There have been some thin tight end classes in recent years, and some top-heavy classes; this 2018 edition looks like a well-balanced group, with a lot of exciting potential in the early rounds, and decent late round talent to work with.
In addition to the ten TE prospects, there’s a bonus 11th prospect, who’s more of a hybrid H-back and running back who deserves inclusion in one of these articles! See the rest of the position articles in the series so far here.
1. Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State. Grade: 1st Round
6’5”, 256lbs. Senior. 2017: 72 rec, 1111 yards (15.4), 7 TDs. 1 rush, 3 yards.
With others in his position class taking advantage of the pre-draft events to showcase athleticism and polished work through drills, Goedert has been unable to make his case for the top tight end spot on boards the past couple months. A hamstring injury suffered early at the Senior Bowl prevented a chance to prove himself against a greater competition level and also kept him from taking part in the majority of the Combine.
He’s had positives though, measuring in taller than expected, in addition to big hands and a huge wingspan greater than some offensive tackle prospects, and led all competing tight ends on the bench with 23 reps. His film over the last few seasons remains outstanding, and regardless of the lower competition level, the skills he displays look a good bet to translate to the pros, and while opportunities against better college defenses were rare, was hugely impressive in a 2016 battle with TCU.
Goedert excels as a pass catching tight end, a dangerous playmaker and matchup nightmare who plays like a wide receiver in a tight end’s body. Lining up inline, in the backfield and from the slot, Goedert breaks out quickly into his routes, showing impressive release and acceleration off the line, as an excellent athlete for his build.
A threat not just on short to intermediate targets, but also down the seam and running deep, the former Jackrabbit has big-play ability to every level and area of the field. A sharp route runner, Goedert is outstanding in and out of his breaks, in changing direction that few linebackers will be able to handle. He runs routes over the middle of the field that are near-impossible to defend.
The hands are fantastic, clean, natural; he high-points the ball with ease. Goedert secures catches in a variety of situations, winning jump balls and contested catches, bringing in balls away from his body at full stretch, and catching on the run without breaking stride. Dangerous after the catch, he is like an over-sized running back with the ball in his hands.
While lining up inline and in the backfield, the assignments are generally to break out into a route, not being asked to block often. However, he has the frame and plays with good leverage on the occasions he does block and looks capable. Where he does impress on film is as a lead blocker down the field, playing with a bit of nasty and looking to finish and hit.
Though doing so at a lower level of competition for the most part and from an offensive scheme with plenty of spread concepts, the production is outstanding. The two-time FCS All-American had great numbers as a senior, but his junior year resulted in 92 receptions, 1293 yards and 12 total touchdowns. There are several candidates for the top prospect at the position, with not everyone sold on Goedert over others, but he is the clear number one here and a first round graded talent.
2. Mike Gesicki, Penn State. Grade: 2nd Round
6’5”, 247lbs. Senior. 2017: 57 rec, 563 yards (9.88), 9 TDs.
He was already known as a fantastic athlete; it was factored into his earlier grade, and you don’t count the Combine twice by upping his grade a great deal further for something already accounted for. That said, there’s momentum behind Gesicki following his unquestionably exceptional workout that saw him blaze through the dash and log a huge vertical jump as his highlights.
His Senior Bowl was mostly a positive week also, particularly excelling with polished moves in the red zone, an area where he’s likely to be a weapon for the team that selects him. Arguably under-utilized in the Penn State offense, it would not surprise to see Gesicki be a bigger factor in the pros, making more consistent use of his combination of length, movement and targeting him on jump balls.
While the explosiveness shown in his testing numbers doesn’t always show up to that extent on the field, he has the ability to get open with smart route execution and positioning against coverage. Beyond simply his height and vertical leap advantages, his ball skills at the catch point are ideal, with natural hands and superb timing.
While his route running is deliberate and precise, his breaks won’t consistently shake coverage. He can be challenged successfully by getting hands on him early and handling him physically. Gesicki is a limited blocker, and while he’s shown a little improvement in that area, can be a minimal contributor in the run game, with average punch and technical flaws in his hands and leverage.
3. Hayden Hurst, South Carolina. Grade: 2nd Round
6’4”, 250lbs. Junior. 2017: 44 rec, 559 yards (12.70), 2 TDs. 9 rush, 30 yards (3.33), 1 TD.
