Top 10 tight-ends in the 2020 NFL Draft:

We have reached the final three position groups of my draft breakdowns! This is the last offensive class before we finish up with the quarterbacks next week.

This class of tight-ends lacks a true alpha or that top tier of guys, which we have had in recent years. However, there are a bunch of prospects I have day two grades on and some interesting players that haven’t been exposed to a lot of casual fans on the national stage. Those prospects either played for smaller schools or didn’t get the opportunity to show off their skill-set due to the offense they were in. Either way, there is definitely some untapped potential. Nevertheless, the one thing that stands out is how slow this group was at the combine, outside of one guy in my top five.

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With that in mind, here is my list:

 

Adam Trautman

 

1. Adam Trautman, Dayton

Coming out of high school in Michigan, Trautman was an unranked dual-threat quarterback. He redshirted his first year with the Flyers and was named Dayton’s Scout Team Offensive Player of the Year. In his first season on the active roster, Trautman split time between tight-end, slot receivers and wildcat QB. The following two seasons, he led the team in receiving yards and was a second-team all-conference selection, but he only increased his popularity among NFL scouts by completely dominating the FCS competition and being named a first-team All-American, thanks to 70 receptions for over 900 yards and 14 touchdowns.

This guy looks like an NFL tight-end at 6’5”, 255 pounds with good density throughout his frame. Trautman spent 555 of 720 snaps in-line and over 70 out wide. He is an aggressive run-blocker, who rolls his hips through contact and takes some smaller defenders for a ride or lands on top of them. He shows highly active feet turning his putting his body in front of defenders to seal them on the backside of run plays and used a pretty good hook-technique when his guy tried to aggressively crash across the inside shoulder. The Flyers put him Trautman at the point of attack on off-tackle plays, let him secure the backside and asked him kick out the backside edge defender. But even when it was in the pass game and one of his teammates caught the ball, Trautman was actively looking for someone to block and usually did a great engaging with them.

Dayton’s all-time leading receiver uses some hop-steps and hesitation getting into his routes, while showing some explosiveness coming in and out of his breaks. He creates separation on dig and deeper out-routes by leaning into the defender and giving him that little chicken wing push-off. However, the Flyers used him vertically a lot as well on seam and wheel routes, as he brought in seven of 12 targets on passes that travelled 20+ yards, including three trips to the end-zone. Trautman also sat down a lot in the underneath areas against zone for easy completions. His physical advantage were obvious when he threw some linebackers to the turf, as they tried to press him. He received a lot of attention from opposing defenses, being bracketed from an in-line position or consistently forcing them into split safety looks as a split-out single receiver, with the guy to his side heavily shading his shading. Trautman actually ran some curl routes from that latter alignment and looked like an actual wideout by the way he snapped those off. He doesn’t let getting banged around a bit slow him down much as he is running his routes and he will draw some flags, as defenders grab some part of his large frame, plus he can high-point and pluck the ball out of the air in the middle of traffic.

Trautman slipped out late on a bunch of routes for the Flyers and made something happen as a checkdown option. He likes to drop the shoulder and run over defenders with the ball in his hands. Trautman was a load to bring down for FCS defenders, spinning out of wraps and bouncing off guys with a ton of power behind himself. Overall he forced 12 missed tackles in 2019 and that led to 2.71 yards per route run. Throughout Senior Bowl practices, I thought he showed off impressive speed and body control, winning several one-on-one battles against linebackers and safeties, despite many of them (illegally) draped all over him. He also convinced as a blocker against much superior defenders there. I thought he had a pretty good all-around combine, highlighted by an outstanding 6.78 time on the three-cone drill, which ranked third among all performers there regardless of positio. And while the 4.8 in the 40 certainly isn’t great, the ten-yard split of 1.57 absolutely is.

With that being said, Trautman won a lot at his level of competition due to being athletically superior, which will look a lot different in the league. He needs to do a better job contuining to work his hands to disengage from defenders trying to carry him down the seams with grabs and holds. Added to that, he is not overly creative after the catch, mostly running through smaller defenders, who seemed a little afraid to tackle him. NFL linebackers may turn the tables in that regard. His straight-line speed may not be as big a threat either.

Overall, Trautman hauled in 70 of 95 targets last season with only two drops on the year. While there is obviously a big jump in terms of talent he will face at the next level, what I saw at the Senior Bowl made the projection a whole lot easier. Trautman has all the tools be an excellent in-line tight-end, but also brings some flex value. At Dayton he was used on some shovel passes and even as a fullback running speed option once during my tape study.

 

Cole Kmet

 

2. Cole Kmet, Notre Dame

Coming out of high school in Illinois as a five-star tight-end recruit, Kmet decided to join the nearby Fighting Irish. In his first year there he actually made more of an impact for their baseball program than on the gridiron (just two passes for 14 yards). As sophomore his role improved a little, but it wasn’t until 2019 that he really became a big part of the offense, catching 43 passes for 515 yards and six touchdowns in 11 starts, after missing the first two games with a broken collarbone. Kmet is now skipping his final year of eligibility and is looking to fall in line with all those really good Notre Dame tight-ends.

