Welcome back to another edition of our combine review. Today, we’ll focus our attention towards the Tight Ends. The players in this class offer different abilities to the same position. Obviously, the pass-catching tight ends will garner more attention, but some players will earn a living in the NFL based on the ability to stand up a defensive end, and seal the edge for a big run. Let’s take a look at what this year’s draft class has to offer from the tight end position.
T.J. is arguably the best all-around tight end in this draft. The 2018 Mackey award winner (Nation’s best tight end) finished the season with 49 receptions for 760 yards and 6 touchdowns. Hockenson has a deep resume which includes awards this year as 2nd team AP All-American, and 2nd team All-Big Ten. What can’t this kid do on the field? He’s a tenacious blocker on the offensive line and displays a physical toughness that’s hard to find. As a pass-catching tight end, Hockenson is a tremendous talent. The route running is solid and has strong hands to reel in the tough catch through a crowd. The only weakness exhibited by Hockenson on the tape would be his footwork, but that’s borderline nitpicking. Draft enthusiasts can expect T.J. Hockenson to be selected in the first round of this year’s NFL draft.
Now, let’s focus on the other Iowa stud Tight end, Noah Fant. This kid was stellar at the combine! The 6’4, 249lb junior from Iowa finished 1st in the 40-yard dash (4.5), vertical jump (39.5), and the broad jump (127). Fant recorded 39 receptions for 519 yards totaling 7 touchdowns on the season. This earned him 1st team All-Big Ten honors in 2018. Fant is the definition of a pass-catching tight end. He’s a versatile player who uses his remarkable hands to make excellent catches in space. He does struggle to block on the line but can establish a solid block at the second level. Fant’s ability to get separation from defenders is impressive. This performance at the combine has skyrocketed his draft value, and depending on how the cards fall, could hear his name called on day one of the draft.
Foster Moreau is a 6’4, 253lb senior tight end from LSU. He registered a modest 22 receptions for 272 yards, and 2 touchdowns this season. Although the numbers don’t jump off the chart, Moreau has the talent to succeed at the next level. He backed up that statement at the combine. He displays a hard work ethic on the field and exhibits 100% effort until the whistle blows. The big question going into Indianapolis was Moreau’s athleticism. Well, he put all the critics to rest as he finished top 5 in nearly every category. LSU gave him plenty of experience in pass protection as well as run blocking. You name the position, and Foster Moreau probably lined up there at some point in his collegiate career. The tape shows the versatility he displayed on the field. He does struggle with blocking in space to the second level and has shown a small catch radius throughout his time at LSU. Foster has the necessary tools to succeed at the next level and will be an excellent addition to any NFL roster.
Dawson Knox is a very intriguing tight end prospect. The former High school Quarterback entered Ole Miss as a walk-on and exits the university one step away from being in the pros. Knox has all the makings of being a quality tight end in the NFL but lacks experience at the position. The stats tight ends accrue during their collegiate career is only a sample size of the contributions they can make at the next level. Knox was surrounded by some amazing talent in the rebels offense such as D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown. This definitely limits his touches in the offense, but when the ball came his way, Dawson Knox made plays! He averaged 18.9 yards per reception this season. While he didn’t run at the combine because of hernia surgery, he decided to run at his pro day. Knox, 12 weeks removed hernia surgery, zipped down the line to the tune of a 4.51 40 time! Very impressive! The scouts view Dawson Knox as a project, but the upside is tremendous if he can maximize his potential.
Jace Sternberger is the definition of a collegiate journeyman. He played football for Kansas and Northeastern Oklahoma A & M before settling in at the tight end spot for Texas A & M. He quickly established a spot on the Aggies offense. The combination of good route running along with strong hands helped Sternberger fit in with the offense and make an impact. He finished 2018 with 48 receptions for 832 yards and 10 touchdowns. He earned 1st team AP All-American honors as well as 1st team All-SEC. Statistically, the combine was a bit of a disappointment for Sternberger. The numbers hovered in the middle of the road compared to his peers. He also struggles in blocking. Sternberger definitely needs to bulk up to be successful on the line in the NFL. However, the way in which he extends his arms in traffic to make a catch is quite impressive. The versatility he possesses on offense should attract teams to draft him this month in Nashville.
Irv Smith, Jr
The son of former NFL tight end Irv Smith is coming off a stellar season at Alabama where he broke the single-season school record for Touchdowns. Irv Smith, Jr is an excellent run blocker, possibly the best in the tight end class. He can seal the edge from the defender to create space for the runner. Smith, 2nd team All-SEC this year, has excellent hands and runs efficient routes. The talk regarding Smith prior to the draft is all about size. He stands at 6’2, 242lbs. Not many tight ends excel in the NFL at that height. The height issue might knock down his draft stock, but he’ll have the opportunity to rise to the occasion and prove teams that he’s worthy of a selection on draft day.
This year’s crop of tight end prospects is an interesting group. There’s all around dominant players ready to put the NFL on notice. However, there’s a solid group of players that excel very well in specific areas that’ll intrigue NFL general manager’s across the league. It wouldn’t be surprising if at least two players are drafted in the first round. Nonetheless, expect a solid showing from the tight end group on draft boards across all war rooms in the league. Stay tuned next week where we flip over to the defensive side of the football to review the defensive linemen.