We are finishing up the offensive skill positions with the tight-ends this week, before putting out the final edition of my positional rankings in the middle of next week – the quarterbacks. Tight-ends have become much more prominent these last few years, basically ever since Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham burst onto the scene. While Gronk was a tremendous blocker and was at his best putting hands on people in the run-game during the Patriots’ latest Super Bowl run, Graham represents more of the modern version of the position. A lot of teams are looking for that big-bodied slot receiver and with all the spread offenses in college, that’s what the draft provides us with. While I think the top guy on my list is more a throwback tight-end who can do it all, the rest of my top five is filled with prospects, who intrigue scouts mainly of their receiving abilities.
So how good is this class? Well, I think we have one of the top ten overall players available among this group, because he is a blue-chip guy who can fit any scheme and run any play for you. The next four prospects are mainly pass-catchers, who might show some upside as blockers. My number two guy should be a lock for the top 20, number three should sneak in somewhere in the late first round and the fourth guy could easily end up being a top 50 pick. I completely disagree with pretty much everybody when it comes to my fifth player and I think number six has lot of potential, but I don’t see anybody else is worth a selection ahead of day three.
1. T.J. Hockenson, Iowa
This Iowa native decided to stay home with the Hawkeyes after being a three-time all-time selection. Hockenson already made a significant impact as a redshirt freshman in 2017, catching 24 passes for 320 yards and three touchdowns, but he really broke onto the scene last season. He was a first-team All-Big Ten selection and won the 2018 John Mackey award for the best tight-end in the country despite a likely top-20 pick in Noah Fant being on the same offense, as Hockeson caught 49 passes for 760 yards and six touchdown. He is now looking forward to being the next great Iowa tight-end after Dallas Clark and George Kittle.
The 6’5”, 250 pound Hockenson was part of maybe the most pro-style offense in college football with an enormous amount of 21, 12 and even 22 personnel. He was used in-line more than anybody with comparable receiving numbers. Hockenson was featured as a possession receiver going across the field with somebody clearing out space on post-routes, but he also showed excellent focus tracking the ball down the field and making catches in-between traffic. Hockenson has enough speed to stress defenses vertically, but is also a very physical route-runner on the intermediate level. I think displays tremendous focus until the catch is secured and he dropped just one of 64 targets last season. Hockenson does a good job clearing himself by using him hands crossing the face of defenders and high-points the ball very well. He has the upper body flexibility and sticky hands to snag balls off the ground. Once the catch is secured, he turns upfield quickly and almost half of his yardage last season came after the catch, largely off waggles and shallow crossers. Hockenson turns his head once he clears the linebacker level and is ready for the ball, as it was thrown to the back-shoulder quite a bit over the middle.
You might want to call Hockenson deceptively athletic, as he is somewhat like George Kittle in that area. He surprises you with running away from people and hurdling somebody once in a while. Overall he runs with good balance and keeps his legs moving through contact. It is so refreshing to watch a tight-end get after people in the run game nowadays with all those spread offenses and what basically are big slot receivers. Hockenson is a technically sound run-blocker, who uses bend in his knees and hand-placement inside the chest of the defender, while also showing the ability to pivot his hips to seal or wall off defender. He finishes his blocks with an attitude and puts some defensive linemen on their backs. Hockenson even lined up at fullback at times and was used as a lead-blocker. He also put in work as a pass-protector and ran some tight-end screens off that. The balanced tight-end finished top ten in overall run-blocking and receiving grades in 2018 according to PFF.
However, he is not the type of dynamic vertical threat his partner in crime Noah Fant is. Hockenson’s speed is very good, but not great. He can also be a little overly aggressive as a run-blocker and whiff on defenders in space due to that. You see him slightly mistime some jumps and allow passes to drop into his bread basket. It is hard to find a weakness with this kid, although that can be a somewhat of a problem as well, because there aren’t a lot of things that just jump out to me athletically.
Hockenson is a do-everything tight-end, who can work all areas of the field in the passing game and is a relentless run-blocker. When it comes to great all-around football players, he is easily a top ten prospect for me and the top skill-position player on offense in this draft. Similar to O.J. Howard in 2017, I think Hockenson is a can’t-miss tight-end prospect, who even though he is not the same type of athlete, I would argue is a better all-around player from day one.
