2018 NFL Draft: Miami Hurricanes TE Chris Herndon has big upside

Chris Herndon has a big upside if he makes it all the way back from his knee injury. (Andres Leiva/The Post)

Chris Herndon refused to consider that a season-ending knee injury his senior year at the University of Miami would derail his dreams. He’s been fighting his way back from it for months, and as the NFL Draft nears, it looks like he’s in the mix to be picked.

He’s probably one of the top 10 tight ends in this year’s class despite not getting the chance to finish last season and having to rehabilitate his MCL. While most players have spent the last few months training and trying to climb draft boards, Herndon’s knee has limited what he’s able to do.

“It started by letting it heal from the surgery and then finally getting into some therapy and lifts, then some cardio and getting on the field,” he said. “I started jogging and running as fast as I possibly can (in late February) and practicing cutting as well. I feel like I’m coming along pretty well.”

He was close, but not quite full-go at Miami’s pro day last week. Nonetheless, many teams are intrigued by how Herndon progressed with the Hurricanes, increasing his catches, yards and touchdowns every year.

He met with more NFL representatives at the combine than he could recall, including the Dolphins, and looks like he could be a mid-round pick.

“I met with one of their scouts and he told me he liked my game,” Herndon said. “He talked to my coaches and he heard good things, like I’m a hardworking person and very focused. They like me.”

The Dolphins are familiar with him since he played most of his games in their stadium and they could be on the lookout for multiple tight ends in this year’s draft. It’s arguably their thinnest position depth-wise this offseason.

At present, Miami will be counting on A.J. Derby as its starter, which is a role he’s never held full-time. Since being drafted in the sixth-round in 2015, he’s been on three teams and started four games.

Behind him, the Dolphins have veteran MarQueis Gray and seldom-used backup Thomas Duarte. Gray had one catch last season. Duarte hasn’t dressed for a game since his debut in 2016.

That’s why it would make sense for the team to look for more than one this year. The Dolphins have never drafted a tight end in the first round and haven’t picked one higher than the fourth round since 2012, but that’s likely to change this year.

Miami could target Hayden Hurst or Dallas Goedert if one of them slides to the second round and is available at No. 42. There’s a decent crop of tight ends in the second tier, then there are some later options like Herndon.

He’s 6-foot-4, 253 pounds and was described by coach Mark Richt as “a warrior for us” and an easy player to coach.

“He’s going to have a really wonderful NFL career,” Richt told reporters when Herndon got hurt. “He’s been a mainstay in this offense the last two years that I’ve been here. And this year, especially, he’s been getting the lion’s share of all the reps of when the tight end’s in the game.”

Herndon capitalized on that opportunity from Richt by catching 40 passes for 477 yards and four touchdowns, making a big jump from playing behind first-round pick David Njoku in 2016. Those aren’t amazing numbers, but his overall athleticism suggests there’s a higher ceiling for Herndon at the next level as he develops.

He’s a solid blocker, too, which is something he’s emphasized in his pre-draft training in Tampa. Herndon said he’s been studying video of plays in which he got beat and has worked on corrections. He’s also been doing a lot of upper body workouts because of his knee injury.

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