Sixth Round: 184th Pick
The tight ends in this year's draft class comprise a deep pool of talent both on the receiving and blocking ends. In the later rounds, there is a slew of tight ends that could turn into playmakers for NFL teams.
Mychal Rivera is one of the many tight ends looking to make himself known as a day three sleeper. He put up nice numbers at Tennessee his senior year and was a starter for three seasons, giving him plenty of experience for the NFL.
Do his raw numbers and ability translate to a job at the next level?
Rivera's biggest strength is his raw athleticism. Despite not having top-end speed, he can make big plays in other ways on the field. He also has great hands and has never had any trouble with dropping passes.
He ran many different routs while at Tennessee and has great versatility. The fact that he can contribute on special teams will be a big plus given where he will likely be drafted.
At 6'3", Rivera is a bit undersized for the position, though he has a solid enough frame that he could work around it. He has a lot of work to do as a blocking tight end as well, and will need to be coached up in that role.
The numbers that Rivera put up at the combine were average at best, and while a team isn't going to expect breakaway speed from a tight end, linebackers will not have much trouble keeping up with him.
At the combine, Rivera's numbers were average to below average compared to other tight ends in the draft. He had a 4.81 40-yard dash, a 31-inch vertical leap (surprisingly low given his athleticism) and a 112-inch broad jump.
During his pro day, Rivera increased his bench press reps from 17 to 21, which did help him a bit, but his numbers are not something that he can point to as a reason a team should draft him, even if he does look better on the field than in a workout.
Rivera's athleticism on film and in games is actually rather unexpected given his frame and tools, and shows him as a much better tight end than perhaps he's given credit for. His transfer from Oregon to the College of the Canyons and later Tennessee was due to being mired in the depth chart (behind Dion Jordan, among others), rather than any problems that might be a concern.
Tennessee's offensive system concentrated more on deep passes than on short routes; Rivera and Cordarrelle Patterson both averaged over 15 yards per catch, and Justin Hunter wasn't far behind at 14.8.
Rivera was used both as a blocker and receiver while at Tennessee, and while he was not the primary part of the offense, he did get a reception in each game at least.
Rivera is a very smooth route runner and ran many different routes at Tennessee, never having a problem with any of them. He also has a quick first step and was able to get off the line of scrimmage just as fast as the wide receivers.
Perhaps his best route-running quality is that he is able to fake being a blocker, waiting a second or so after pushing off a defender, then running ahead, allowing him to be wide open for a catch.
Rivera primarily catches the ball with his hands rather than his body and is able to get a firm grip on the ball. He is able to make one-handed catches at times and rarely drops the ball.
The athleticism that Rivera has helps him with his ball skills big time. He is able to leap to make catches and evade tackles, and it's a sight to see when watching film. He has nice enough footwork that he can occasionally make the defender miss as well, allowing him to gain a few more yards.
Run After Catch
I would expect a tight end to be able to plow through a defender and gain a few extra yards through willpower. As much as I saw elsewhere, this is one of the things Rivera would need to work on.
He is usually tripped up on the first player, and while he has great awareness finding open spots on the field, he does not always seem to catch where the first-down markers are, something a tight end has to pay close attention to.
Rivera is a solid, intelligent blocker and performed well at Tennessee. He knows how to take angles and keep the pads down against a defender and has solid enough footwork to keep himself up.
The problem is that since he's slightly undersized and doesn't have great strength, his future as a blocking tight end in the NFL doesn't look good, especially since he cannot not add that much more weight to his frame.
Rivera's versatility is perhaps his best chance of staying around in the NFL. He can line up anywhere on the field and has experience both as a blocker and a receiver. His high football IQ means that he can likely adjust to any situation.
He fits best as a backup tight end who could be plugged into a lineup in a pinch, as well as a contributor on special teams. He does not seem likely to get past that level, however.
I have Rivera projected as a solid fifth-round pick. He has the ability to contribute as a solid backup thanks to his versatility, but I have my doubts about him becoming a starter in the NFL since his skill set may not transfer fully; if he's actually able to play bigger and tougher than he is in the NFL, then he could be a steal where he's projected.