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NFL Draft Preview: Top 10 tight ends and where the Bills stand

(This is the third installment of a position-by-position preview of the 2018 NFL Draft.)

Overview: Talk about tough acts to follow. Last year saw as strong a crop of tight ends as any the NFL Draft has offered in recent memory with three chosen in the first round: O.J. Howard (Tampa Bay), Evan Engram (New York Giants) and David Njoku (Cleveland).

This year's draft doesn't appear to have that sort of star power at the position. However, it does have several tight ends who figure to be solid contributors from the second and third rounds on down.

"As a group, these kids have very nice size and can be projected as capable blockers," says Pro Football Weekly draft expert and Western New York native Greg Gabriel, a former NFL scout and director of college scouting. "But this class doesn't have the speed last year's group did." Grade: C+.

The Best: Mark Andrews, Oklahoma. With excellent size (6-foot-5 and 256 pounds) and dependable hands to go along with a massive catch radius, he proved highly effective as a short, intermediate and deep threat. He excels at running routes and runs well after the catch. Although blocking isn't one of his strengths, he's willing to give it everything he has.

"I have a ton of experience in running routes and receiving. I think that part of my game is going to be a strong point," Andrews told reporters during the NFL Scouting Combine. "The good thing about the NFL is you get so much time and you're able to work on the blocking. ... I am excited to learn and get better."

At age 9, Andrews was diagnosed with diabetes and his blood sugar needs to be monitored during games. His father is a physician who Andrews says has helped him "tremendously with the whole process." Andrew figures to be a low first-round or early second-round choice.

Bills View: Tight end isn't high on the list of needs for the Bills. Charles Clay remains at least solid as a starter. He was the team's second-leading receiver last season with 49 catches for 558 yards. However, injuries limited him to playing only 55 percent of the snaps.

Nick O'Leary is a serviceable backup, but he doesn't have the most dependable hands and he offers little as a blocker. If the Bills were to draft a tight end, they would likely do so in the middle or late rounds.

Small school, giant production: One of the better tight ends in the draft is from one of the smaller schools: Dallas Goedert of South Dakota State. He was the nation's most productive player at the position last year with 72 receptions for 1,111 yards and seven touchdowns. He'll be the first offensive player to be drafted by South Dakota State since San Diego made tight end Steve Heiden  a third-round pick in 1999.

Oldie, but goodie?: By draft weekend, Central Florida tight end Jordan Akins will turn 26 and be at least three and even four years older than the majority of college prospects.

Sleeper: Before the Senior Bowl, Central Michigan's Tyler Conklin wasn't drawing all that much attention, especially because at 6-3 he doesn't have ideal height for a tight end. But the former basketball standout was highly impressive during workouts in Mobile, Ala., showing the ability to catch the ball well and more than hold his own as a blocker.

"I think the main thing is the ball skills," Conklin, speaking at the Combine, said of how his basketball background helps with playing tight end. "Ball skills and body control, those are big. I think basketball, you're going up, you're grabbing rebounds, you're just reacting ... so I think that translates really well to football."

Next: Offensive Tackle

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TOP 10 TIGHT ENDS

1. Mark Andrews*, Oklahoma. 6-5, 256. In the past three seasons, he has caught 112 passes and scored 22 touchdowns.

2. Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State. 6-4, 256. A walk-on who proved to be a dominant force against Division II defenders who almost always struggled to cover him.

3. Mike Gesicki, Penn State. 6-5, 242. He became the Nittany Lions' all-time leader among tight ends in receptions (129), receiving yards (1,481) and receiving touchdowns (15).

4. Hayden Hurst*, South Carolina. 6-4, 250. After spending two and a half years in the Pittsburgh Pirates' organization, he joined the  Gamecocks as a walk-in and put together a strong enough career to overcome the fact he turns 25 in August.

5. Ian Thomas, Indiana. 6-3, 256. A junior college transfer from Nassau (N.Y.) Community College who was a backup in 2016 before moving into the starting lineup last season.

6. Dalton Schultz*, Stanford, 6-5, 244. He isn't much of a big-play threat, considering he only had one career catch of more than 25 yards.

7. Durham Smythe, Notre Dame, 6-5, 253. He had shoulder and knee injuries that required surgical repair and caused him to miss most of the 2015 season.

8. Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin. 6-4, 248. Not much of a nose for the end zone, considering that he scored a touchdown only once in every 19.3 catches of a college career that saw him make 135 receptions.

9. Christopher Herndon, Miami (FL).  6-4, 240. Although he missed the  final two games of last season with a torn  MCL, he still finished as the Hurricanes' second-leading receiver.

10. Tyler Conklin, Central Michigan. 6-3, 252. Although he missed five games as a senior, he still finished with 35 catches for 504 yards and five touchdowns.

*-Underclassman

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