect difficult passes in traffic and is bullish after the catch, often dragging would-be tacklers yards downfield.
Weaknesses: Like a lot of today’s college tight ends, Hodges is essentially an overgrown wide receiver. Though he possesses size and aggression, Hodges was rarely used by the Hokies as a traditional inline blocker. He shows awareness and competitiveness while blocking for his teammates, but is a work in progress in this area, currently proving to be more of a pest than a punisher to opponents. He still has work to do as a route-runner. Too often he has relied simply on his size and speed to get open at the college level, rounding off his breaks.
Right after Hodges was drafted, we pointed out that blocking really wasn’t Hodges’ thing. . .not yet, anyway. He obviously has the size and strength to be an effective blocker, but as the Lindy’s review says, he just wasn’t asked to do it much. I don’t think that’s really going to be his role in the NFL, either, but it’s still something he’s going to have to get better at.
Now, let’s look at the Athlon guide.
Strong Points: His combination of size and athleticism was overwhelming at the college level, and Hodges has the potential to be a mismatch in the NFL as well. He’s tall and long-armed, and he frequently dominated in contested-catch situations solely due to his size. He’ll be an immediate threat in the red zone, effectively using his size to box out defensive backs. Hodges also has the speed to threaten the seam, and he shows the fluid athleticism to develop into a more complete route runner. He’s dangerous with the ball in his hands after the catch.
Weak Points: He’s a non-factor as a blocker, as he shows neither the functional strength nor a particular willingness to mix it up in the run game. Like typical collegiate tight ends, Hodges comes into the NFL raw as a route runner. He also lets throws get into his body rather than snatching the ball with his hands.
Summary: Even with some rough edges, Hodges is still going to be dangerous as a movable chess piece and red-zone threat. Whether he becomes more of a well-rounded threat will depend on coaching and early development.
Final Grade: 2nd Round
Not a lot of difference between the two reviews, though the Athlon Guide was even less complimentary of Hodges’ blocking abilities. Still, it spotlights Hodges’ size and athletic ability, both of which are at a level that honestly should have seen him go long before the sixth round.
It’s not often that this gets said about a sixth-round pick, but I have trouble seeing Hodges not contributing right away, barring some sort of injury issue. For a team that had as many issues getting the football into the end zone. . .particularly after pushing inside the 20-yard line. . .as the Vikings did last year, you’d think that a 6’7”, 250-pound tight end with a 39” vertical leap could find himself a niche in this offense pretty quickly. Even with the selection of Dalvin Cook to build the offense around, I might actually be more excited about Hodges than any of the Vikings’ other picks.
We’ll continue rolling through our Dead Tree Media draft review with the team’s seventh round selections over the next few days.