Coming off record setting tight end seasons by George Kittle and Travis Kelce, there has been a resurgence of what teams are prioritizing at the position. Smaller frames are being accepted but athleticism is taking precedent. Teams want to use their tight ends to create mismatches. This year’s class features a few guys who profile as contributors at the NFL level.
[Also See: NFL Mock Draft 2019, 1.0]
Top 5 tight ends in the 2019 NFL Draft
1. Noah Fant – Iowa
The hype train coming into 2018 for Noah Fant was real until the point of teammate T.J. Hockenson’s emergence (below). Fant broke out as a sophomore at Iowa scoring 11 touchdowns and over his career had a 27% market share as a tight end which is really great. Considering Fant was competing for not just targets but even snaps with Hockenson, this market share reflects what it could’ve been without each other. Fant has all the tools in an elite tight end prospect; great hands, great route runner and incredible after the catch. His only weakness may be his ability as an in-line blocking tight end.
Fant is a truly elite athlete running a 4.5 40 yard dash, before considering his size this would have been one of the top 40 times at the running back level. Being 6’4 and weighing almost 250 pounds this makes him a 97th-percentile athlete at the tight end position.
2. T.J. Hockenson – Iowa
T.J. Hockenson seemingly came from nowhere this past season with all the hype around teammate Noah Fant. Hockenson actually outproduced Fant in the 2018 season and some may chalk it up to teams “focusing” on Fant but Hockenson proved to be an incredible player. His market share while at Iowa is just under Fant’s at 24% but again, contextualize these numbers if the two best tight ends in the class didn’t play on the same team. Hockenson is a really great tight end prospect with no flaws to his game. He has incredible hands, a great route runner and nasty in run blocking. His only flaw is that he is not as athletic as Fant, but still a really great athlete.
Hockenson ran a 4.7 40 yard dash which would make him a 74th-percentile size adjusted athlete, which makes him an above average athlete. The Iowa tight ends will be the first tight ends off the board.
3. Caleb Wilson – UCLA
Caleb Wilson was the only bright spot of a dreadful UCLA team under Chip Kelly’s first season. While working with Sports Info Solutions in 2018, UCLA was one of the teams I was designated to chart weekly. Wilson was one of the players I had written an official scouting report on for the SIS Rookie Handbook. I find it incredibly difficult to understand how anyone could come to the conclusion that athleticism was the flaw to his game. His athleticism popped as he burned anybody who tried covering him and outran everyone after the catch. Wilson’s metrics are interesting, he dominated playing at UCLA with a 32% market share as a tight end which is astounding. He broke out as an older prospect after turning down a scholarship to play Quarterback at Old Dominion and walking on at USC to play tight end where he later transferred. He dealt with injuries each year until his final year which is when his numbers glowed.
My only concern with Wilson was his size and it blew me away when he weighed in at 240 at the NFL Combine. Then he went on to run a 4.56 40 yard dash which makes him an 87th-percentile size adjusted athlete.
4. Irv Smith – Alabama
Irv Smith played for the highlighted Alabama offense that was loaded with weapons. Smith commanded a 14% market share which is a below average number for the tight end position and I find this a concerning number. Smith’s raw numbers look great but wasn’t a significant player on his offense. Smith is not an exciting player, he does everything well enough and had the benefit of playing with elite weapons for him to work in space.
Smith ran a 4.63 40 yard dash which gives him 69th-percentile size adjusted speed. He tested really poorly in the agility and explosion drills confirming what you see on tape.
5. Kahale Warring – San Diego State
Kahale Warring breaks into my top-5 tight ends because of his workout and production metrics. He had a 19% market share at San Diego which is just above average but an important benchmark to meet. He broke out at a young age despite being a walk-on, being an early-age producer is one of the most consistent things to consider for receiving threats. Warring’s great production and athleticism make him someone I will be monitoring which team drafts him.
Warring ran a 4.67 which would be an 81st-percentile size adjusted athlete which would help him become an NFL caliber tight end.