At 6’5”, 262 pounds with 33-inch arms and 10 ½-inch hands, Kmet has all the prototype measurements you want to see. He was primarily used in-line as a tight-end and wing-man or even H-back (68.6 percent of the snaps), but also lined up in the slot and motioned around a whole lot – across the formation, back-and-forth behind the line or in and out of the slot. Kmet has experience with a multitude pro run schemes, being asked to create movement at the point of attack, seal the edge, kick out on the backside off sift blocks and even skip-pulls into the gap. He does a nice job locking out on the edge and he is an excellent second-level blocker, who breaks down and adjust according to the hips of his defender, as well as turning bodies appropiately. Kmet also creates plenty of angular movement as part of double-teams by continuing to bring his hips around and driving his legs. Then off that he slipped out to the flats on bootlegs or even through some gaps at times.

The Irish TE was asked to stay in protection a bit as well, where he showed good balance, active feet to stay square and kept his eyes inside the chest of the He also chipped and released plenty of times, where he showed a good middle ground between taking momentum out of the charging defender and not getting hung up before getting into his houtes. Kmet shows soft hands and consistently swallows the ball with his big palms. He is very physical on downfield routes, where he dictates the stem and doesn’t allow safety to throw him off his path. He was asked to run and also targeted quite a bit on seam and corner routes, but most effective on drag routes across the field. From an-line position, Kmet does a really good job widening his release and leveraging his man that way to open up space for himself over the middle, especially in the red-zone and I also like the way he makes himself a target sitting down routes in voids of zone coverage.

Kmet put up career-highs across the board against Georgia’s defense last year, who were one of the elite units in the nation. He is a hard-nosed runner once the ball is in his hands, who can bounce off tacklers and drag guys on his back for a couple of extra yards, with great contact balance to stay on his feet. Overall he put up a pretty good 1.55 yards per route run, considering the amount of underneath stuff he was used on. Kmet ran a really solid 4.7 flat weighing in at 262 pounds at the combine and caught the ball very well during on-field drills. He also was much more explosive than his tape would suggest maybe, putting up the top vertical and second-best broad jump at the position respectively.

However, Kmet doesn’t always run routes at full speed and has to show more urgency getting open. He is not overly dynamic coming out of his breaks either and rounds some of them off. He has to do a better job clearing the underneath coverage at times on out-routes, where he kind of leads the throw right into the flat defender. Kmet only came up with three contested catches on ten attempts and four passes that went at least 20 yards for the air in 2019. He is not overly dynamic after the catch either with only four missed tackles forced last season. Kmet loses his balance and falls to the ground on too many occasions in the run game, where he has a little drop of the head and wind-up with his arms at times, which allows some defenders to crash across his face on the backside.

This guy is clearly one of the better all-around tight-ends in this class, with the type of measurements and testing numbers you are looking for. While there are some balance issues, Kmet has executed a multitude of blocking techniques and schemes at Notre Dame, while bringing in 60 of 82 career targets. Overall I like his physical style of play, whether it’s as a route-runner, ball-carrier or blocker. I just don’t see him as this consensus top prospect at the position as he is made out to be.

 

Brycen Hopkins

 

3. Brycen Hopkins, Purdue

The son of former Pro Bowl offensive lineman Brad Hopkins of the Tennessee Titans, Brycen did not start playing football until he reached high school in Nashville, but still ended up being a three-star recruit. After a redshirt year, he appeared in 11 games as a freshman for the Boilermakers, catching ten passes for 183 yards and four TDs. He did not start any games in year two, but doubled his receiving output. Finally cracking the starting lineup in 2018, Hopkins hauled in 34 passes for 583 yards and two scores. He took that production to another level last season, catching 61 passes for 830 yards and seven trips to the end-zone, which made him the Big Ten Tight-End of the Year and earned him first-team All-American honors.

Measuring in at 6’4”, 245 pounds, Hopkins is a superb athlete at the tight-end position. He split time pretty equally between in-line and the slot, but also lined up at H-back and fullback for the Boilermakers at times. Hopkins Shows wide receiver-type burst off the line and not only times fast with a 4.66 in the 40 (second-best among TEs), but actually plays that way. He made 17 catches when targeted 10+ yards downfield and went 10 for 18 in contested catch situations last year. There are only so many tight-ends you use as the primary target on trick plays like double-passes and Hopkins is one of them. He can really sink those hips and come out of those breaks with some explosiveness. The Purdue standout is dynamic on angle and short out-routes, while being dependable on hook and stick routes as well. Hopkins held on to a lot of passes, where the hit came right as he touched the ball. To go with that, he shows smooth adjustments to off-target throws, pirouetting to the back-shoulder or extending outside the frame to catch the ball at its highest point. He made some spectacular grabs going up in the air on throws that were up there seemingly forever.

