Brock Bowers is this NFL Draft’s marquee enigma. He’s also worthy of the hype

Brock Bowers has felt known and yet also like an enigma of this draft cycle. A star player on back-to-back national championship-winning Georgia teams who skipped the NFL scouting combine and then Georgia’s pro day, Bowers is now in the thick of silly season where one simple photograph with Rob Gronkowski has people second-guessing their initial feelings and his draft status.

Is he actually built like a tight end?

Is it worth taking a tight end that high?

Did you see his outfit?

I keep going back to the term “offensive weapon” for Bowers. While the Jaguars, of course, put some stench on that term after designating Denard Robinson as an “offensive weapon” on their roster about a decade ago, with Bowers and what he unlocks for an entire offense, the term is too fitting to not use.

Why Brock Bowers is worthy of the hype

Bowers does not have the stereotypical build for an NFL tight end, measuring at 6 feet, 3 1/8 inches and 243 pounds at the combine (though with a 32 3/4-inch arm length that helps ease some concerns), but once you move past the initial shock and expectations of what you would typically picture with an elite tight end prospect and instead picture an elite football player, it takes only a couple of plays to see exactly why Bowers is so highly regarded:

The thing that stands out the most when watching Bowers is how he got the ball seemingly all over the field and in every type of way. And it seemed like that because that was exactly how Bowers was used in Athens.

Only 44.7% of Bowers’ snaps were from what PFF categorizes as a tight end alignment, which would rank 168th out of 191 qualifying college tight ends, and far lower than other prospects who were categorized as “receiving-first” when entering the NFL. Kyles Pitts aligned as a tight end on 62.9% of his snaps, Dalton Kincaid on 64.5% at Utah and Sam LaPorta on 67% at Iowa (which makes sense given the Hawkeyes’ recent offensive philosophy of 1 yard and a cloud of dust).

This can seem like a negative stat, and it would be for some prospects, but when watching Bowers and his role in the Georgia offense, it’s more indicative of Bowers’ versatility, athleticism, skill and ability as a pure football player and Georgia’s general reliance on his ability to win from anywhere. Bowers is listed as a tight end and can align there, but he also can line up outside, in the slot, as a wing or even as a rusher in jet motion (he rushed for 193 yards and five touchdowns in college).

Bowers isn’t so much a tight end as an oversized slot player (818 of his snaps came from the slot during his college career, second-most among the 191 qualifying tight ends since 2019) and he is a true mismatch for the poor linebackers and safeties stuck guarding him:

In the NFL, you are what defenses treat you as. If you are an undersized tight end who can’t hang as a blocker, then defenses will simply trot out more defensive backs as a natural answer to create a personnel advantage over the offense. It is incredibly important that Bowers showed that he can consistently beat defensive backs from the slot or when aligned outside, because NFL defensive coordinators aren’t going to let him pick on linebackers over the middle over and over again and will make him beat safeties and cornerbacks in man coverage. Winning against defensive backs will open up a Cheesecake Factory-like menu of options for a play-caller on how to use Bowers and also causes even more headaches for defensive coordinators.

If defenses want to match with bigger bodies, then they open up mismatches all over the field for Bowers and by extension his teammates. Bowers is too good of a route runner for most linebackers and safeties (not to mention stronger than most safeties, too). He will likely hover around 240 pounds as an NFL player, but he moves like a player 40 pounds lighter while still playing with toughness and physicality, often able to run through arm tackles and turn on the jets to pick up a first down in what seems like a negative play.

Bowers averaged 8.5 yards after the catch during his college career, which ranks second among qualifying tight ends since 2019 and 27th if you included wide receivers. Bowers’ average yards after the catch was higher than any of this year’s consensus top three wide receivers in Marvin Harrison Jr. (5.1), Rome Odunze (5.2) and Malik Nabers (6.6), while also registering an explosive reception on 5.9% of his routes, which ranked third among tight ends since 2019. At least once or twice a game, Georgia would dial up true receiver screens for Bowers, and he was constantly effective on the plays.

That speed, body control and burst shows up in Bowers’ route running, too. He is able to stretch the seam and threaten defenses vertically, particularly on corner routes. He is also exceptional in being able to quickly work in and out of route breaks and snapping his head and shoulders back to the quarterback and football. That standout body control constantly shows up with his route running; Bowers is able to stem and feign on his routes, leaving defenders off-balance and doing it all while not losing speed. Then to cap it off, Bowers consistently can adjust for throws away from his body while still being able to create yards after the catch in one fluid motion.

It’s an impressive combination of power, speed and grace.

Things Brock Bowers can improve upon

As a blocker, Bowers is willing to scrap against larger bodies, and actually does an adequate job at the point of attack against edge defenders. He has good initial technique and strike, but will lose late because of a lack of overwhelming length and size that will only get harder against NFL defenders. Blocking in-line will not, and should not, be a large part of Bowers’ game at the next level, but it is one aspect where he is not an outright positive contributor. He’s not a bad blocker, in fact he’s a solid one, it’s just that he has natural size limitations to be an overwhelming player in that area, and the fact that he’s so competitive in the area speaks to the overall glass-eating nature of his game that stands in stark contrast to his 1980s Phil Collins looks.

When not in-line and at the point of attack, Bowers is best blocking on the move on run concepts like counters, where he can block off-ball linebackers and use his athleticism instead of relying on length or lower-body power. And when he is not the recipient of a screen pass (again, he’s great on them), he is a plus-blocker against defensive backs in space, often driving them clear out of the way and creating a better lane for his teammate.

The only negative that did crop up with Bowers was that he would at times be inconsistent when coming away with throws through contact, especially when the target is at his body. Bowers has good hands and I do want to reiterate his catching range and ability to contort for throws in every direction, but he can be affected at the catch point every once in a while.

Draft the player, not the position

When looking at the whole package of what Bowers brings to the table, it’s obvious that he’s a needle mover, but it has to be emphasized the type of player he is and not just the position label before his name. Again, if you look at Bowers more like a power slot, a true adjustor-type player that can move wherever he can do the most damage (or help his team out the most), then it’s very easy to appreciate him and see how he can be quickly effective at the next level.

NFL offensive play-callers have expanded their minds with how they use these types of tight ends, especially in the run game. Teams, or at least the good ones, are focusing on getting their best five skill players out there and figuring it out from there. Tight ends that aren’t true “Y” in-line players are not dinged as heavily. Is it preferred? Absolutely! That is still the ideal type of player if you’re looking at a traditional tight end. But teams are fine as long as that player is a true difference-making pass catcher, and they’ll figure out how to use them as blockers later.

Even looking at last year’s draft selections and how the Bills used Kincaid and the Lions used LaPorta, those size blemishes and blocking concerns can be waved away more in today’s NFL. It’s something I’ve written about before, but NFL offenses are getting more and more creative with how they use their skill players (or don’t use them) as blockers in the run game, swapping assignments between linemen and tight ends or wide receivers to create more advantageous matchups and angles. (Why have our undersized tight end block an edge defender when we can just have him climb to the smaller linebacker and have the pulling lineman handle the 270 pounder?)

I have Bowers graded as a top-five player in this class. His movement ability and skill set have a clear path toward becoming a difference-maker at the next level, and his ability to attack all three levels from any position on the field opens up so much for an offense, even if it’s not always in a traditional way. I would be surprised if he went that high, and understand some teams might squint at his ideal fit, but I think the point of Brock Bowers is that he’s good enough to worry about the fit later. Just take the player.

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