Top Five 2019 NFL Draft Prospects- Tight End
These guys will be asked to be blockers in the run game and reliable pass catchers for quarterbacks. Today I rank the top five tight end prospects for the upcoming NFL Draft.
1. TJ Hockenson- Iowa
Bio: After redshirting to grow into the proper tight end frame, TJ Hockenson flourished in the Hawkeyes two tight end offense alongside Noah Fant. While sharing snaps with Fant, he still managed to lead the team with 49 catches for 760 yards and six touchdowns while being named the John Mackey Award recipient as the nation's top tight end.
Strengths: Athletic and competitive. Accelerates upfield from the seam to gain separation. Long strides into one step cuts to get open underneath on short routes. Smooth and fast on the second and third levels. Runs ideal, smooth routes and packs tight coverage. Gears up out of breaks to space out from defenders. Smart use of his body to shield passes. Able to generate separation late and secure with glue fingers. Above average catch radius and tucks the ball away through contact. Gets a solid first punch and drives through contact when blocking. Sustains and finishes blocks when he's locked in.
Weaknesses: Slender frame could use additional muscle mass. Needs to learn to work away from zone defenders to help quarterback. Mistimes high point passes occasionally. Over anxious as a run blocker. Over steps early to lose block leverage. Comes in too fast to set up blocks on the second level. Needs better awareness and must alter to defenders in motion. Can struggle to hold his anchor in pass protection.
Pro Comparison: George Kittle
Projected Round: 1
Possible Landing Spot: Tennessee Titans
2. Irv Smith- Alabama
Bio: After playing as a reserve behind future first round pick OJ Howard, Irv Smith had more of a role in Alabama's title winning 2017 season, starting four of 14 games played and catching 14 balls for 128 yards and three scores. As a junior, he caught 44 passes for 710 yards and seven touchdowns and was named second-team All-SEC.
Strengths: Solid handwork as a run blocker. Good footwork to latch on and secure the edge. Smooth and melodic with his timing to get to second level blocks. Can be an effective lead blocker as a fullback or H-back. Speed to make defenders struggle up the seam or downfield. Too much for a linebacker to handle in man coverage. Extensive route tree took him all across the field. Strong running in his routes through contact. Well built target for the middle of the field. Can make coverage freeze out of his breaks. Strong hands to secure contested balls. Good elevation to go up and get high throws. Drags tacklers for additional yardage after the catch. His father, Irv Smith Sr, was a first round pick by the Saints in 1993.
Weaknesses: Needs more muscle mass and upper body strength in order to block for the NFL. Inconsistent effort as a blocker at times. Can overstep his man in run blocking. Faster play speed is needed more consistently. Rounded routes allow quick defenders to make a break for the pass. Feet are heavy running into breaks, causing a delay in route timing. Never works back to the ball. Not a natural pass catcher and occasionally bobbles initial try. Slows down too much to locate the ball in the air. Lacks short area dexterity for quick catch and runs.
Pro Comparison: Evan Engram
Projected Round: 1-2
Possible Landing Spot: Houston Texans
3. Noah Fant- Iowa
Bio: After being used as a reserve as a true freshman, Noah Fant earned third-team All-Big Ten accolades after catching 30 passes for 494 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2017. As a junior, he garnered first-team All-Big Ten and third-team All-American honors by recording 39 receptions for 519 yards and seven scores.
Strengths: Ultra athlete who excelled at basketball and track. Bursts off the snap and up the seam. Initial acceleration gains immediate separation. Runs with long, smooth strides downfield. Has speed and skill to work all levels of the field. Averaged a touchdown about every four catches at Iowa. Elite jumper with a phenomenal catch radius. Gets down and scoops up low passes. Speed to get open and take off after the catch. Matchup nightmare inside the 20. Able to stand his ground as a blocker. Well placed hands to get into defenders frame.
Weaknesses: Slim build below the waist. Lacks mettle and play strength at the point of attack. Has to compete better on backside blocks. Affected too easily by contact through routes. Must learn to adjust routes and fight for openings. Allows off man defenders to see the play with lackluster routes. Must use better body control to generate more catch space. Senses incoming defenders which leads to focus drops. Slow to turn and find the ball on under thrown passes. Inconsistent at finding the while in zone coverage.
Pro Comparison: Eric Ebron
Projected Round: 2
Possible Landing Spot: Oakland Raiders
4. Kaden Smith- Stanford
Bio: After redshirting in 2016, Kaden Smith played in 14 games as a key reserve registering 23 catches for 414 yards and five touchdowns. He had a productive junior year catching 47 passes for 637 yards and two scores.
Strengths: Above average NFL size. Inline blocking experience in pro style running game schemes. Strong and brave enough to sustain blocks. Above average hand strength. Able to drop and loosen hips to gain leverage. Runs feet through contact on down blocks. Has strength and size to neutralize linebackers on the edge. Extremely physical at the top of routes. Able to sustain catches through contact. Knows how to force through breaking routes. Quickly makes himself catch ready.
Weaknesses: Release quickness into routes is just average. Struggles to get free from athletic linebackers. Needs sharper cuts and breaks into his routes. Coasts too much through routes allowing defenders to close in. Jams through his route slows down his progress. Has to learn to keep base wide through contact. Wide hands get loose on frame of defender when run blocking. Loses track of his blocking assignment on inside stunts. Missed the final three games of 2018 with a foot injury.
Pro Comparison: Kyle Rudolph
Projected Round: 2-3
Possible Landing Spot: Green Bay Packers
5. Caleb Wilson- UCLA
Bio: After initially committing to play quarterback at Old Dominion, Caleb Wilson decided to redshirt and walk on at USC where his father coached to play tight end. After his father left to coach in the NFL, he transferred to UCLA after they offered a scholarship. By his junior season, he recorded 60 receptions for 965 yards and four touchdowns while being named first-team All-Pac-12.
Strengths: Great athleticism, played quarterback and wide receiver in high school. Heavily targeted with high catch total for a college tight end. Can work the seams and deep routes. Super long arms to pluck balls out of the air. Impressive skill to adjust and catch low balls for a taller receiver. Good acceleration to catch and take off if he is hit in stride. Determined runner after the catch. Has the footwork to mirror and hold blocks from the slot. Son of Philadelphia Eagles defensive line coach Chris Wilson
Weaknesses: Tweener build which lacks functional muscle mass. Runs routes with low knees and constricted strides. Lacks early play speed. Plays too tall to smoothly get out of breaks. Easily bounced around by contact through routes. Separation quickness out of cuts is underwhelming. Hand-eye coordination as a receiver is less than ideal. Shoulder grabber as a blocker rather than getting into the frame of assignment. Lacks strength to sustain inline blocks for the pro game.
Pro Comparison: Bucky Hodges
Projected Round: 2-3
Possible Landing Spot: New England Patriots
Other Notable Prospects
Kahale Warring- San Diego State
- Exciting physical traits, mechanics must improve as a blocker
Dawson Knox- Mississippi
- Phenomenal measurables, very raw
Alize Mack- Notre Dame
- Great speed for the position, lacks physicality
Drew Sample- Washington
- NFL size, limited just a blocker
Jace Sternberger- Texas A&M
- Receiving skills are great, blocking in space must improve.