Hopkins is a true threat to produce big plays with the ball in his hands, actually pulling away from a lot of defenders on the second level and extending for the final yard or two routinely. His YACability was used on shallow crossers and slipping out on the backside coming across the formation off play-action. It is nice to have a guy like that as a checkdown or hot-route option, when you know he can pick up first downs that way, without having to actually throw the ball downfield – even if he can obviously do that as well. Hopkins does a good job bringing those hips around as a run-blocker and re-positioning his base accordingly. His mobility was used quite a bit as a puller leading the way, as he came all the way across the formation at times. However, he was actually asked to just bind safeties on the backside of run plays by bursting up the seams (effectively) on several occasions as well. He also showed the ability to stay in front of some guys in pass pro with quick feet, even though you want a target like him in the pattern of course.

On the flipside, Hopkins dropped eight passes in 2019 and 22 of 152 catchable ones throughout his career, cradling some passes that he could certainly attack more with his hands. Most of his run after catch is a result of being fast instead of actually breaking tackles, with only ten of them in his career. Hopkins finished as one of the lowest-graded run blockers in the nation at his position according to Pro Football Focus and there are some pointers why that is. You see him get man-handled by some edge defenders in that area, in addition to lower his head too much in the run game, and he shoves defenders more than he engages with them on several occasions.

This young man improved his numbers every single year with the Boilermakers and was a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2019 over a guy, who might be the top prospect at the position a year from now in Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth. I’m not sure how much you can expect from Hopkins as an in-line blocker, but he can catch the ball underneath and create YAC as well as being a vertical threat, while having the size to come up with the ball even with defenders right around him.

 

Hunter Bryant

 

4. Hunter Bryant, Washington

A high-school All-American and one of the top recruits at the position from the Seattle area, Bryant decided to stay near his home and join the Huskies. He already flashed a dynamic skill-set as a true freshman, when he caught 22 passes for 331 yards, as he started five of nine games until tearing his ACL and MCL. That also delayed his sophomore campaign, when he made 11 receptions for 238 yards and a score in only five games. Last season Bryant could finally show what he is capable with no injuries costing him time. He caught 52 passes for 825 yards and three TDs on 15.9 yards per reception, earning himself first-team All-Pac-12 and second-team All-American accolades.

Bryant is 6’2”, just under 250 pounds with more of a big receiver stature. I already had him as a top-ten tight-end coming into the 2018 season, as he flashed a dynamic skill-set as a true freshman. Even when he only appeared in five games and caught 11 passes as a sophomore, he showed that potential, averaging 21.6 yards per grab. He can play in-line, flexed out or as an H-back, Last season he split time pretty equally between in-line and slot. Washington straight up ran Bryant on a bunch of slant routes out of the slot and there are only so many guys at 240+ pounds, who offenses target on corner routes 30+ yards down the field – he is one of them. In 2019, he caught seven passes that travelled 20+ yards through the air, including a couple of stutter fades from the inside. The year before there were two plays that really stood out to me on third-and-long – a 59-yard catch-and-run versus Washington State off a scramble and that a ridiculous one-handed grab in the Rose Bowl versus Ohio State with a defender right on him. I will add another unbelievable back-shoulder catch on an inside fade route against Oregon last season here, to showcase his tremendous ability to adjust mid-air. He also drew a lot of attention from defenses in 2019, which opened up several shallow crossers and slants underneath him.

As much of a downfield threat as Bryant is from the tight-end spot and how he can run away from defenders on crossing routes, I have also seen him catch slip screens off play-action, take some jet sweep handoffs and the Huskies loved to send him out in the flats off play-action, as he came across the formation. He was even used as the target on a double-pass with one of the outside receivers catching a quick screen. Bryant is a wild horse after the catch, sustaining the speed he built through his route and then using the momentum he has to run over defenders and spin out of tackles. I don’t have any exact numbers on that, but from watching his freshman tape, I felt like he broke at least one tackle on pretty much every target he received. Overall he broke 18 tackles on just 85 collegiate touches. Last season in particular he forced ten missed tackles and averaged 7.7 yards after catch on. He will simply never go down without a fight. You also see the aggressive mindset and willingness to contribute as a blocker. He was asked to pin guys inside on toss plays, kick out edge defenders on sift blocks and lead the way on some touch pass sweeps, with the mobility to reach targets far off his spot. His 23 reps on the bench press at the combine were pretty impressive as well.

At only 6’2” with a pretty slender frame, Bryant barely counts as a tight-end and was more of a big slot anyway, For that I really hoped to see a better time in the 40 than his 4.74 at the combine, where he had seemingly bulked up quite a bit. He never actually established himself at some spot, while his hand-placement and footwork as a blocker aren’t very refined yet. He gets rocked backwards at the point of attack a few times. You also see some double-catches on tape and his hands may not quite as soft as the ones of other guys on this list. Knee injuries have limited Bryant to less than 1000 career snaps and he only put up five career TDs. At his height he doesn’t project perfectly as a red-zone target and he dropped five of 57 catchable passes last season.

I have been following Bryant’s career closely ever since I first watched him run through defenders as a freshman without a true position. While that tweener size and skill-set may not be everybody’s cup of tea, I think he is a dynamic pass-catcher, who can be used in a multitude of ways. I don’t see him being a true in-line player, but as an H-back, big slot and even wideout, who can create mismatches, he is very intriguing to me, as he averaged 2.73 yards per route run in his only full season.