Though technically declaring for the draft early, Hurst will be 25 years old as a rookie, having spent a few years as a minor league baseball player before returning to football. After a first team All-SEC junior season, it was clearly in his best interest to head to the pros. The age is not a major issue; if he contributes for the full five years of his rookie deal then he’s been a good investment, and there’s still time for a second deal.
The issue would only be if he needed time to learn or develop before getting on the field regularly, but Hurst is as polished as any tight end prospect in this class, evident on his game film, and stamped at the Combine with near-perfect execution through drills. For someone who had taken time away from the game, it doesn’t show and he should be a factor immediately as a rookie.
Hurst has a solid frame, plays with enough football speed and is as tough as they come at the position. His testing was a plus to show he has good speed, and has clear examples on film of running away from SEC defenders to finish big plays once at top speed with the ball in his hands, even if his initial release off the line of scrimmage is average.
Parts on his underneath game may not be as flashy and dynamic, but he’s a reliable target with impressive hands and always can be counted on to make the plays he should. He’s shown some variety out of the backfield on handoffs and is physical on the move after the catch. He blocks with attitude to do enough in the run game, and gives his best effort on every play.
There are times that it’s obvious that Hurst is playing against younger opposition, and we’re likely seeing close to the finished product already, perhaps with little room for further growth. Still, Hurst should have a very high floor as an early plug-and-play contributor.
4. Mark Andrews, Oklahoma. Grade: 3rd Round
6’5”, 256lbs. Redshirt Junior. 2017: 62 rec, 958 yards (15.45), 8 TDs.
Andrews ran well at the Combine at a good build. His production has been fantastic throughout his career with the Sooners, even if that has regularly been the result of taking advantage of wide open space for unchallenged receptions and easy yardage. To his credit, Andrews has a decent release off the line of scrimmage and very good awareness and understanding to find those pockets of space. While he tested well, it doesn’t always reflect on film in his short area work and route breaks.
Essentially an over-sized receiver, the most frustrating element of Andrews’ game is his extremely poor effort as a blocker. Some catch-first tight ends struggle with execution and technique, but with Andrews, there’s barely even any effort, and looks unwilling to play with physicality, putting in the minimal amount he can get away with and avoiding as much contact as possible. It’s highly off-putting and there will be teams who will mark him down for it.
That mentality is troubling, and as good as he’s been in the pass game statistically, there are times he can struggle to secure contested catches and bracing for impending hits will affect his timing at the catch point. Still, there’s no doubt that he’s capable of bringing in difficult grabs and has been a consistent red zone threat with 22 touchdowns in his three seasons. There are solid foundations in his route understanding, positioning and production, including after the catch, and an NFL-ready frame.
5. Ian Thomas, Indiana. Grade: 3rd Round
6’4”, 259lbs. Senior. 2017: 25 rec, 376 yards (15.04), 5 TDs.
A mere 28 receptions in two seasons with the Hoosiers doesn’t scream out future Day 2 draft pick, but Thomas is only scratching the surface of his potential right now. After two years at the junior college level and a 3-catch first season in Indiana, he had a breakout year as a senior, even if he missed some time with injuries that limited him to ten starts.
His signature performance came in the scare that Indiana gave to Ohio State early in the 2017 season, struggling to cope with the matchup problems Thomas caused over the middle of the field, and bringing in an outstanding touchdown catch, over the shoulder on the sideline of the end zone while dragging his foot to stay in bounds. He averaged a touchdown every five catches this past year.
Another season highlight was a brilliant one-handed snag out of the air against Penn State, on a throw that was behind him as it arrived, and overall was another strong performance against one of the top defenses faced.
It doesn’t take long when watching Thomas’ film to see just how impressive his traits and instincts are as a receiver. He tracks the ball easily and naturally, showing concentration and exceptional hands. He adjusts well to passes that are a little off-target, low, behind him, and still secures them as if making routine grabs.
He catches smoothly in stride and flashes the body and positional awareness to where he is on the field to keep himself in bounds and to achieve desired yardage to move the chains. The rawness in his game comes through in his route polish and execution, but the potential as he refines that to go with his natural ball skills is enticing, even if he is rough around the edges. Thomas has a toned and powerfully built frame that will see him match up physically with anyone.
6. Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin. Grade: 4th Round
6’5”, 247lbs. Redshirt Senior. 2017: 46 rec, 547 yards (11.89), 4 TDs.
He feels like a bit of a forgotten man in this tight end class, despite his excellent film over the last couple years and despite having impressive playmaking ability in the passing game as desired from most top prospects at the position.
