From now until the 2022 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents. Today, I’ll be profiling a tight end prospect that I got to know well as a rival in high school and has since made himself into one of the best blocking tight ends in the country.
#42 Ko Kieft, TE, Minnesota (R-Sr.) – 6043, 259 lbs.
|Player||Ht/Wt||Hand Size||Arm Length||Wingspan|
|Ko Kieft||6043/259||9 1/2″||33”||79 3/4″|
|40-Yard Dash||10-Yard Dash||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
|Broad Jump||Vertical||Bench Press|
— Has good size and acceptable length on a filled-out frame
— Plays with strength and power both as a blocker as well as a receiver
— Has become one of the better blocking TEs in the country when it comes to imposing his will on defenders
— Aggressive at the point of attack as a blocker, looking to run through the opposition’s face and put them into the ground
— Plays with a motor and will attempt to maintain his block to and through the whistle
— Has experience lining up in-line, at the H-back position, offset in the backfield, and occasionally in the slot
— Will come in motion to lead up the hole as a blocker or will pull on occasion to take out defenders that don’t see him coming
— Can climb to the second level to pick off LBs and safeties
— Does a good job down blocking on the LOS and can reach block his opposition
— Has a good punch on contact, getting a good fit with his hands and continues to run his feet on contact
— Has experience on special teams units and can be a key contributor on kick and punt coverage as well as on return units at the next level
— Below-average when it comes to long speed or sudden quickness
— Has very minimal production as a receiver at the college level
— Struggles to generate separation as a route runner against man coverage and was often subbed out for other options in the passing game
— Needs to do a better job landing his punch on his blocks in the run game rather than simply dropping his shoulder into defenders who can fall off the block
— Ends up on the ground a little more than you’d like to see for a player of his strength and power
— Can be more intentional attacking the outside shoulder and punching through when attempting to reach block a defender to seal off the edge, having his arms and legs work together in unison
— Lacks the movement skills to serve as a primary passing game target with only 12 catches in five seasons
— Hasn’t had enough exposure in the passing game, but hands need to be vetted as a possession receiver in the short and intermediate portions of the field
— Redshirt Senior prospect from Sioux Center, IA
— Played LB and QB in high school and was ranked as a three-star prospect in the 2016 recruiting class and the #2 ATH in the state of Iowa
— Multi-sport athlete who also lettered in baseball, track, and wrestling
— Redshirted his first season on campus in 2016
— Appeared in 12 games in 2017, playing mostly special teams but also saw some action at TE after making the position switch in high school, catching two passes for 17 yards
— Played in all 13 games and started three in 2018, catching one pass for 19 yards and caught a two-point conversion pass while starring as a plus-blocker for the Gophers run game
— Played in 12 games in 2019, but failed to haul in a pass during the season while being utilized as a run blocker/pass protector on most occasions
— Played in four games in what would be a pandemic-shortened season in 2020 where he caught two passes for 29 yards and one touchdown
— Started all 13 games in 2021 after returning as a redshirt senior and caught seven passes for 101 yards and one touchdown
— Kinesiology Major
— Nominated a team captain in 2021 by his teammates
A native of Sioux Center, Iowa, I personally had the pleasure of playing against Kieft in high school as a county rival at Boyden-Hull Rock Valley. Kieft played QB and LB for the Warriors, presenting quite the challenge to bring down in the pocket as a pass rusher given his large, strong frame. While he was a successful offensive player, Kieft was equally, if not more impressive on defense, being known as a hard hitter that loved contact and knocked me around several times when I was tasked with picking him up on the kick return unit, running full speed on kickoff with the intention to light you up.
Minnesota TE Ko Kieft isn’t often brought up among the other notable names in this year’s draft class at the TE position, and part of that must go with the role he was asked to play in the Gophers offense. Going back to my statement earlier of Kieft being a hard hitter, the coaching staff ended up deciding to place Kieft at TE given his size (6’4 3/8”, 259lb) and his strength. He quickly became a dominant run blocker for Minnesota’s run-heavy offensive system, and now is recognized as one of the best run-blocking TEs in the country.
As you can see from the clip above, Kieft is aggressive at the point of attack, seeking out contact and will run his legs to and through the whistle. He brings nasty intentions as a blocker as he looks to humiliate his competition and put them into the ground any chance he can get. Take a look at this play Kieft makes against Ohio State as he picks up the defender walking down to the LOS, makes contact with him, and proceeds to run him across the field and plants him into the turf far away from the play.
