Our NFL rookie profile series continues with this analysis of 2019 NFL Draft Prospect Caleb Wilson, TE of UCLA. You can also check out all of our NFL Draft Prospect articles here. We will continue to provide you with these in-depth rookie profiles and a ton of other fantasy football rookie analysis right up through the NFL Draft. Stay tuned, and stay ahead of your league!
Every draft season, analysts offer a battery of assessments on hundreds of players. Elite players are easier to spot, making it easy to slot them in the first round. But the draft has six more rounds and there are 32 different ways of thinking to navigate, which makes predicting selections impossible.
Making it even more difficult is when the draft community differs on how good a player is or can be which, let’s face it, is true for most players. Tight end Caleb Wilson has one of the biggest disparities this season as some view him as just outside the top-tier of tight ends while others view him as undraftable.
There’s no doubt Wilson was great in college even playing on such a bad team as UCLA. But greatness in the Pac-12 doesn’t equate to greatness in the NFL where he’ll have to put in a lot of work to be a success.
Statistics from sports-reference.com.
Statistically speaking, there wasn’t a better tight end in college football last year. Wilson’s average five receptions and 80 yards per game were the best in the country and led to him being named a second-team All-American. And it wasn’t like it came out of left field either. Wilson started the season before that with a bang, totaling 15 receptions for over 200 yards in a classic against Texas A&M. If not for a foot injury halfway through the season, it’s possible his 2017 season would have been even better than his 2018. Either way, it gives Wilson a season and a half of solid production at the position.
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Wilson’s speed is deceptive as he doesn’t exactly blow past defenders, instead taking longer strides because of his height. But it’s there and was a valuable asset for the UCLA offense. Several times, Wilson was the first option and got open even with defenders zeroing in.
His nearly 80” wingspan is apparent too as he rarely had to reach for passes thrown his way. This stands out even when he has an accurate quarterback as he did with Josh Rosen in 2017. If Rosen is of the caliber of quarterbacks Wilson plays with in the NFL, what Wilson did with Rosen is a great indicator of what he’ll look like – a quick, pass-catching tight end that can do damage in open space.
Wilson’s best attribute is his speed. His 4.5 wheels are in the 91st percentile among tight ends in this class and are apparent if you put him in the open field. But his speed is about the only thing that sticks out. At 6’4” he’s perfectly average when it comes to this class, while his weight does stick out – but for the wrongs reasons. At 240 pounds, he’s in just the sixth percentile. He’ll need to bulk up quickly if he’s going to stand a chance against NFL defenders at the line.
As far as comparable players, eventual fantasy owners of Wilson will be hoping he goes the Todd Heap route. Between 2002 and 2006, Heap had four seasons where he played all 16 games. In those four seasons, he averaged 68 receptions for 787 yards and five scores. Even by 2018 standards, where tight ends are much more involved in the passing game, that would be good for a low-end TE1 season. An even more comparable player was Jacob Tamme who turned in a TE1 season as Peyton Manning’s tight end-de jour in 2010 but two additional TE2 seasons for two different teams.
What Wilson fantasy owners don’t want is a Dedrick Epps-like career. Epps was drafted in the seventh round and has one career reception to his name. As you can see, the disparity in Wilson’s ability is even apparent in his player comparables.
Wilson’s dynasty value may be the most tied to a team of any tight end. In a notoriously tough position for rookies, Wilson’s one skill – his speed – has to be a match with the team that drafts him. If it’s their intention to line Wilson up in the slot, he has a chance to contribute immediately. But if he’s drafted to do anything on the line, he’ll have a hard time catching up to the speed and weight of an NFL defender and won’t see the field very often. Best case scenario is Wilson goes in the third round of rookie drafts if he ends up in a positive situation but is more likely ticketed for the fourth or later.
Wilson was an outstanding pass catcher at UCLA whether it was with future first-round pick Josh Rosen at quarterback in 2017 or catching it from two different quarterbacks the entire 2018 season. But it was also the Pac-12 where he was squaring off against the likes of Colorado and Oregon State. He won’t be able to compete against NFL defenses in his current form as he’ll have no choice but to bulk up to withstand the onslaught of NFL defenders trying to take him down. He’ll also have to do so without sacrificing his signature speed in the process. Wilson will be on the fence of making an NFL roster by the time the season starts and is a mere lottery ticket in rookie drafts.