He’s could be worthy of consideration in the latter part of day two, and could have been considered there had he left Wisconsin for the 2017 draft, as was rumored at the time to be a possibility. Despite playing in a run-heavy offense, he’s managed to total 93 catches over his two seasons as a starter.
There are stouter-looking tight ends than Fumagalli who appears slight purely when eye-balling him on film, and ultimately measured in at a shade under 6’5” and under 250lbs, perfectly reasonable measurables. While smooth as a route runner, the former walk-on is not the most explosive of athletes, but gets the maximum out of his abilities. Core strength is another area where there are limitations, but he plays tough.
Fumagalli is a polished and deliberate route runner that helps compensate for average suddenness out of his route breaks. He can be disrupted off his path by physical linebackers and safeties.
The standout trait with the former Badger is in his sticky hands that seem to secure everything in his catch radius and has resulted in some spectacular grabs at full stretch. It’s therefore slightly disappointing that he’s only managed seven career touchdowns in four seasons, but again, the tendency of Wisconsin to run it in the red zone has to be taken into account.
Fumagalli doesn’t lack effort as a blocker and has improved from year one to year two as a starter, but there are still limitations to his success in his run game contributions. He struggles to create movement, and can be controlled himself rather than dictating the action when attempting to create running lanes.
7. Dalton Schultz, Stanford. Grade: 5th Round
6’5”, 244lbs. Redshirt Junior. 2017: 22 rec, 212 yards (9.64), 3 TDs.
Despite appealing athletic traits for his size, the inability to be more of a consistent factor in his offense will ultimately be a key factor in the likelihood of a day three selection for Schultz, even when considering some passing game issues over the last couple years at Stanford.
When in position as the ball arrives, Schultz shows good hands to secure the ball and make the plays that he ought to. The impressive athlete has the footwork and short area quickness that would theoretically aid him in creating separation from linebackers and safeties, and work himself open.
However, his positional awareness and ability to find space appears not to be instinctive, not working the middle of the field effectively and failing to get open as often as he should. He doesn’t sell his route breaks enough and is not helped by a relative lack of physicality in his play in the passing game. Without drastic improvements or a favorable scheme, it’s difficult to see Schultz as a high-level receiving tight end.
There’s no lack of physicality in his run blocking, where he has been a key contributor to the huge production of first Christian McCaffrey and then Bryce Love over the past couple years. Schultz extends well, uses his length. He fights to maintain blocks post-engagement, usually successfully, and loves to finish. He’s quickly up to the second level to find blocks in space to break big gains. There are traits that ought to translate well to special teams where he could be a core contributor.
8. Tyler Conklin, Central Michigan. Grade: 5th Round
6’3”, 253lbs. Redshirt Senior. 2017: 35 rec, 504 yards (14.40), 5 TDs.
His 2016 film tells the better story of his ability and potential, rather than this past season, in which he was recovering from a broken foot for most of 2017. Despite that, Conklin still came close to his production totals from the previous year even with the missed time and limitations, in addition to a new QB throwing him the ball.
Conklin tested well at the Combine. His dash time doesn’t blow you away, but looking beyond the mainstream attention on the 40-yard dash, his 10-yard split along with his broad and vertical jumps reflect his superb explosiveness and lower body power.
A small school transfer and former basketball player, Conklin took some time to transition to football, but broke out in a big way in 2016, including a standout performance against the best opposition he faced in Oklahoma State.
Very useful as a receiver with reliable hands, Conklin gets himself into positions to make himself available with good field awareness. He runs solid routes and shows the short area quickness to buy some separation. He still shows a little lack of polish in his route precision and appears to still be developing in that respect.
Once the ball is in his hands, the former MAC standout runs with the attitude of a running back when loose in the open field with the ball in his hands, takes on contact and delivers hits of his own as he fights for maximum yardage. Willing to risk his body to finish a play, diving for end zones and first down yardage, knowing he'll take a hit. That said, he does still seem to be learning how best to use his body and physical advantage over defensive backs when fighting for position during routes.
He may not be the tallest but has a good wingspan and catch radius, with long arms for his frame. Conklin plays highly physical, sometimes overly so, risking offensive pass interference flags at times. He’s proficient as a blocker, setting his feet well, engages into the chest of his man, and generally executes well. He blocks with some nasty but with control and direction. He can make some errors when seeking out blocks on the second level and in space where he can misjudge his angle and timing.
9. Durham Smythe, Notre Dame. Grade: 5th-6th Round
6’5”, 253lbs. Redshirt Senior. 2017: 15 rec, 244 yards (16.27), 1 TD.
