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Troy Niklas On The Block

Posted May 9, 2014

Second-round tight end just learning position but "upside is scary"

Tight end Troy Niklas, at 6-foot-6, 270 pounds, should give Bruce Arians the blocker he likes at the position.

Near the end of his conference call Friday night after the Cardinals had made him their second-round draft pick, tight end Troy Niklas noted that some people had compared his game to the Steelers’ Heath Miller.

That’s the Heath Miller who Cardinals coach Bruce Arians had said at the Scouting combine in February was – from his perspective that tight ends should block first, catch second – the best tight end in the NFL.

Niklas is a long way from being another Miller. The Notre Dame product, taken 52nd overall, is exactly the kind of tight end Arians loves in an offense that frequently uses at least two at a time. The position, manned now with Niklas, free-agent signee John Carlson, 2013 mid-season signee Jake Ballard and Rob Housler, has been overhauled since Arians came to town.

“Totally upgraded for what we wanted to do,” Arians said of his tight end crew. “Obviously, we like tight ends. We use a lot of them. This is a great fit for us.”

General Manager Steve Keim acknowledged waiting for Niklas was part of a difficult second round. “Our (draft) board has been picked pretty clean,” Keim said, and Arians said the first eight picks of the second round were all players he felt could have gone in the first.

By the time the 52nd pick rolled around, Niklas had already been spied by Keim as a probable target the way the board was falling. At 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said Niklas -- nicknamed "Hercules" -- should become the best blocking tight end in the NFL at some point – provided he wants to be that.

Niklas wants to play tight end, even though he’s only done it for a couple of years. He played offensive and defensive line as a California high school star and wanted to play tight end when he got to Notre Dame. Instead, he was put at outside linebacker.

He made the best of it, but “I really felt like tight end was my natural position,” he said.

“I have a lot to learn and that’s something I didn’t hide from teams,” Niklas added. “But in a sense it’s an asset, because I haven’t been able to learn bad technique or develop bad qualities. Coach can mold me into the kind of tight end he wants me to be instead of him having to change me.”

Niklas has bloodlines. His uncle is Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews and his cousin is Falcons’ first-round pick Jake Matthews. He came out of Notre Dame a year early because he saw a thin tight end class, and Keim said Niklas is just starting to show what he can do as a tight end.

“The upside is really scary,” Keim said.

Regardless, Niklas will play immediately. “How long does it take to get on an airplane?” Arians quipped. Last season, the Cardinals began using tackle Bobby Massie as a third tight end in some running situations because they didn’t have the tight end personnel to make it work. Niklas changes that equation.

Niklas said he’s a better receiver than many give him credit for, after he had 32 receptions for 498 yards and five touchdowns last year. Arians wants to have him become a better route runner, although the coach said his tape showed a player who could catch the ball.

More importantly, Arians said “he can handle the line of scrimmage.” And that’s the kind of tight end that works for the Cardinals and Arians.

“He likes his tight ends,” Niklas said, “and that’s a good thing for me.”

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