When David Njoku left high school, he never pictured himself developing into an NFL tight end. Now people can’t imagine him doing anything else.
He looks back on his arrival at the University of Miami in 2014 and sees a scrawny receiver compared to the impeccable physique he has now. Njoku packed on 26 pounds to put himself at 6-foot-4, 246 pounds—with 6 percent body fat—and now he’s making his case as the top tight end in this year’s draft class.
“I was never scared, but it was different, for sure, because that was the only offensive position besides o-line that I didn’t play in high school,” he said. “Tight end was like a bigger receiver, and sometimes I’ve gotta get in the mud with the blocking, but I don’t mind that. I’m looking forward to it.”
At one point, Njoku looked destined to stay in South Florida with the Dolphins, though both sides have essentially veered toward different roads over the past two months. Njoku has been rising in many draft projections, and Miami acquired two-time Pro Bowl tight end Julius Thomas in a trade with the Jaguars. The team’s most pressing needs are now all on the defensive side.
Nonetheless, if Njoku lasts long enough for Miami to take him at No. 22 overall, he’ll be difficult to resist. The team met with him this offseason just in case, which he enjoyed. “Great people,” he said. The Dolphins hope to be in position to take the best player available regardless of need, as they did last year by drafting Laremy Tunsil, and Njoku looks like the type of playmaking tight end they haven’t had in years.
In a draft class loaded with intriguing players at his position, he’s got a chance to be the first one taken.
“That’s also what made me declare: people telling me to stay because of the big tight end class,” he said. “That made me want to declare even more because I want to go against the greats.”
Njoku was a one-season wonder for the Hurricanes, and that’s all it took to vault him into first-round consideration. As a red-shirt sophomore, he caught 43 passes for 698 yards and eight touchdowns.
“I guess when I reached my weight of 245 my junior year, I took off a little bit,” he said.
As if his work on the field wasn’t enticing enough, Njoku was overwhelming at the NFL Combine last month. He was top-three at his position in three events and was on par with his main competition, Alabama’s O.J. Howard, throughout the week. Howard outdid Njoku in the 40-yard dash and three-cone drill by a tenth of a second in each and got him in the 20-yard shuttle by two tenths.
Njoku was second in the broad jump (11-foot-1) and third in vertical leap (37.5 inches), beating Howard in both. By the way, Njoku is 20, two years younger than Howard.
“Njoku is a freaky kid that looks like a wide receiver, and you can’t believe that he’s actually as big as he is,” NFL Network draft specialist Mike Mayock said at the combine. “And what I like is if you watch enough of his tape, he gets after some people in the run game. He’s not really a good run-blocker yet, but the key is he gets after it. As long as you get after it and you have a willingness to do it, you can be taught. So I’m bullish on Njoku.”
NFL Network’s analysts have Njoku going as high as No. 18, while ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and draft website WalterFootball predict he’ll go 20th to the Broncos. Todd McShay projected him heading to the Dolphins at No. 22. The Post’s mock drafts have Njoku at No. 12 and 23.
Miami’s tight end situation is full of unknowns, starting with Thomas. He had a rough couple of years with injuries in Jacksonville and is under contract only through 2018. After him, the Dolphins have blocking specialist Anthony Fasano, MarQueis Gray (26 career catches) and Thomas Duarte (one career game played).
Njoku would be a smart prospect to develop behind Thomas and might even compete with him during the season. That’s far from his mindset at this point, however.
“First off, I didn’t perfect anything,” Njoku said. “I’m trying to better myself in every aspect with blocking and even speed, strength, route running or my hands. I don’t think I did anything to perfect anything, so I’m still working. If I continue to work, that’ll take me a long way.”