It appears that Kyle Rudolph will be joined by at least one familiar face in the New York Giants‘ tight end room this summer when training camp kicks off. The team recently announced the signing of Cole Hikutini alongside defensive backs Joshua Kalu and Chris Milton. The former is a 6-foot-4-inch, 240-pound tight end spent the 2018 season working under Rudolph as a member of the Minnesota Vikings practice squad.
An undrafted free agent out of Louisville, Hikutini originally latched on with his hometown San Francisco 49ers in 2017. He went on to appear in four games during his rookie season with the Niners, hauling in two of his four targets for 15 yards receiving. The 26-year-old has not appeared in a regular-season game since. However, he has spent the past two seasons with one of Big Blue’s most vaunted rivals, occupying the practice squad of the Dallas Cowboys.
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Hikutini Was Lamar Jackson’s Leading Receiver in Heisman Season
While Hikutini’s NFL career has yet to take off, he has flashed some pretty serious receiving skills in the past, most notably as a senior at Louisville. Back in 2016, while catching passes from Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, Hikutini hauled in a team-leading 50 receptions for 668 receiving yards (second on the team). His eight touchdowns on the year also led all Cardinals pass catchers.
As you could expect, Hikutini’s production led many to project the tight end as a likely draft pick. However, a knee injury sustained in the team’s Citrus Bowl defeat at the hands of the LSU Tigers ended his hopes of hearing his name called on draft day. His decision to run the 40-yard dash at Louisville’s pro day, despite not being 100%, also likely didn’t help. Hikutini informed reporters that he had just started practicing his 40-yard dashes the week prior to the event after spending the past handful of months rehabbing from his injury, via Courier Journal.
While unofficial times of 4.78 and 4.81 might have been passable for more well-rounded players, they weren’t quite tantalizing enough for a limited pass-blocker such as Hikutini to rebuild his draft stock.
Hikutini Joins a Loaded Tight End Group
To say Hikutini will have an uphill battle to latch on to a roster spot would be an understatement. The Giants currently have a plethora of bodies and well-established veterans at the position.
We’ve already hit on the addition of Kyle Rudolph, one of the more complete tight ends in all of football. Rudolph will team up with Pro Bowler Evan Engram — who despite his lapses — will give the Giants one of the league’s better one-two punches at the position. The Giants also opted to restructure Levine Toilolo’s contract, ensuring that he will return to East Rutherford for a second season. Toilolo, a former fourth-round pick, played 27% of the team’s offensive snaps in 2020, most of which came as a run blocker.
There’s also Kaden Smith, a player who has seen his perceived value take a hit over the past eight months or so. Hauling in three receiving touchdowns over the final six games of 2019, Smith’s play made many peg him as the heir apparent at the position and potentially worthy of making Engram expendable. Yet, now it appears that it is Smith who may ultimately be expendable.
With Engram, Rudolph and Toilolo all manning defined roles on the roster, Smith — who recorded just 18 receptions on 21 targets in 2020 — may very well be the odd man out come this summer.
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