An intriguing prospect to have watched throughout this pre-draft process since the college season ended, Smythe potentially had a lot to gain from a good couple months, and to be honest, it’s hard to assess whether he’s really answered the questions. His career best season high total of 15 catches, set this year, doesn’t leap off the page, but has also been limited in opportunities at Notre Dame, including due to a poor passing game in 2017.
With a toned frame and smooth-looking as a runner, his measurables at the Combine were always going to be interesting. He measured in solidly, with decent length and bulk, but was hit and miss in his athletic testing. His dash was relatively slow and his jumps lacking explosion, but did fairly well in the short area agility drills and on the bench.
Smythe looks to play faster than he tests, with enough football speed in pads. In addition to showcasing his reliable hands a bit more at the Senior Bowl, when given the opportunities for the Irish, he proved the ability to make stretch catches away from his body, and come down with balls he ought to. Though a fluid runner, his ability to create legitimate separation in the passing game is questionable. That said, he made some excellent plays running deeper down the seam this past season.
A high-effort blocker, Smythe plays aggressively at the point of attack. He sets his feet well and shows efficient hand placement, as well as intelligent directional blocking, vision and adjustments during the course of the play. He fights to drive post-contact, even if his core strength and ability to create movement is average. Durability might be a slight concern, with shoulder and MCL injuries in his past.
10. Jordan Akins, Central Florida. Grade: 6th Round
6’3”, 249lbs. Senior. 2017: 32 rec, 515 yards (16.09), 4 TDs.
The Knights’ historic season was no fluke, with talent throughout the roster that will be reflected in their presence over the three days of the 2018 draft. Akins threw his name into the mix despite having the option of another year, in part as he will be a 26-year-old rookie due to playing in the minor leagues of baseball after being drafted to the Rangers in 2010.
His potential extra year was due to a torn ACL two games into the 2015 season that might add a concern depending on medical results, not being his first knee injury either.
Akins initially played receiver and contributed as a kick returner, speaking to his athletic abilities. He’s bulked up to play the tight end position, doing so on his return from the ACL, but remains a strong athlete. Though still not the biggest as a tight end, he does offer impressive arm length and resulting catch radius.
He will primarily be considered for his receiving ability as more of a move tight end prospect, being relatively undersized and limited as a blocker. He has some struggles at the point of attack as a blocker and is not the most aggressive either. His poor technique in that area doesn’t help, lunging forward into contact with bad form.
Akins impressed at the Senior bowl with his ability to release off the snap and gain an edge out of his breaks, with some plus traits in short areas to get open, even if the actual precision of his routes need some refining.
There’s better overall speed than many tight end prospects can offer, is dangerous running down the seam, and catches well in stride. His burst of acceleration can give him an early edge off the snap, depending on who is lined up opposite that might disrupt him.
HB/RB Jaylen Samuels, NC State. Grade: 4th Round
6’0”, 225lbs. Senior. 2017: 77 rush, 403 yards (5.23), 12 TDs. 76 rec, 597 yards (7.86), 4 TDs. 9 KR, 213 yards (23.67). 1/2 passing, 25 yards.
We’ll have to breakout the old “offensive weapon” terminology when it comes to Samuels, who does it all. He’ll contribute as a runner, receiver, blocker, kick returner, and even throw the ball on trick plays. He’ll line up as a true running back, lead blocking full back, H-back, tight end, slot receiver, wide receiver and can be a core special teams contributor. Regardless of his role, he’s been productive and a playmaker throughout his four seasons with the Wolfpack.
Samuels proved at the Combine that he has more than enough speed and agility to be legitimately considered for some conventional running back snaps at the pro level, with polish in his game and sharp changes of direction through drills. There’s no doubt that there are limitations as a runner, but the option is there, helped by decent balance and body control.
He backs that up with a passionate and tough style of play that goes hand in hand with his team-first, do-it-all contributions. It would be easy to say: “I don’t know what his position is” and downgrade him slightly as a result, but the optimist and creative minds will see the possibilities in the versatility. He’s probably not ever going to be an elite NFL player, but can be a highly dependable roster asset.
He’s arguably at his best getting the ball in his hands quickly and letting him work in space, showing good vision and instincts maneuvering in the open field, even if his actual route running could be sharpened up. He’s not going to break many tackles, but there’s no fear of contact when finishing runs and going for 1st downs and diving for the end zone.
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