 

Albert Okwuegbunam

 

5. Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri

Coming out of high school as a three-star recruit from Illinois, Okwuegbunam weighed in at just 223 pounds. After a redshirt year to add about 30 pounds, he really raised some eyebrows his freshman season, catching 29 passes for 415 yards and 11 touchdowns, which earned him second-team All-SEC honors right off the bat. Despite missing the final four games of 2018, “Albert O” managed to top his receiving total by about 50 yards. Last season he put up career-lows with just 26 catches for 306 yards and six touchdowns in nine games, as shoulder problems once again cost him time.

This young man is big target at 6’5”, 258 pounds. Okwuegbunam spent about 60 percent in-line, but is also a speedy threat down the seams out of the slot, who routinely gets a step on linebackers and splits safeties downfield. He surprised a lot of people with how fast he actually ran at the combine, when he put up the top mark among all tight-ends with a 4.49 in the 40 despite being a cheeseburger away from that 260-mark. Okwuegbunam’ regression of numbers had a lot to do with a primary rushing quarterback in Kelly Bryant compared to a gunslinger in Drew Lock the year before. In 2018 he recorded a passer rating of 129.1 when targeted despite playing through a sprained knee and last season he caught four of seven targets that went for 20 yards or more, while converting all but one of them into touchdowns. Not only did he find success going vertical by letting the ball drop into the bucket beautifully, but he also quickly picks up chunks off drag routes, where he becomes a bowling ball as he turns up the field. Albert O uses his massive frame very well to shield the ball from defenders and has strong hands to catch the ball regardless of defenders swiping at it or jumping on his back. He plays above the rim and showcases good body-control when the ball is in the air.

While he does play a lot of traditional Y, wing-man and H-back, the Mizzou tight-end also puts in work detached from the line and split out wide at times, as they target him on goal-line fades. In his first two years with Tigers there were few sights scarier than big number 81 running down the field off play-action. If you want to see what the Mizzou tight-end is capable of, just watch him go off against Memphis in 2018, when he caught six passes for 159 yards and three touchdowns. As a blocker, Okwuegbunam is tough to get around when he puts his big body in front of defenders and shields them with good body-positioning. He was used as a lead-blocker off skip pulls and moving laterally on outside zone plays his way. Albert O doesn’t shy away from staying in pass-protection either, where he displays excellent footwork and can guide edge rushers around the QB. He actually went up some of the better edge rushers from the SEC and definitely held his own.

While Okwuegbnum certainly has the raw strength to be a physical blocker, he needs to be able to use it in a functional way and actually roll his hip into contact while going after defenders with aggressiveness. He leads way too much with his helmet and doesn’t stay under control by bringing his arms and keeping his legs underneath himself. When he’s trying to put hands on people in space, he looks kind of heavy-footed and struggled to hit his landmarks consistently. Albert O doesn’t have a lot of start-stop quickness and is more of a straight-line guy. He wasn’t asked to run a very diverse route-tree at Missouri and relied heavily on seam and out-routes. He also dropped four of 30 catchable passes last season and he does not play as fast as he runs when he gets timed – that number at the combine kind of shocked me as well.

While that drop-off in 2019 is kind of a head-scratcher for a lot of people, I can see the reason behind it, as the offense did not feature the dynamic big guy’s strengths appropriately. Albert O is not a super dynamic route-runner and he needs plenty of overhaul in his blocking technique, but he can really run and catch while having a huge frame. If you let him stretch the seams and get him the ball to where he can run with it, he can be a big-play machine, illustrated by the fact 23 of his 98 career receptions finished in the end-zone.

 

Thaddeus Moss

 

6. Thaddeus Moss, LSU

As the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Randy Moss, Thaddeus moved around a whole lot early, playing for five different high schools in four different states. He still somehow became a top-ten tight-end recruit and started three games as a freshman with N.C. State. Following that season, he transferred to LSU, where he had to sit out the entire year. Moss also missed all of 2018 with a foot injury, that required multiple surgeries. Last season he could finally show off his skill-set for the Tigers. Despite the top three LSU receivers putting together almost 3000 yards through the air, Moss still found a way to catch 47 passes for 570 yards and four touchdowns for the eventual national champs.

At 6’3”, 250 pounds, Moss spent 489 of 831 snaps in-line last season and over 200 out wide. He might not have been super productive for LSU because of all the other receiving options on that offense, but the tight-end’s talent was always obvious and he had his flashes of brilliance. He hauled in 47 of his 57 targets last season and did not drop a single catchable pass, showing the natural ball-skills he inherited from his father and doing most with his opportunities. With as much vertical success as the Tigers had last season, it was Moss in combination with slot receiver Justin Jefferson, who worked the underneath areas. The move TE caught a bunch of square-in and -out-routes underneath, where defenders rarely could undercut or go through him to get to the ball, as his frame shielded the pass. He was also used on several whip routes and ran hitches or slants when flexed out wide. If you are looking for the ability to go down the field, check out his 62-yard catch-and-run on a seam route versus Oklahoma last year’s CFP semifinal, when the Sooners had a bust in coverage.

