2019 Tight Ends Prospects

By John Laub
John Laub

 

 

 

   2019 Tight End Prospects

          Targeting the Tight Ends



As I sit down to complete my tight end rankings, memories of Kellen Winslow being carried off the field in the Orange Bowl flash through my head. On January 2, 1982, the Chargers' Hall of Famer put on a Herculean performance versus Miami in the AFC Divisional Playoffs with 13 catches for 166 yards and a touchdown in a game that I’ll never forget.

 

 

During my high school years, Winslow, Todd Christensen and Mark Bavaro were the gridiron luminaries at tight end who left indelible marks on the game. Over the past two decades, Antonio Gates, Jason Whitten, Tony Gonzalez and Rob Gronkowski have reigned over the position and led many fantasy diehards to league championships.

 

Now, a new crop of rookies are eager for their opportunity to make history. NFL teams and fantasy football fanatics are desperate for an influx of playmakers at the tight end position. Last year, only three tight ends (Travis Kelce, Zac Ertz and George Kittle) were difference makers on the field and in the box scores. Luckily, the Class of 2019 provides many compelling options. 

With the escalation of the multi-dimensional game-breaking tight end over the past decade, scouts and personnel offices have changed the skill-set paradigm of the position. Front offices seek the next prodigious difference maker who can govern the middle of the gridiron and defeat Cover 2 defenses down the seam. One-dimensional blockers, who are essentially sixth offensive linemen, are late-round fliers or priority free agents in the modern game. 

The demand for the position and a deep talent pool likely propels five tight ends to be selected in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft.

Excelsior Diehards!

Benchmark Stats for Draft Consideration
Receptions: 80
Yards per Reception: 13.0
Target Team Share: 15%
Breakaway Ability
40-yard Dash: 4.75
3-cone Drill: 7.10
20-yard Shuttle: 4.40

Official Pro-Day measurements will be updated as become available.

 


1. Noah Fant, Iowa
Another elite tight end from the Iowa factory. In 2018, All-Big Ten First Team, All-American Third Team and John Mackey Award semifinalist. In 2017, All-Big Ten Third Team after leading the nation in touchdowns (11) and yards per catch (16.5) among tight ends. Scored 19 career touchdowns, which are the most by a tight end in school history and third best all-time in the Big Ten. In high school, played basketball and participated in track as a sprinter as well as a triple and high jumper. At 6-foot-4 and 249 pounds, a freakish athlete and premier pass-catcher. A true junior who opened many eyes at the Combine. Among tight ends, finished first in the 40-yard dash, 3-cone drill, broad jump (127’), vertical jump (39.5’) and third in 20-yard shuttle. Ended career with over 1,000 receiving yards. Employed all over the formation: Slot, outside and H-back. Played in an up-tempo attack to create mismatches. Terrific short-area quickness and creates separation. Length, acceleration and speed to excel in the middle of the field. A solid route runner, attacks defenses down the seam and tracks the ball well. Out runs most linebackers and safeties. Strong route resume: Deep crosses, slants, fades, outs and screens. Owns natural and soft hands. Graceful in the open field and creates yards after the catch. Digs out low passes and skies for high ones. Not as big and strong as a prototypical tight end. Average blocker and relegated to bench at times: Must improve to remain on the field. A difference maker in the NFL and likely selected among the top 25 players in the Draft.
Key Career Stats
Receptions: 78
Yards per Reception: 13.9
Team Target Share: 17% (2018)
Breakaway Ability
40-yard Dash: 4.50
3-cone Drill: 6.81
20-yard Shuttle: 4.22
Draft Grade: First round

2. T.J. Hockenson, Iowa
The Hawkeye state harvests another blue chip tight end prospect. In 2018, John Mackey Award, Ozzie Newsome Award, All-American First Team (AFCA & USA Today) and Walter Camp Second Team. In 2017, Big Ten All-Freshman honorable mention. Concluded career with 1,080 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Academic All-Big Ten past two years. A redshirt sophomore with superb athleticism, size, speed and body control. At 6-foot-5 and 251 pounds, a three-down competitor: Mean-spirited run blocker, attacks secondary vertically down the seam and security blanket for a quarterback. Ultimate chess piece for an offensive coordinator: Employed as an in-line tight end, H-back, fullback and used as a “Y” receiver and flexed out wide. Smooth and natural runner who quickly gains separation at the snap. Ran a diverse array of routes: deep crossers, seam routes, delays and quick hitches. Soft hands and easily corrals passes. Tracks ball well and big catch radius. Very good technique as a blocker and latches onto opponent until the whistle. Can fit nicely into any offensive system. Third-year sophomore with a big frame, wide hips and huge legs and should be able to gain 5-10 pounds without sacrificing athleticism. Warranted comparisons to Zach Ertz. 
Key Career Stats
Receptions: 73
Yards per Reception: 14.8
Team Target Share: 17% (2018)
Breakaway Ability
40-yard Dash: 4.70
3-cone Drill: 7.02
20-yard Shuttle: 4.18
Draft Grade: First round