2. Noah Fant, Iowa
Even if I was discussing between Fant and UCLA’s Caleb Wilson as the best tight-end in the country heading into 2018, this kid was largely the consensus top overall player at the position. As the season went along, he didn’t even look like the number one guy on his own team, but that has more to do with the excellence of Hockenson than what Fant can do. The former two-time All-Nebraska tight-end decided to join the Hawkeyes and already showed glimpses of his potential as a true freshman. Over these last two years he went over 1000 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns on 14.7 yards per reception.
Fant has a premiere combination of size, speed and hands. Measuring in at 6’4”, 250 pounds, he ran a 4.5 flat and a ridiculous 6.81 in the 3-cone drill at the NFL scouting combine. Fant looks a little bit like Gronk in that 87 jersey, but there is a significant difference in pure explosiveness in the favor of this highly touted draft prospect. You have to leave someone over the top of Fant or he will burn the next-closest defender who trails him down the seams. He is deadly on crossing routes underneath and over the top of linebackers. Fant catches the ball over his shoulder like a wide receiver and is potent YAC target coming across the formation towards the flats off bootlegs or simply catching the ball on drag routes. It’s completely unfair to ask a linebacker to carry Fant down the field and he has mismatch nightmare written all over him when you look his physical dimensions and athletic traits.
The dynamic target was moved around a whole lot by Hawkeyes, lining up as a tight-end or wing-man, H-back, in the slot and out wide. Almost 300 of his 519 yards last season came out of the slot and he was also used as a single-receiver in 3-by-1 sets. Fant shows effortless burst off the line and is surprisingly sharp coming in and out of breaks in the short areas for such a tall body. On an offense that ran the ball on ten plays more than they threw it on average per game in 2017, he only caught 30 balls for just under 500 yards and 11 of those went for touchdowns. Fant doesn’t mind putting hands on people and creating movement at the point of attack or working up to a linebacker off double-teams.
There are some issues with how Fant attacks the ball in the air. He is a little too wide with his hands at times and somewhat claps at the ball. He also leaves his feet on way too many occasions where he wouldn’t have to when catching the ball and allows it to get to his body. While he made several incredible grabs down the field, he struggled more with routine catches, dropping about ten perfect of his targets last season. Fant is not the most flexible athlete and struggles a little with off-target throws if they aren’t above his head. He is also knocked off his routes too easily and won more with raw athleticism in college. Fant loses grip of defenders as a run-blocker eventually and has a defenders slip past him. His overall technique in that area needs some work. So does his plan with the ball in his hands, as he doesn’t show any creativity as a runner if he can’t just beat defenders with speed.
While I don’t think Fant is nearly as complete a player as his teammate T.J. Hockenson, his upside as a big slot receiver and vertical threat is tremendous. I have some questions about how natural his ball-skills are and I don’t see much happening after the catch if he doesn’t have room to run, but you can work around that. I think he shows potential as a run-blocker and some team in the top 20 should fall in love with the freakish athlete.
3. Irv Smith Jr., Alabama
As a son of a former tight-end at Notre Dame and first-round pick by the New Orleans Saints, Irv Smith Junior joined the Alabama program as a top ten national TE recruit. He had a reserve role in 2016, but didn’t catch a single pass with O.J. Howard as an outstanding first-round prospect himself ahead of him. While Smith had more of an impact in year two, it was last year that he really broke through. He finished second among all tight-ends in the nation with 710 yards on just 44 catches, giving him 16.1 yards per catch in 2018, and seven trips to the end-zone.
Smith can basically be a big slot receiver with the ability to create separation out of his breaks and track the ball over his head, but also has the size to play in-line and block people in the run game. He has experience lining up in-line, in the slot, the backfield and out wide. Smith constantly split safeties down the seams for the Crimson Tide and I’m not sure if any tight-end in college football had more success on corner routes the last year than Smith. He was used as a check-down target coming underneath the formation on play-action fakes and us incredibly sudden turning back toward the quarterback on hitch and hook routes. The former Bama TE ran a lot of short outs and made things happen after the catch. He basically had a perfect passer rating when targeted and was tied for the highest yards per route (2.56) for any tight-end in this draft.
While he might not drive people off the ball with pure power, Smith latches onto defenders and turns bodies in the run game, looking to finish plays the right way. He was asked to kick out back-side defensive ends on zone splits and used on weak-lead plays from the H-back spot, where you heard the thump when he collided with linebackers and did even better than I expected when I put on the tape. Smith also excelled at putting hands on people in the quick screen game and caught a few of those himself. I thought he had excellent workouts at the combine and the Alabama pro day, running crisp routes and catching the ball very naturally. A play nobody will talk about for Smith is a pick-six by Tennessee against the Crimson Tide, where he covered a hundred yards and almost chased the defender down, showing his speed and effort on the field.
