Nebraska was left to look for a final tight end in its 2017 class following the decommitment of Reese Leitao, but the Huskers have filled the open position with Kurt Rafdal. Rafdal had been committed to Indiana since Oct. 13, but decommitted after Indiana tight ends coach James Patton was relieved of his duties by new Hoosiers coach Tom Allen.
As a senior, Rafdal earned first team all-state honors while leading Carmel High School to a 10-4 record and the Indiana Class 6A state championship. Rafdal is listed as a 3-star recruit with an 85.8 rating on Hail Varsity’s composite ranking.
Who Else Was Interested
Rafdal finished his recruitment with 19 FBS offers. Nebraska actually made its first push for Rafdal over the summer, hosting the talented tight end prospect on June 19. Nebraska eventually backed off of Rafdal after receiving commitments from Austin Allen and Reese Leitao. Following the Leitao decommitment, Nebraska re-established the connection with Rafdal and got right back into the mix following the Indiana coaching change. Rafdal ended up choosing Nebraska over Iowa and a late charging LSU.
Rafdal measures in at 6-7 and 230 pounds. Rafdal has the frame that a tight end coach dreams of, as he has long arms and legs and plenty of room to fill out. When Rafdal is finished filling out, I would expect him to measure in at 6-7 and at least 255 pounds.
His polish as a route runner: Carmel utilized a pass-heavy scheme that used Rafdal in several ways. Looking at film, Rafdal can be seen running routes out of three different positions: in-line tight end, split out and out of the backfield. No matter what area Rafdal ran his route from, he shows that he is fundamentally sound as a route runner and is able to get consistent separation despite not possessing elite speed. Rafdal also does a solid job of getting up field immediately after the catch instead of dancing around and wasting motion. This skill will make Rafdal a valuable check down option in Nebraska’s offense, as he can quickly become a safety blanket option with Tanner Lee or Patrick O’Brien.
His hands/catch radius: Rafdal has an absolutely massive catch radius, as he is able to reach passes that most receivers can’t due to his long arms. Rafdal also displays solid fundamentals as a pass catcher, as he attacks passes in the air with his hands instead of allowing the ball to get into his chest and attempt to body catch. Once again, these skills will make him a valuable piece to the Nebraska offense andbe able to serve as a consistent target that can move the chains and keep Nebraska on schedule in the passing game.
His run blocking effort: Rafdal is by no means a dominant run blocker, but he shows tremendous effort and solid technique in that area of his game. Rafdal is often used as a move blocker, meaning he is put into motion prior to the snap and then used to seal off the edge. He is solid in this area as he enters contact with full force and drives his feet on contact. He still needs to clean up his pad level and hand placement, but the effort and want-to is already there.
His red zone potential: Receivers that measure in at 6-7 that also have great hands don’t grow on trees, meaning that Danny Langsdorf has a unique new toy to play with in his offense. Rafdal is a very good receiver between the 20s, but he becomes a great receiver in the red zone, where he can use his size, hands and competitiveness to outcompete defenders for the football. Nebraska struggled mightily in the red zone this season, ranking 91st in red zone efficiency. Rafdal can help improve that by serving as a matchup nightmare in the red zone.
His speed/agility: Rafdal is never going to be the fastest guy in the world, but he does need to work on improving his straight line speed and open field agility to continue to be effective at the college level. Rafdal is a little too stiff as a route runner for my liking, making him an easy cover for collegiate defenders. He will really need to work on loosening up his hips and quickening his feet if he wants to continue to get open in college like he did at the high school level.
His run blocking technique: I’ve already stated that I liked Rafdal’s effort as a run blocker, but I believe he still has some work to do in order to improve his technique. Right now Rafdal is an all or nothing blocker; either he is going to rock his defender and drive them backward or he is going to miss entirely and allow the defender to get involved in the play. He needs to work on staying under control when entering contact and correcting his hand placement in order to be a consistently effective run blocker at the collegiate level.
Adding weight to his frame: Rafdal simply needs to add more weight and strength to his frame in order to be consistently effective at the Big Ten level. Ideally, Rafdal would take a redshirt season and spend the year adding weight and strength, but Nebraska’s lack of proven contributors at tight end will likely force the Huskers to put him onto the field as a true freshman. Regardless, Rafdal will need to add at least 15 pounds before I think he can stay healthy and effective over a full season as a tight end in the Big Ten.
In the NFL and NBA drafts there are players that are labeled as safe picks, meaning that they are very likely to be solid contributors even if they aren’t stars. That description actually fits Rafdal very well, as he is a very low-risk signee for the Huskers. Rafdal is a very polished receiver from his time at Carmel with physical gifts that you simply can’t teach. Those two things will make him a welcome addition to Nebraska’s offense, which has desperately needed a consistent receiving option from the tight end position.
The main question for Rafdal is if he can bulk up and improve his run blocking. If Rafdal can do that, then he will be a very solid piece of the Nebraska offense over the next four years. Also, points to Nebraska for swiping Indiana’s top offensive commit in the class and adding them to its own.
College Comparison: Taller version of Louisville tight end Cole Hikutini
Pro Comparison: Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James