Moss is very physical against press, shoving guys out of the way with ease. He turns upfield after catching short out-routes as well as any receiver pretty much, quickly striding ahead for large chunks. As a blocker, he does a great job cutting off defenders on the backside of zone run plays and he lands those hands inside the chest of defenders consistently on the play-side. What sticks out to me is the fact he keeps those legs churning tirelessly. When going to work in space, he squares defenders up really well and made a lot of linebackers get the worst of their collisions. He also showed his power on a few occasions, when he got a chip from the side on an edge rusher and knocked that guy to the turf or at least off balance. While he was advised to not do anything at the combine after a long season, I think his testing numbers would have actually been better than a lot of people think.

With that being said, Moss only caught nine passes in 2019 when he was targeted 10+ yards downfield and he only had two receptions that went for more than 30 yards all year long. No player labelled as a tight-end was on the field for more pass plays (471) than Moss and his 1.21 yards per route is actually one of the lowest numbers in this entire class. You see him glide into several routes and not create as much separation as he could if he were a little more sharp with his breaks. He does not play particularly fast as a route-runner and lacks suddenness in his cuts. While I won’t talk bad about the effort he puts in as a blocker, there are plays where he gets pushed backwards because he doesn’t come off the ball with enough urgency and raises his pad-level too quickly.

This kid has a lot of the tools you want to see from a tight-end – size, ball-skills, power and leaping ability. However, he is not a great athlete and basically had just one season of any production to speak of. If you believe that you can continue to mold him and making him more of a vertical threat, I think he is definitely worth a day two pick in a tight-end class without a lot of prospects who have the size and catching ability of Moss.

 

Devin Asiasi

 

7. Devin Asiasi, UCLA

Once a top-50 national recruit, Asiasi decided to leave California for the Michigan Wolverines, where he only caught two passes as a freshman. Following that he decided to move back home and join the Bruins. After sitting out the 2017 season due to transfer rules, he caught six passes for 130 yards and score at UCLA. Last season his role under Chip Kelly increased dramatically, hauling in 44 passes for 641 yards and four scores, making him an honorable mention All-Pac-12 selection.

Asiasi’s length at 6’3”, 257 yards with above-33 inch arms and over an 80-inch wingspan is excellent. He spent 62.5 percent of last year’s snaps in-line, but moves more like a wide receiver. He can snap off his routes in a very sudden fashion for his weight and shows some burst on 90-degree breaks either way. The former Bruin bends dig routes for safe throws and holds on to the ball through contact. His speed on shallow crossers is also pretty good, as you just don’t see safeties being able to catch up him on the way to the opposite side. You can watch him put some safeties on their heels with little nods as he pushes upfield and breaks towards the post or corner. Asiasi does a nice job sitting down with excellent special awareness and finding throwing windows for his QB, while not getting hung up with defenders in the shallow areas by being quite slippery and making good use of his hands. Overall he dropped just one of 45 catchable passes last season and he really turned it on at the end of the year, with over 300 yards combined in the final three games.

This kid was also very effective with the ball in his hands, forcing six missed tackles and averaging 5.6 yards after the catch in 2019. He fights for extra yardage and carries some defenders trying to hold onto him, but he also showed off impressive athleticism on a hurdle over Utah safety Julian Blackmon – who is a pretty darn good tackler – and has underrated pull-away speed. The UCLA athlete has the fluid hips to swivel around and seal defenders on the backside of run plays and was involved in a heavy inside/outside zone rushing attack with the Bruins. However, he might be at his best at squaring up linebackers on the second level, either pinning them inside on plays out to the edge or quickly working up to them with nobody in the C-gap. Asiasi is not afraid of taking on challenges in the run game and doesn’t lack any effort in that area, which was obvious in games against a big Utah front. He is just looking for work as a blocker if he doesn’t have anybody right in front of him.

On the flipside, Asiasi put up just 58 receiving yards on two catches of 20+ air yards. He lets the ball into his body too much instead of extending for it and has it hit his stomach quite a few times. While he officially only had one drop last season, I also saw one pass that should have been secured already get knocked out of his hands versus Utah and he was not able to convert a fourth-and-short on a hook routes against Oklahoma, with a defender on his back. Asiasi doesn’t bring a lot of thump at initial contact or movement as a point-of-attack blocker. You see him slip off some defenders and he would benefit from adding some core strength, as well as finding better hand-placement. Before last season, Asiasi had been on the field for only 129 pass plays for his career and really only produced one year.

To me Asiasi is a natural athlete with a good feel for space and the speed to produce after the catch. He is not overly strong as a run-blocker at this point, but has the potential and willingness to grow in that area. He is still developing his game, but has already shown great ability in his only season with any starting experience basically. If you allow him to play more in the slot early on and progressively let him work his way into more of a traditional Y role, he is one of the guys I really like in the middle rounds.

 

Harrison Bryant

 

8. Harrison Bryant, FAU

Due to transitioning from offensive tackle to tight-end only in his senior year of high school, Bryant was only a two-star recruit, but put together a wonderful career with the Owls. While he did start out with just six receptions as a true freshman, his game totals and numbers improved every single season – going from second-team All-Conference USA in year two, to first-team all-conference as a junior and then first-team All-American last season. Bryant became one of the few tight-ends ever in college football to surpass 1000 receiving yards in a season and he did so on “just” 65 catches, giving with an average of 15.4 yards a grab, while finishing in the end-zone seven times. That also won him the John Mackey award for the nation’s top tight-end.