Unfortunately Smith doesn’t always work back the ball in a strong enough fashion and allows defenders to crowd the throwing window. He dropped a wide-open deep ball versus Georgia in this last SEC Championship game. Smith benefitted a lot from being part of an Alabama offense under Heisman trophy candidate Tua Tagovailoa, where everybody put up numbers. He lacks premiere size at 6’2” and didn’t put up a lot of contested catches on tape. For my taste he is also is a little too loose with the ball in his hands and fumbled twice on the tapes I watched, even if he recovered one himself.
While I do believe that the two Iowa tight-ends are their own little group at the top on most people’s boards, Smith to me is the clear number three guy. He is an excellent slot receiver if you want to use him in that role, but he also shows effort as a blocker in the box. Smith might not quite have the elite explosiveness and physical tools to be an All-Pro at the position, but I think he could be somebody who is in the Pro Bowl conversation perennially if he is put in the right position.
4. Jace Sternberger, Texas A&M
A&M’s receivers coach went on a recruiting trip to a junior college for one of his teammates, but found Sternberger and ended up giving him a scholarship after watching some tape. The transfer became the first tight-end to be spring MVP for Jimbo Fisher and went on to have a huge junior year. Sternberger came out of nowhere after recording just one catch at Kansas and then spending a year Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. In his first season with Fisher and the Aggies he put up first-team All-American numbers – 48 catches for 832 yards and ten touchdowns, ranking second and first in the last two categories.
Sternberger is that modern detached slot receiver at 6’4”, 250 pounds, who stretches defenses down the seams and plays above the rim in the red-zone. He is a vertical threat off the line with easy acceleration and truly has the speed to split safeties and produce chunk plays in the passing game as a YAC-specialist. He is dangerous on drag and other types of crossing routes, where he can turn upfield and defeat angles by chasing defenders. Sterberger ran a bunch of flat and sail routes for the Aggies as well, as he put up an average of 72 receiving yards versus SEC competition and 17.3 yards a catch overall. He had seven catches of 20+ yards last season and was open for big plays on several other occasions, where he didn’t get the ball because quarterback Kellen Mond just didn’t pull the trigger or simply took off running.
There was a reason Sternberger averaged over ten yards per target in his one year as a starter for the Aggies – he owned the seams of the field. He reduces the near-shoulder to minimize contact with defenders on his routes and linebackers can’t keep up with him down vertically. He shows soft hands to catch the ball outside his frame and tremendous effort focusing on it down the field. He also displays excellent body-control and ball-skills on several passes thrown to his backside. Sternberger consistently gains extra yardage after the catch with his burst, stiff-arms and spinning off contact. When the ball stays on the ground, he can seal the end-man on the backside of running plays and was used to pull around from the H-back or wing spot. He will put in the effort to put hands on defenders in space once one of his teammates catches the ball.
I would not trust Sternberger to create movement at the point of attack. He is taken off balance constantly, loses his footing and slips off too many blocks. He will allow defenders to drive him backwards and doesn’t show the ability to anchor down. I have no idea why A&M even bothered to put him in pass-protection and it won’t have a future in the pros from what I’ve seen unless he kills it in the weight-room. Sternberger has that little hitch, where he kicks back before getting into his route from a three-point stance and even to some degree from the slot. He is aksi a little late to turn his head once the underneath coverage is cleared and takes away opportunities for easier completions. Overall his ability to read coverages and adjust his routes accordingly is still being developed.
A one-year wonder who surprised everybody coming from junior college, Sternberger might be more of a big slot receiver at the next level, but those have already almost become the standard. I don’t think his problems as a blocker are an effort issue, but rather missing technique and core strength. Once you put him in an NFL workout program and teach him some of the intricacies at the position, he could be a highly productive move tight-end. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go off the board early on day two.
