Draft 2019: Top 5 Tight Ends
Host Mitch Broder, Tommy Calpin and Jeremy Ganes talk about tight ends to look out for in the upcoming NFL Draft:
The value of a good tight end cannot be understated. The mere presence of a strong, tall tight end who can both catch a pass and throw a block can be revolutionary for an NFL offense. A lot of teams seem especially needy at the position this offseason, including the defending champion New England Patriots thanks to Rob Gronkowski’s recent retirement. Unfortunately, only a handful of tight ends entering the 2019 NFL Draft seem to be game-changing type players, but, boy, can the names at the top of the list sure make an impact. Here are the top five tight ends that teams will want snatch up before they’re gone:
5. Josh Oliver, San José State
Though San José State posted a season to forget in 2018, the same cannot be said for tight end Josh Oliver, who emerged as one of the top pass-catching tight ends in FBS as a senior. Oliver hauled in 56 receptions for 709 yards and four touchdowns in 2018, earning first-team All-Mountain West honors and an invitation to the 2019 Senior Bowl.
At 6 feet 5 inches and 249 pounds, Oliver is built similar to other pass-catching tight ends like Zach Ertz and George Kittle, though he may have to improve his skills in the run-blocking game in order to become a prominent NFL starter. Still, there are plenty of teams on the lookout for a tight end that can make an impact with his hands. Expect Oliver to be drafted in the third or fourth round.
4. Jace Sternberger, Texas A&M
Perhaps no tight end made a larger impact in the passing game last season than Jace Sternberger. A consensus All-American and first-team All-SEC tight end, Sternberger amassed 48 receptions, 832 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2018. Though he did put up solid stats as a redshirt sophomore at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, it’s clear that transferring to Texas A&M under Jimbo Fisher’s leadership really helped Sternberger take his game to the next level.
Like Oliver, Sternberger certainly fits the bill as a typical pass-catching tight end, though his blocking certainly leaves a lot to be desired. If Sternberger can follow in the footsteps of Penn State alum Mike Gesicki by improving his blocking ability, then perhaps he could earn some attention as a second-round prospect too. But until then, Sternberger is likely looking at a third- or fourth-round selection.
3. Irv Smith, Alabama
Irv Smith’s playing time in college may have been fairly limited, but he made the most out of his appearances, especially as a junior this past season, in which Smith posted 44 receptions for 710 yards and seven touchdowns, earning him second-team All-SEC honors. Though Smith is certainly a presence in the passing game with his shiftiness and speed, it’s his ability to block that separates him from tight ends lower on this list.
Smith’s biggest weakness may be his size, as his 6-foot-2-inch, 242-pound frame puts him on the smaller side of tight end prospects. It is worth noting that Smith’s father, Irv Smith Sr., also played tight end and was selected in the first round of the 1993 NFL Draft. With the tight end-needy Patriots sitting at No. 32 overall, Smith could be a dark-horse candidate to hear his named called on day one.
2. Noah Fant, Iowa
There seems to be an overwhelming consensus that the dynamic duo from Iowa are far-and-away the top tight end prospects in the upcoming draft. Fant makes up the more experienced half, as the junior tight end saw plenty of action in all three of his years at Iowa. Statistically, Fant had his best year in 2017, hauling in 30 catches for 494 yards and 11 touchdowns, but he improved overall as a junior, jumping from third-team All-Big Ten the year prior to first-team All-Big Ten in 2018.
Fant’s combine only boosted his draft status, as his speedy 40-time of 4.50 seconds and high vertical of 39.5 inches both rank near the very top among tight end prospects. Questions about his blocking ability and his character may cause Fant to slide down draft boards a little bit, but there’s no reason to believe he won’t be picked by the conclusion of round two.
1. T.J. Hockenson, Iowa
Though Fant is the more seasoned tight end of the duo from Iowa, T.J. Hockenson earns top honors here for his superior accolades and athletic ability. Not only an All-Big Ten first-teamer but also the 2018 recipient of the John Mackey Award, Hockenson has excelled as both a receiver and a blocker. His 49 receptions for 760 yards and six touchdowns in 2018 are certainly eye-catching, but it’s Hockenson’s ability sustain and finish a block on both the run and the pass that will make him a three-down starting tight end in the NFL.
Hockenson certainly seems like a no-doubt first-rounder; the question here is whether or not Fant gets the same treatment. Never before have two tight ends from the same school been selected in the first round of the same draft. We could be witnessing NFL history.
DJ Bauer is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.
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