One position on the Chargers depth chart that is a bit up in the air is tight end. With Antonio gates currently unsigned, but likely able to be brought back in a pinch, Los Angeles doesn’t have much depth behind Hunter Henry and Virgil Green.
While those two are a more than formidable pairing, quite a few teams look to carry three bodies for depth and special teams purposes. Los Angeles didn’t address the position in the 2019 NFL Draft, but added two undrafted free agents. This could mean a competition between the two undrafted rookies and Sean Culkin for TE3 duties with the ultimate prize being a roster spot. At the very least, one of them will likely be held on to for the practice squad.
Receiving production-wise, Helm had more of it in college. Today, I’ll look at what Helm can bring to the table as a receiver, a position that has been heavily utilized with Phillip Rivers behind center.
Helm is a former 4-star recruit and was actually the #1 ranked tight end in his class according to Rivals. He committed to Tennessee, but eventually transferred due to an uneasy relationship with head coach Butch Jones. As a freshman at Tennessee, he played in all 12 games and started 2 of them, finishing with 6 receptions.
After sitting out 2015 due to NCAA transfer rules, his three year career at Duke resulted in consistent year-to-year production. Here were his receiving numbers from 2016 to 2018:
2016: 21 receptions - 235 yards - 2 touchdowns - 11.2 yards per reception
2017: 22 receptions - 261 yards - 2 touchdowns - 11.9 yards per reception
2018: 26 receptions - 271 yards - 2 touchdowns - 10.4 yards per reception
While he proved to be a serviceable player, Helm wasn’t quite the athlete that many expected him to be coming out of high school. This was magnified by his 4.89s forty-yard dash, which is good for just the 22nd percentile among tight end prospects. While his play speed is fine, his play strength is well below average.
Too often, Helm would be unable to bring force behind his punches or anchor as a blocker. His feet were mostly sound, but he would get blown off the ball with concerning regularity. To his credit, Helm showed more effectiveness on down or reach blocks, able to use a bit more agility and run his feet from advantageous angles against defensive lineman.
His lack of functional strength was reiterated by his 14 reps on the bench press at the NFL Scouting Combine, just the 5th percentile among tight ends. Also, not as much as Michael Peterson (or me in my prime).
Here are numerous examples of Helm unable to hold up as a blocker when faced with NFL-caliber oppositions:
But as far as looking at Helm’s overall game, his strength comes in the pass game. While his straight-line speed is only average, he has nice shiftiness and agility. This allows him to be a mover in space, and able to separate a bit better than your typical tight end. Add that to his 6’4 and 250 pound frame, and he becomes a very usable target.
Despite the fact that Duke chose to use Helm as more of an underneath and intermediate threat, he showed good pace and fluidity with his route breaks:
Another encouraging aspect of his game is Helm’s natural vision in space. He’ll see and process the field well, then use his agility for tight ends to avoid potential tacklers. In Duke’s game against Clemson this past season, Helm had a rep where he displayed plus ball skills and a natural transition into a ball carrier:
Helm has a nice pass-catching frame, but also maximizes it when he’s able to hold on through contact. Being a seam or middle of the field threat is only realized when the pass catcher can finish, and Helm has shown the ability to do just that.
While Helm’s tested athleticism isn’t anything to write home about, I mentioned that his play speed is a bit more promising. Part of that has to do with his crisp route breaks and body control, which can occasionally allow him to make the splash play:
If Helm is to make the 53-man roster it will be because of his receiving prowess. Los Angeles shouldn’t ask him to be more than an occasional space blocker, as that has been an area of weakness for him throughout college. However, Helm has shown enough traits to suggest that he has the potential of an all-around receiving threat in the NFL. That niche skill set is what allows backups or situational players to make active rosters, and Helm could become the latest.