5. Caleb Wilson, UCLA
The son of Philadelphia Eagles defensive line coach Phillip Daniels, Caleb Wilson was a dual-threat quarterback/wide receiver out of California in high school. He originally committed as a QB at Old Dominion, but instead decided to walk on as a tight-end at USC. Once his dad left the school, Wilson transferred to the Bruins, who offered him a scholarship. After playing in all games as a reserve in year one, he broke out as a sophomore. Through five games he caught 38 passes for 390 yards, but was lost for the season when a Colorado defender rolled over his ankle. Last season he was a first-team All-Pac 12 selection with 60 grabs for almost 1000 yards and four touchdowns.
At 6’4”, 240 pounds, Wilson might the most advanced route-runner at the position and nobody seems to recognize coverages the way he does. He understands leverage and how to exploit voids on the intermediate level, makes himself available in-between linebackers and presents his hands to the quarterback. Wilson gears down once he clears the underneath coverage to not let safeties enter the picture and he widens defenders in man before arm-overing them gain the inside position. Wilson has unbelievable hands. He can go to his back-shoulder as well as tracking the ball over his head, presenting a very safe target and a dynamic receiving threat for his quarterback. Wilson displays quickness out of his breaks and the flexibility to adjust to the placement of the ball. He has that little shake at the top of his routes, which makes defenders stop their feet and they end up looking like they are stuck in the stand.
Wilson’s signature game came week one of 2017, when he and Josh Rosen connected 15 times for 208 yards. He started taking advantage of the holes in the Aggies defense and then was matched with safety Armani Watts, who he exposed continuously in man-coverage to the post. This young man is crafty after the catch, making defenders miss almost like a young Antonio Gates, and he is tough to bring down, consistently falling forward. Wilson has the speed to run away from people after the catch and when he has an angle on a defender, he uses his off-arm very well to keep him away from his body. He has a broad frame and is hard to get around as a blocker, whether that is sealing the backside or shielding someone at the second level downfield. Wilson Does a good job breaking down and putting hands on defenders in space. He was the nation’s top tight-end according to Pro Football Focus, before going down with an injury in 2017. His numbers were astonishing in a limited sophomore campaign and even without Josh Rosen throwing him the ball last year, he still led all tight-ends with 965 receiving yards. 467 of them came after the catch and he made 42 grabs for first downs or touchdown. Wilson was also Tied for the highest yards per route run among tight-ends available (2.56). I thought he also improved a lot in a limited role as a pass-protector in 2018.
With that being said, Wilson is really slow coming out of his tracks, as he needs to build up speed and runs too upright. That lack of explosiveness was on full display during the leaping events at the combine. His cuts aren’t very sharp and he rounds off some routes by not dropping his hips. Wilson won’t tower over defenders with that 29-inch vertical. He hasn’t been a frequent visitor in the opposing end-zone and his ability in the red-zone can be questioned. Wilson doesn’t really have the functional strength to sustain blocks against big defensive ends and outside linebackers, plus he plays too tall in space and allows defenders to get under his chest.
While there are some concerns about his explosiveness and he doesn’t show the power to be a consistent in-line blocker at the next level, Wilson to me is one of the most underrated prospects in this draft. Nobody in this class is even close to his proficiency in terms of understanding defenses and exploiting the holes in it. His hands are outstanding, he gets yardage after the catch and he plays within himself. You saw what he can do with a competent quarterback under center and he even excelled without a consistent passer last year.
6. Dawson Knox, Ole Miss
A former tight-end from Tennessee, Knox missed all but one game his senior year in high school and decided to join the Rebels as a tight-end. After redshirting in 2015 to get healthy and work on his body, he was limited to special teams in his first year in Mississippi. As a sophomore he caught 24 passes for 321 yards, starting nine of ten games. While the overall numbers didn’t improve last year, he put up a massive 18.9 per catch in Ole Miss’ offense.
At 6’4”, 250+ pounds, Knox ran a 4.51 at the Ole Miss pro day. He shows the explosiveness off the snap to put defenders on their heels, is a constant threat down the seams and gains ground quickly after the catch, as he runs away from linebackers on shallow crossers. Knox’s production was highly limited by the fact that the play-calling didn’t allow him to work the middle of the field, which was largely left open for A.J. Brown, and quarterback Jordan Ta’amu being hesitant to give him opportunities or flat-out missing throws. However, I think he has all the weapons to be an outstanding receiver. He shows good mobility of the hips and tilt in his feet for rounded breaks and is flexible enough to come out of that on whip routes. Knox creates a lot of separation on out- and stick-routes, where he just didn’t get the ball. The potent pass-catcher shows natural, sudden hands to bring in catches on passes that get there right out of his breaks and he dropped just one pass last season.