The 6’5”, 243-pound Bryant went from spending more than two third of the snaps in-line as a junior to 58 percent in the slot last season and some snaps out wide as the single receiver even. He actually ran a bunch of slants and hitches out of the slot. Bryant is excellent at bending routes and not allowing defenders to undercut him by choosing the appropriate angles or slowing down on routes down the seam to not create situations where the pass leads him into the deep coverage. A yards per route run mark above three is just stupendous and Bryant went eight of eleven on targets of 20+ yards for 259 yards, which resulted in a near-perfect passer rating in those spots. He displays good burst off the ball and tracks the ball beautifully on seam and corner routes, while using his arms well to avoid contact. Bryant does not shy away from fully extending on catches over the middle, despite knowing he will most likely take a big shot because of it. He brought in 13 of 24 contested catches last year with strong hands at the point of the catch, which wasn’t hit best trait in prior seasons. Moreover, he has good flexibility to pick up balls from the turf when they come in low and then turn upfield right away. The Owls actually ran him on a bunch of double-moves like out-and-up, stick-nods and some whip routes.

Bryant was highly dangerous slipping over the top off linebackers off play-action, There was one play in particular in 2018 versus North Texas, where he kind of faked a sift block and then turned upfield for a completion right down the middle and scored a touchdown for 56 yards out. He had another 45-yard catch-and-run later on I that same game. Bryant instantly turns upfield once he catches the ball and shows a sudden burst grabbing passes underneath. He will quickly stride downfield if you don’t bring him down after the catch and I thought he looked much stronger as a ball-carrier last season, forcing 12 missed tackles and averaging 6.1 yards after the catch. While he might not be a devastatingly powerful blocker, Bryant puts in work to stay attached to his man and doesn’t stop running his feet. He is not afraid to mix it up as a lead-blocker from the wing or H-back spot either, while having the quick feet to reach defenders and seal the edges in combination with his tackle. Bryant does a nice job walling off linebackers on the second level in the run game and he can really get on the move to lead the way on jet sweeps or screen passes, plus he excels at breaking down in space. At the Senior Bowl, Bryant simply could not be guarded – especially early on – and impressed me with his pure speed and physicality once he turned upfield.

Unfortunately, Bryant gets bullied by some defensive ends from in-line splits and needs to add some core strength to contribute in the run game. He also dropped eight passes in 2019, mostly on balls that were thrown slightly behind him. You see him save himself some energy when he knows he won’t be targeted in the pass game or is just there to draw defenders with fakes to the backside. Bryant doesn’t actively go for the ball on longer throws, where opponents may have a chance to beat him to the catch point. He only has a 74-inch wingspan at 6’4” and had some bad leaping numbers at the combine, really limiting his catch radius and potential on 50-50 balls.

Bryant is probably more of a slot receiver than true in-line player, but he has experience with several running schemes and could be used for some H-back duty. With his sub-par testing numbers, Bryant’s production will certainly not translate fully to the next level and there are some areas I could definitely see him struggle. However, when used in the right role, he could be an effective producer and I really liked what I saw against Power 5 competition down in Mobile.

 

Colby Parkinson

 

9. Colby Parkinson, Stanford

A former top-30 national recruit, Parkinson joined the rich tradition of tight-ends at Stanford and climbed up the depth chart every year for them. As a true freshman he already caught ten passes for 97 yards and four touchdowns despite being third at the position for the Cardinal. He put up almost 500 yards and seven TDs on 16.7 yards per catch as Stanford’s TE2 behind Kaden Smith the following season, making him an honorable mention All-Pac-12 pick. Last year Parkinson caught 48 passes for 589 yards, but only reached the end-zone once. He still was named a second-team all-conference selection for a poor Stanford offense.

Parkinson is the tallest of the group at 6’7”, just over 252 pounds. I believe he brings you more athletically than Kaden Smith and Dalton Schultz before him and he was used more in the slot or split out wide than those guys were during their collegiate careers. Parkinson had a really nice combine, running 4.77, looking like one of the best in the drive-blocking and catching every single ball thrown his way as far as I can tell. This year’s Stanford tight-end might have the most natural hands in this class, dropping just three passes on 165 career targets and none last season. He has an outstanding ability to box out versus defenders for the catch and position his body to where they can’t go through his body on in-breaking routes. Parkinson even ran a bunch of slants as the X receiver for the Cardinal. His 15 contested catches led all draft-eligible tight-ends last season. He ran several hook, stick and curl routes, where his large frame and dependable hands present an attractive target, while also working very well with his number one QB on back-shoulder balls down the seam.

