Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Bucs draft Ko Kieft: Blocking TE says ‘I’ll get down and dirty with the worst of them’


By Greg Auman

Apr 30, 2022


The Bucs picked up a second tight end on Saturday, sending two seventh-round picks to the Jaguars for a late sixth-round pick used to draft Ko Kieft, a tight end from Minnesota.

Kieft, who had just 12 catches in his college career, is unapologetically not a pass-catching tight end. “I’ll get down and dirty with the worst of them,” he said when asked if he embraces being a block-first tight end.

Kieft — pronounced to rhyme with “beefed” — is the Bucs’ third draft pick from Minnesota in three drafts, following safety Antoine Winfield and receiver Tyler Johnson in 2020. Sporting a thick red beard as he spoke to reporters via video conference call, Kieft talked about his “indescribable” excitement to not only be drafted, but to a team that has Tom Brady at quarterback and Super Bowl aspirations.

Big board ranking: Kieft was decidedly not a consensus draft pick — The Athletic’s Dane Brugler had him among the 1,600 prospects in his exhaustive draft preview, but just barely. At tight end, Brugler gave draftable grades and “priority free agent” grades to 30 tight ends, and he ranked Kieft as the No. 60 tight end in this class.

Introduction: The Bucs started the day Saturday with just two tight ends on roster, and they’ve doubled that by taking Washington’s Cade Otton in the fourth round and then Kieft in the sixth. They still very well get the best of them back if Rob Gronkowski decides to return for another season, but this helps them insulate against that decision with improved depth. If Otton is more of a combination tight end who can catch and block, then Kieft is the more physical, block-first type, something the Bucs could use as they want to assert themselves more in the run game and especially in short yardage.

How he fits: Kieft isn’t a lock to make the Bucs’ 53-man roster — will they keep four tight ends or only three? The only givens now are veteran Cam Brate and Otton, but Kieft will have a chance to compete with Codey McElroy for the next spot, or convince the Bucs to carry four on the roster if they get Gronkowski back. Kieft can help his chances by finding work as a blocker in the return game and on coverage units, something former first-round pick O.J. Howard wasn’t asked to do with the Bucs.

Second guess? Giving up two seventh-round picks just means giving up two long shots ahead of the signing of undrafted rookies. The Bucs have so much talent back from last year that this is a difficult roster to crack as a low-round pick. Tight end is a position Tampa Bay has neglected in recent drafts, but if Kieft can carve out a role for himself, he has all the right attitude and demeanor and intensity they want from their players.

Rookie impact: The initial challenge will just be making the cut — convincing the Bucs to carry a fourth tight end if Gronkowski returns, and being able to outlast any veterans they sign ahead of the start of training camp. Low-round picks haven’t had a great success rate under Jason Licht, with receiver Scotty Miller perhaps the best success story in recent years. If he can make the cut and find a role as a key blocker, he can do what Antony Auclair did from 2017-20, sticking around despite having only 10 catches in four years.

Depth-chart impact: The tight end depth chart was only two-deep before Saturday. Kieft is primary blocker, while Gronkowski is an all-around talent and Brate more of a pass catcher. Otton is also coming back from an ankle injury, though he’s expected to be healthy in time for training camp.

Fast evaluation: Bucs fans will like Kieft’s personality — a quick Google images search shows him with blood coming out of his nose in a postgame photo. Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck is a former Bucs assistant and an intense one at that, and the Gophers have a strong presence in the Bucs locker room. Getting the tight end room a little younger and a little meaner is a good thing, especially as the team seeks more offensive balance and an improved run game to ease the burden on Brady.

(Photo of Ko Kieft  scoring on a 42-yard catch-and-run against Iowa: Jeffrey Becker / USA Today) 

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