Knox doesn’t stop his feet going into contact and gains extra yardage consistently. He has some wiggle to make defenders miss in the open field, even if he didn’t get a lot of chances to show it. He doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty as a run-blocker as a wing-man or from that H-back position, where he shows excellent leverage and rolling of the hips. He bring good initial thump and continuous leg-drive, really putting in the effort in that area. Knox was used a lot to pull around the formation and lead-block for his backs, plus then the Rebels faked the run and asked him to stay home. Overall I think he shows quick feet and some pretty good anchor as a pass-protector. He looked very natural and smooth running routes and catching the ball at the scouting combine.
As a seal-blocker Knox is beaten across his face by some defensive ends and struggles to stay engaged with physically stronger defenders. You see him duck his head at times and he will need to work on his hand-positioning in general. His route tree at Ole Miss was limited to vertical concepts, breaking outside or back towards the QB within the first five yards of the line of scrimmage. The zero career touchdowns and almost no opportunities in the red-zone are a question mark and an area you can’t really evaluate. A lot about him as a pass-catcher is based on projecting somebody with 39 career catches, which is certainly odd.
What do you make of a tight-end with who was targeted less than 30 times last season and never even reached the end-zone in college? You look at the athletic tools and try to project. Knox can flat out run, I see the ability to expand on his routes with better footwork and he is a high-effort run-blocker. I don’t see anything that would make me believe he can’t put up better numbers as a pro, but since he never showed me I can’t put him above a couple of other guys.
7. Foster Moreau, LSU
A New Orleans native, Moreau decided to join his home-state Tigers as a former three-star recruit. He didn’t catch a pass in his true freshman year and brought in only six in his second season as more of a role player. These last two years he has been a starter for LSU, catching a combined 46 passes for 550 yards and five touchdowns, while being a valuable blocker for his team.
Moreau is a very versatile as a blocker and pass-catcher at 6’4”, 255 pounds. He is an old-school player who doesn’t wear gloves. While he dropped five passes in 2017, he only had one of those last season and was a highly dependable target in the passing game for the Tigers. He had this tremendous one-handed catch off a bootleg versus Florida, where the QB had to get rid of it quickly and threw it to the back of his tight-end. Moreau also showed some pretty good hands at the Senior Bowl, after being underutilized at LSU. He is highly effective on dig routes over the middle, where he displays fluid hips and is unafraid to take on contact. Even though he didn’t get to show it a whole lot, you see flashes of vertical speed to attack the seams. He surprised some people with a 4.66 in the 40 yard dash and some of the best numbers in the leaping events at the combine.
Once he secures the catch, Moreau puts both hands on the rock, takes down the shoulder and runs through people with the ball in his hands, twisting and stretching for additional yardage. Moreau is a tough-nosed, high-effort blocker. He gets his hands inside the frame of defenders, drives them off the ball and keeps pushing until the echo of the whistle. He absolutely bullies smaller DBs, when he gets the chance to. Moreau was asked to pull around and kick out defensive ends quite a bit as well as acting as a lead-blocker. He can seal off or reach edge defenders with active footwork. He also put in excellent work as a pass-protector, where he shows the ability to slide his feet and re-anchor against power-rushers, while understanding when to ride speed guys past the quarterback.
For as much as I think Moreau could develop in the passing game, he is sluggish off the line and doesn’t really put pressure on defenders when he sets up quick breaks. He gets hung up with contact way too easily underneath and fails to disengage as the play develops. His route tree at LSU was extremely basic and he didn’t show a lot of nuances in his approach. Moreau won’t make anybody miss or just hit another gear to run away from somebody after the catch either.
Moreau is somebody I think will help out your run game from day one and has a lot room to grow in the passing game, while offering enough in protection to put him on the field on third downs early on. His route-running definitely needs some refinement and you will need to work on how he gets off the ball, but I think there is enough talent to spend an early day three pick on him and develop the kid.
8. Josh Oliver, San Jose State
Originally recruited as a rush end/linebacker from California, Oliver stepped in at tight-end for the final four games of his true freshman season due to injuries at the position. After a rather eventless second year, he became more involved in the offense as a junior, catching 35 passes for just under 300 yard. Last season he went for over 700 yards on 56 catches and scored four teams, earning himself first-team All-Mountain West honors.