Parkinson uses his hands very well to release and really understands how to take advantage of his big body to throw defenders off or create throwing angles in space. He also uses some head-fakes to set up his breaks and catches opponents on the wrong side. With his skill-set he projects as a highly effective red-zone target, who can be moved across the formation to create mismatches. Parkinson had to work with one of the most erratic quarterback plays in the country with K.J. Costello struggling early on and then being lost for the season in week five once he started getting his groove back. In college football a lot of grabs and other disruptions were allowed, which Parkinson will draw the yellow marker for at the next level. After the catch he works upfield right away and doesn’t leave free yardage on the field. Parkinson also quickly turns into a blocker once one of his teammates makes the catch, While he was detached from the line a lot, he does have experience in a pro-style rushing attack with different techniques required, where he understood his job.

However, Parkinson did not bring in any of his 15 targets on passes that travelled 20+ yards through the air last season. He fails to stack and free himself from defenders on vertical routes and does not stress defenses with his ability to go downfield against them. He is simply not a dynamic separator with the quick bursts to beat man-coverage by more than a step. The big tight-end does not offer much juice after the catch with only four broken tackles on 87 career catches and a measly average of 3.9 yards after the catch. Due to his height, he rarely wins the pad-level battle and is kind of a waist-bender when he tries to get low as a blocker, creating little vertical push in the run game. While his bod-type best projects for a true Y, he has spent less than 400 career snaps in-line.

If you are looking for a seam-stretcher or guy who can catch crosser and gain yards after the catch, this is not your guy. However, Parkinson’s combination of size, ball-skills and feel for the position are excellent, plus he tested better than I expected him to. He could be a great target for a QB who can win with ball-placement on the short and intermediate level. And at worst he should be a TE2 with flex-ability and who can be a weapon in the red-zone.

 

Josiah Deguara

 

10. Josiah Deguara, Cincinnati

Despite putting up wide receiver type numbers in his senior year (114 receptions for 1671 yards and 24 touchdowns) and leading him team to and undefeated season, Deguara was only a two-star recruit coming out of high school in Calfornia. After a redshirt year, Deguar appeared in every game as a freshman, but mainly contributed on special teams. He played in just seven games in year two, before becoming a fixture in the starting lineup in 2018 – 38 catches for 468 yards and five TDs. Last season he took another step with over 500 grabs and seven scores, which made league coaches vote him first-team All-ACC for his play.

A little undersized at 6’2”, 242 pounds, Deguara spent about 60 percent of last year’s snaps lined up at tight-end or wing, where he was motioned around from tackle-to-tackle or back-and-forth quite a bit. I really like the way the pushes upfield and then turns back towards the quarterback on hook routes. On posts he uses stutter steps to freeze the safety and then create plenty of separation out of his cut. Deguara uses subtle nods and head-fakes to get defenders leaning the wrong way, while following through with his arms to avoid any holds. He makes some smooth adjustments to passes with excellent body control and instantly turns upfield after making the catch. Tracking the ball on corner or seam routes is no problem for the former Bearcat TE. He also has experience flexed out wide and running hitches or fades at the goal-line. With only one receiving threat on the outside for Cincinnati, defenses actually gave Deguara a lot of attention, having somebody press and carry him down the field into the deep coverage quite a bit.

Deguara actually creates more vertical movement than a lot of guys who are 10-15 pounds heavier than him – especially as part of double-teams. He has some shock in his hands and really uncoils those hips. You see him lead the way on some pulls from the backside and he keeps moving laterally in the zone run game. Deguara is also really good at throttling down in space and putting hands on people in the screen game or longer-developing plays. Off those long pulls, he can also fake those and slip underneath the formation off play-action, where he is pretty dangerous if unaccounted for. In 2019 he averaged 5.9 yards after the catch, where he has some juice with the ball in his hands and uses his off-arm very well to keep defenders away from his legs. He made one of the best hustle plays I’ve seen in college football, chasing down a defender almost 70 yards down the field after an interception at the goal-line versus UCLA last season, which also showed off his speed.

With that being said, Deguara only brought in only three of his eleven targets in contested catch situations. At only 6’2” with a 75-inch wingspan, that will probably never be a big part of his game. I also think he leads some throws right into defenders, where he sits down and gives the opponent a path to undercut the route. While I’m actually a big fan of Deguara’s competitivneess as a blocker, he just isn’t very big and won’t blow 270-pound NFL edge defenders off the ball consistently, like he was able to at times with Pac-12 guys.

At the Senior Bowl, Deguara made a couple of linebackers look really bad on deeper routes and even ran away from some safeties while also winning with physicality. Then at the combine he led all tight-ends with 25 reps on the bench press and put up an elite 1.56 ten-yard split. So he has definitely helped himself during this pre-draft proces, while having put some good tape out there. He is an intriguing option as an H-back and movement piece, who can win on routes downfield but also has the RACability to quickly burn defenses that way.

 


 

Just missed the cut:

 

Jared Pinkney, Vanderbilt

After helping his high school in Georgia win back-to-back state titles, Pinkney decided to join the Commodores as a three-star wide receiver recruit. He wanted to play as a true freshman, but an injury in the season-opener pushed him to redshirt. Over the following two years, he started 15 of 25 games, producing 553 yards and five touchdowns on 44 catches over that stretch. Pinkney entered the national conversation in 2018, when he caught 50 passes for 774 yards and seven touchdowns, making him a second-team All-SEC selection. While Vandy’s offense struggled mightily last season and everybody’s numbers dropped, the tight-end suffered more than anybody, as his totals plummeted to about a third of the ones from his prior campaign.