Kieft does a great job running his feet on contact as a blocker and can climb to the second level as an in-line or off set TE to pick up linebackers or safeties to spring the tailback loose. Check out this play against Wisconsin where Kieft helps chip on the DL for the tackle as he climbs to #57 Jack Sanborn, forklifting him into the air off his feet and drives him back a good five yards before finishing him to the ground.
Kieft also makes an effective down blocker when the offense needs to wash defenders down the LOS to clear running lanes on the outside. He has the requisite strength and effort to displace defenders off the spot like on this play against the Cornhuskers, taking the LB on the edge and burying him into the ground to spring the back into the second level of the defense for a long TD run.
Kieft is also dangerous on the move as a blocker when coming on a pull to the opposite side of the field or on the motion. He brings momentum and unleash big shots on defenders who aren’t prepared for contact. Watch this play where Kieft lines up as the H-back on the right side of the formation then comes across the line to lead up the hole as he locates the defender in the gap and attacks him low, getting his hands inside and runs his feet on contact, using his wrestling background to topple him over and pancakes him into the ground for the takedown.
Here’s another play of Kieft coming in-motion across the LOS to pick up the blitzer coming free off the edge, running full-speed into him and makes a collision like that of a high-speed car crash that puts the defender on his butt and gives me flashbacks of attempting to block him on kickoff all those years ago.
Now as gifted as a blocker as Kieft is, he does has some tendencies he can fix to really excel at the next level in the run game. He often likes to lead in with his shoulder rather than establishing contact with his punch first, thus leading to potential whiffs. He also ends up on the ground a little more than you would like to see given his size and strength profile, and that can be due to not breaking down to square up his target rather than running full speed into him.
Here is an example of both against Maryland where Kieft comes in-motion prior to the snap to kick out the edge rusher who sees him coming and drops his hips and shoulders to absorb Kieft’s block attempt, shedding him to the side as he falls off the block to pursue the ballcarrier. To Kieft’s credit, he does manage to stall the defender enough to spring the runner to the outside, but should he come to balance as a blocker, he likely withstands the contact and lays a better block while managing to stay upright after initial contact.
The big knock on Kieft as anyone could point out is the overall lack of pass game production during his five seasons in Minnesota. With only 12 career receptions to his name, Kieft hasn’t shown us much in terms of being a viable pass game option. It’s not that he is incapable, but rather that the tape and athletic skill set doesn’t suggest he is a guy that will excel at getting open in man coverage against NFL-caliber linebackers and defensive backs. Still, he does provide some use in the passing game like on this great play action fake dive pass against our home state Iowa Hawkeyes where Kieft fakes the block and then uncovers to get the wide-open TD catch and run.
Overall, Ko Kieft is what scouts would call a “throwback” TE, being that glass-eating, nasty mauler in the run game that looks to impose his will on you as a blocker, plant you into the ground, and let you hear about it afterwards. Minnesota HC P.J. Fleck called Kieft “one of the toughest players I’ve ever coached” and graded out as one of three TE prospects in this draft class with an 80.0 or better run blocking and pass catching grade via Pro Football Focus. Granted, the receiving grade is skewed due to a limited sample size, and while that could change in the league, Kieft likely will have to cut his teeth as a primary run-blocking TE that will see minimal pass-catching work.
A player comparison I immediately thought of when watch Kieft is former Buffalo Bills TE Lee Smith who came out of Marshall University in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL Draft. After not making the roster with the Patriots, Smith signed with the Bills where he became the #3 TE on the depth chart and was used in heavy sets as a blocker while seeing occasional work in the passing game. Given the near-identical frames, play styles, and roles on offense, I could see Kieft’s career mimicking that of Smith’s who just recently retired this January after playing ten seasons in the NFL.
Kieft will have to cut his teeth as a special teams ace and showcased his dominance as a blocker to make an active roster, whether that be as a draft pick or UDFA. Given the need for blocking TEs and core special teamer at the backend of a roster, Kieft has a legit chance to be selected near the end of the draft for a team looking to utilize his skill set.
In terms of the Pittsburgh Steelers having interest in Kieft, he was recently featured in Alex Kozora’s latest mock draft in the seventh round, and figuratively could usurp Kevin Radar’s role on the roster. If the team wishes to continue to improve the run game and Kieft is on the board near the end of the draft in April, he is a name that Pittsburgh should strongly consider.
Projection: Late Day Three
Depot Draft Grade: 6.4 – End of Roster/Practice Squad (6th Round)
Games Watched: vs Maryland (2021), at Iowa (2021), at Purdue (2021)