Summary: Notre Dame has produced some quality tight ends in recent years and Niklas is the latest in line. He started his career as a defensive end, but moved to tight end. Niklas has only been at the position for two years and could have used more development for the next level, but he decided to enter the 2014 NFL Draft.
In 2012, Niklas was a backup to Tyler Eifert. He had only five receptions for 75 yards and a score. With Eifert in the NFL, Niklas took over as the starting tight end for 2013. He had a quality year with 32 receptions for 498 yards with five touchdowns. Niklas improved throughout the season and would have had a bigger year if Nortre Dame had received better play from the quarterback position.
For the NFL, Niklas projects as a three-down starting tight end. He is a dangerous receiver who is good at getting open in the middle of the field. Niklas is tough to bring down, and it usually takes multiple defenders to get him on the ground. He is good at getting open running down the middle seam and on crossing routes. Niklas also is nice weapon on the sideline and in the red zone. He is very good at making contested catches over defensive backs and out fights them for the ball. While Niklas doesn't have elite speed, he has enough quickness to get open.
Niklas has room to grow as a blocker. Being raw as a tight end doesn't help his technique. He has the size and ability to become a good blocker, but he has to improve his hand usage and engagement of defenders rather than reaching. A good tight ends coach should turn him into a complete player in the NFL.
Sources have said that they expect Niklas to be a second-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Player Comparison: Rob Gronkowski. Physically and athletically, Niklas is a poor man's version of Gronkowski. One of the most significant differences between the two is Gronkowski having better speed and blocking for the NFL. Gronkowski (6-6, 265) and Niklas are similar size and both are loads to bring down in the open field. Gronkowski was a second-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, and Niklas should be a second-rounder this year. If Niklas develops under pro coaching, he could be a lesser version of Gronkowski.
NFL Matches: Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, New England, Buffalo, Miami, New York Jets, Houston, Atlanta
There are a lot of teams that could consider taking Niklas in the second round. The Packers could look at him as a replacement for Jermichael Finley. Green Bay has a big hole at tight end.
Heath Miller is declining with the Steelers, so they could consider a tight end early. Baltimore also may want another receiving tight end if one is the best passing weapon available. Both of these AFC North teams could consider Niklas in the second round.
All four AFC East teams could be potential landing spots for Niklas. The Bills need a receiving tight end for their offense and could target Niklas with their second-round pick if they pass on Eric Ebron in Round 1. Miami could use a tight end to pair with Charles Clay, and Niklas could be in play for the Dolphins' second-round pick.
The Jets need to add some weapons for Geno Smith, and a receiving tight end like Niklas would provide a nice security blanket for Smith. The Jets would have to move up for him in Round 2. The Giants could be a fit as well in the second round.
The Patriots really missed Aaron Hernandez last year, and Rob Gronkowski is becoming more and more injury prone. New England's offense could really use a player like Niklas, and he would be an appropriate value late in the second round. He is a nice fit for the Patriots' offense.
If Niklas falls to the third round, Houston may take a tight end at pick No. 65. It would make sense to target him to fill the Gronkowski role in Bill O'Brien's offense. To start the third, Niklas could be too good to pass up.
Atlanta needs to replace Tony Gonzalez. Niklas would make sense for Atlanta on Day 2.