At 6’4”, 257 pounds with 10 ½-inch hands, Pinkney is more of your traditional Y tight-end, who spends the majority of snaps with his hand in the dirt (about two thirds in 2019). He has a strong grip and can turn defenders’ bodies, while doing a nice job working up to the second level. He has experience with skip-pulls, excels at sealing the backside off zone run plays and puts in the effort as a blocker downfield when a fellow receiver catches the ball. Pinkney excels at landing his hands inside the chest of defenders in space and rarely lets them get away before his teammate can get past. That is a big asset in the screen game, where you can trust him equally with linebackers and defensive backs. You see him put some of smaller guys flat on their asses, when he gets a chance to.

Pinkney has a unique way of avoiding contact with defenders when he gets into his routes, showing some nuance in that area. I also really like the way he sneaks out on check-releases. Pinkney does a great job slipping into his route after faking the run and finds himself open on several occasions working to the original side of a zone play off bootlegs. He invites collisions after the catch and consistently gains extra yards through defenders. Pinkney may not the type of dynamic vertical threat as some of these other guys, but he is a big, reliable target who Kyle Shurmur seemed very comfortable targeting over the deep middle in 2018. While his production obviously just fell off a cliff, I thought he looked a little more dynamic in his routes last season. If he had any sort of adequate quarterback play, he could have easily more than doubled his output,

Unfortunately that 4.96 in the 40 is just almost impossible to defend. Pinkney brought in less than 50 percent of his 43 targets in 2019 and he averaged less than a yard per route run. The Vandy tight-end does not separate by being explosive and he does not scare defenses vertically, as he had just one reception that went for over 30 yards with none that travelled through the air for at least 20. As a blocker there is a lot to like here, but he isn’t not super powerful going up against D-ends and outside linebackers either.

You won’t see Pinkney just run away from defenders or wow you with athletic moves in the open field, but he catches the ball with his hands consistently, can box out and just won’t go down without a fight. I see him being limited to a TE2 role, but he can a very consistent option at that, who will boost your run game and be reliable target underneath.

 

Stephen Sullivan, LSU

A former four-star wide receiver from Lousiana, Sullivan didn’t get a lot of chances to show his talents as a pass-catcher with all those weapons on the Tigers and Thaddeus Moss ahead of him at tight-end. His best season came in 2018, when he caught 23 passes for 363 yards and two touchdown. Last year those numbers regressed to 12 for 130, as he made the transition to kind of a move tight-end behind Moss.

This dude 6’5”, 245 pounds with an eagle-like 85-inch(!) wingspan and 10 ¼-inch hands. Sullivan comes off the ball with better burst than a lot of pure receivers and really eats grass with those long strides, while having that extra gear to separate vertically. This was put in numbers at the combine, when he ran a 4.66 in the 40 with a 1.62 split. Sullivan lined quite a bit at X from a tight split, running out routes and shallow crossers. He did a good job in limited fashion with the way he operated the scramble drill, working across the field or coming back towards the quarterback, to help that guy out. Five of his catches last season came in contested situations, with the ones I saw being with a defender grabbing one of his arms as he worked across the field. With his insane arm length, he can play above the rim and tower over defensive backs.

Sullivan had his best game last year against Northwestern State, when Thadeus Moss wasn’t available. He caught a dig route with a defender’s hand pulling the inside arm, made a tip-toe catch along the sideline off a Burrow scramble and forced a flag for pass interference on a wheel route. The underutilized pass-catcher quickly erases the space between him and the defender he is responsible for as a blocker, while bringing his feet with him to create movement. He also displayed good effort and agility with his feet in pass pro. Now bumped up to 245 pounds, Sullivan moved around extremely well at the Senior Bowl and continually found himself a couple of steps in front of the defender. Once this guy turned on the jets even the fastest safeties have a tough time staying in stride with him, while linebackers actually looked really slow when trying to carry this guy down the field.

This is certainly a big projection, as Sullivan only saw 14 targets all of last season. He has basically no experience lining up tight and slips off way too many blocks with severe balance issues, while being content with landing a few pushes. He still has kind of a gangly frame without much power behind it. Sullivan is a pretty upright route-runner, who lets linebacker slow him down underneath. Several parts of his game are still underdeveloped, including his ability to find space against zone coverage and adjusting route post-snap. He also only broke one tackle his entire career on 46 total touches.

Sullivan is basically a big slot who can also be flexed out wide but doesn’t have the play strength to consistently be a plus as a blocker next to the O-line. His speed and crazy wingspan make him an intriguing developmental pass-catching option, which I value more than guys who may be solid TE3s as part of high sets and will probably never make an actual impact as receivers.

 


 

Right behind them:

 

Cheyenne O’Grady (Arkansas), Dalton Keene (Virginia Tech), Jacob Breeland (Oregon), Charlie Taumoepeau (Portland State)

 



 

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