3. Irv Smith, Jr., Alabama
Son of former Saints’ first-round pick Irv Smith (1993), who played seven seasons in NFL. In 2018, All-SEC Second Team and All-America Second Team (AFCA). At Alabama, established single-season mark for a tight end with seven touchdowns. A home run hitter who averaged over 16 ypc., earned a first down on 28 of 44 receptions and logged over 20 yards on 11 catches. At 6-foot-2 and 242 pounds, physical competitor at the line of scrimmage and excellent pass catcher. A junior with soft hands and snatches passes cleanly. Good body control. Fluently gets in and out of cuts and crisp route runner. Impressive route resume. Commands the middle of the gridiron and runs deep patterns down the seam of the defense. Gains yards after catch in chunks. Aggressive and fierce blocker with good footwork. Good hand usage and punches opponents to move defenders. Versatile competitor who can be lined up as tight end, full back and slot receiver. Lacks ideal size and shorter arms for the position. Additional upper-body strength and body mass essential. At times, rounds out patterns and decelerates out of breaks. Only a one-year starter and needs time to grow into potential. Extremely athletic player with an enticing skill set.
Key Career Stats
Receptions: 58
Yards per Reception: 14.4 
Team Target Share: 14% (2018)
Breakaway Ability
40-yard Dash: 4.63
3-cone Drill: 7.32
20-yard Shuttle: 4.33
Draft Grade: Second round 

 

4. Jace Sternberger, Texas A&M
Decorated junior campaign in 2018: Consensus All-American First Team by many media outlets, All-SEC First Team and John Mackey Award semifinalist. In 2015, enrolled at Kansas, redshirted and saw limited action the following season. Transferred and played at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M (JUCO) in 2017. Finally, landed at College Station last year and snatched 47 passes for 804 yards and 10 touchdowns. Team Offensive MVP and Strength and Conditioning Offensive Aggie Award. Three-sport athlete in high school (basketball, track and football). At 6-foot-4 and 251 pounds, a versatile athlete with impressive physical tools. Enticing mix of blocking, catching and running abilities. Natural hands catcher. Good release off the line. Strong hands and ball skills. Adjusts to passes well. Looks and moves like a receiver up the field. Good concentration and fights, and wins, in traffic. Weapon in the middle of the gridiron. Physical and difficult to tackle in open field. Shields off defenders with frame. Robust and willing blocker. Lacks elite route running skills. A little lethargic in and out of cuts. Does not create separation at top of stem. Some wasted movement in routes. Only one season of production on resume. Added bulk required. An underrated playmaker who can aid a team in the aerial assault.
Key Career Stats
Receptions: 48
Yards per Reception: 17.3
Team Target Share: 19% (2018)
Breakaway Ability
40-yard Dash: 4.75
3-cone Drill: 7.19
20-yard Shuttle: 4.31
Draft Grade: Second round

 

 

5. Caleb Wilson, UCLA
Overlooked pass-catching prospect. In 2018, All-Pac-12 First Team, All-Pac-12 Academic honorable mention, and All-America Second Team by Sporting News and CBS Sports. Established single-season team records for a tight end with 60 catches for 965 yards. Finished as the nation's top tight end in receptions per game (5.0), receiving yards per game (80.4) and total receiving yards. Son of NFL coach and 12th round draft pick in 1992. High school teammate of Arizona QB Khalil Tate. Originally, committed to Old Dominion to play quarterback but enrolled at USC where father coached. When Dad fired, transferred to UCLA. In 2017, suffered foot injury and played in only five games: Totaled 38 catches for 490 yards and a touchdown. At 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, creates mismatches all over the gridiron: Too fast and athletic against linebackers and long and lean versus safeties. Glides off the line of scrimmage. Good spatial awareness. Identifies opening in zone coverage and settles down. Strong hands and catches pass through contact. Long arms and plays above the rim. Good high-point receiver. Very good body control and strength for frame. Light feet. Adjusts well to poorly thrown balls. Oversized wideout playing tight end. Ventures into the middle of the defense. Finesse player and upright runner. Below average run blocker and at times lunges in pass protection. Need to lower pads and punish tacklers for extra yards. An astute franchise will draft and groom the former Bruin as a professional.

Key Career Stats
Receptions: 114
Yards per Reception: 14.7
Team Target Share: 25% (2018)
Breakaway Ability
40-yard Dash: 4.56
3-cone Drill: 7.20
20-yard Shuttle: 4.40
Draft Grade: Third round

Best of the Rest
6. Kaden Smith, Stanford

7. Isaac Nauta, Georgia

8. Dax Raymond, Utah State
9. Josh Oliver, San Jose State
10. Drew Sample, Washington

With his Masters in history and professional experience as an educator, John Laub is uniquely qualified to research, analyze and discover new insights and trends in college and professional football. Laub has played fantasy football for thirty years and published articles for FootballDiehards.com for well over 20 years. He won $10,000 in 1993, defeating nearly 15,000 owners, and published Audibles: Winning is Everything in the 1990s. He is co-host of the DFSDudes and CFF: On Campus PodCasts. He truly is The Gridiron Scholar. 

Twitter: @GridironSchol91 or e-mail: Audibles@aol.com