As the 2014 season draws near, we will provide a scouting report on every individual scholarship player on the Florida State roster. Today, we continue with starting TE Nick O’Leary.
Nick O’Leary: To Date
O’Leary arrived at Florida State in 2011 as a four-star prospect from Palm Beach Gardens and was FSU’s most heralded tight end recruit since Brandon Warren (2006). O’Leary started two games and played in all thirteen games as a freshman, finishing with 12 catches for 164 yards and a touchdown. He nearly doubled that production as a sophomore in 2012, finishing with a 21-252-3 stat line. With Jameis Winston at quarterback in 2013, O’Leary flourished even more, improving to 33 catches for 557 yards (16.9 YPC) and 7 touchdowns.
Has twice crashed his motorcycle, narrowly avoiding disaster in the summer of 2013 and missing more time after a second crash in the spring of 2014. Any NFL team will want to include a motorcycle clause in his contract.
Has the speed to stretch the field against linebackers and enough size to be a significant mismatch against most safeties and offers a great deal of flexibility at the tight end position, as he can play in-line, off the line, in the backfield, and split wide.
Has strong, soft hands and consistently catches the football away from his body. Consistently comes back to the football and properly shields with his body to help provide a reliable and physical target between the hashes.
Shows excellent instincts on option routes, which FSU uses quite a bit at the tight end position. Does an especially good job using contact to get open, maintaining proper near-leg, near-shoulder technique and closing the gap between himself and the coverage player before creating separation.
Shows the ability to high point the football and is a threat in the back of the end zone in tight spaces. Has developed as a blocker since his freshman year, when he was a liability in that regard.
Room for Improvement
Still needs to improve as an in-line blocker—he did his best work when lined up off the line of scrimmage in 2013 and still has a lot to prove in this regard in 2014. Slightly undersized for the position at about 6’2.5 and 245 pounds and doesn’t appear to have especially long arms. Needs to get more physical overall in the running game, though he does have good technique when hooking the end man on the line (EMOL) in the outside zone. Sometimes gets off balance as a blocker and can get overpowered against defensive ends.
Floor/Ceiling & NFL Potential
O’Leary’s expectations at FSU are fairly well established by now. He is an interesting NFL prospect as his combination of strengths and weaknesses gives him a fairly wide draft range and a reasonably large gap between his potential floor and ceiling. Versatile pass catchers from the TE/H-Back position are in high demand at the next level, but the effectiveness of these players depends on their ability to be a threat in both the running and passing game.
O’Leary lacks the elite size of a Rob Gronkowski, doesn’t have the speed or explosiveness of a Vernon Davis, and still has to make significant improvement as an in-line blocker. The question is whether he shows enough improvement as a blocker in 2014 to convince a team that he can become the kind of versatile weapon teams covet at that position.
At this point, I’d put a third or fourth round grade on O’Leary, with the chance to slide up a round or so depending on what kind of improvement he shows as an in-line blocker in 2014. I don’t think he’ll test in the elite range at predraft workouts, so it’s unlikely he works above the latter half of the second round even with a stellar senior year.
Long-term, provided he gets more physical at the point of attack, I see O’Leary’s ceiling as a TE/H-Back in the top half of his position in the NFL for about ten years. His floor comes into play if he doesn't improve in that regard, at which point he would be a marginal NFL player who serves as a reasonable between-the-hashes target for four or five years.
Dustin Keller. A bit smaller than most elites at the position in the NFL but a solid target in the passing game with the ability to stretch the field a bit.
Outlook for 2014
I expect around 40 catches for 600 yards and 7–10 touchdowns in 2014, as his role in the passing game should expand slightly given the losses of Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw to the NFL. He should contend for All-ACC and All-American honors.