At 6’5”, 250 pounds, Oliver just looks and moves like a modern-day NFL tight-end. At the combine he ran 4.63 in the 40. showed his explosiveness with a broad jump of almost ten feet and had an incredible one-handed catch on a wheel route. Oliver lined up all over the place for the Spartan offense – at H-back, in-line, in the slot and as the single-receiver into the boundary at times. Therefore he has experience with a variety of routes from different alignments and shows good understanding for how they develop. He is long strider who gains a lot of ground once he is on the move and can get behind safeties when asked to go vertically. His secondary burst is outstanding, he accelerates quickly out of his breaks and will make things happen crossing the face of safeties on post and deep over routes. Oliver led all tight-ends last year with just under 200 deep receiving yards (on passes of 20+ yards) and converted several crucial third downs for the Spartans.
This guy’s catch-radius is humongous and he consistently catches the ball away from his body. Oliver displays the ability to high-point the ball and shows fluid adjustments to back-shoulder throws. Overall his body-control is tremendous and he made several tough catches with a defender in his hip-pocket. Oliver doesn’t worry about contact at the point of the catch and hung on to it through some serious blows. After the catch he gains additional yardage with spins, hurdles or dragging defenders for a couple of yards. He also does an excellent job selling the run and releasing off play-action. Oliver shows the will to push around people in the run game. He displays patient feet as a blocker and puts hands on linebackers. The receiving threat also has plenty of experience in pass-protection and shows a good base to take on and the length to guide pass rushers around, even if he is still learning in that area.
However, Oliver too transparent when he sets up routes, especially with 90 degree cuts, and allows defenders to enter the throwing window. He runs too upright in space and the change-of-direction to work the underneath area with square-ins or hook routes isn’t what he does best. Oliver needs to work on leverage and hand-positioning in the run-game, as he is more of a waist-bender and grabs cloth when out of position. He doesn’t have the functional strength or technique to give you anything on run downs at this point unless you want to use him as a coverage-indicator on the outside for RPOs.
Josh Oliver is one of the more intriguing tight-end prospects in this draft. He has the potential to be a mismatch due to his size, speed and ability to catch the ball with a defender on him, but he is a non-factor as a blocker at this point. I think he can develop in that area because I see the will to improve. As for now he is probably best suited as a TE2 who does his work as a receiver detached from the line.
9. Kahale Warring, San Diego State
Kahale Kuio Kalani Michael Wodehouse Warring starred in six different sports at his Californian high school, but didn’t join the football team until his senior year. He decided to walk on at San Diego State and redshirted his first year to bulk up. After breaking his foot as a reserve the following season, the Aztecs gave him a scholarship and he was productive as a three-game starter in 2017 (18 catches for 248 yards and three TDs). Despite officially starting only twice in his final season, he still earned honorable mention All-Mountain West for leading his team with 31 catches for 372 yards and three scores.
Body-wise this young man is all you want out of a tight-end. At 6’5”, 252 pounds he ran a 4.67 in the 40, a 36.5-inch vertical and 122-inch broad jump. Warring didn’t get a whole lot of opportunities to prove himself as a weapon in the passing game on a run-heavy offense, but he has shown to be a physical route-runner, who knows how to use subtle push-offs to his advantage and will hold up defenders to clear teammates on mesh concepts. He also got free with some nods one way and then breaking the other. Warring comes off the ball as a vertical threat and is pretty sudden in his breaks. He is strong when it comes to fighting through jams and won’t let contact at the top of the route bother him.
The Aztecs used him on jump-balls on the goal-line, where he shows the hops and box-out skills to tower over defenders. In general he displays excellent focus when catching the ball with defenders around him and he also ran some tight-end screens at SD State. Warring won’t shy away from banging heads with defensive ends in the run game, where he sinks his hips and shoots his hands. He shows excellent footwork to seal off defenders on the backside and the effort to sustain blocks as the play develops. While he was rarely utilized in pass-pro, I wouldn’t rule this out for him in the future after what I’ve seen from his work ethic to quickly develop into a good player in a short amount of time.
Unfortunately Warring dropped almost 12 percent of his targets last season. His hands can be somewhat inconsistent, as he makes some tremendous grabs over defenders and follows it up with some other passes slipping right through his fingers. Moreover, he will catch big defenders more than take it to them in the run-game and you see get pulled off those guys every once in a while. Warring experience is highly limited and he didn’t put up any impressive numbers during his collegiate career that would make you pound the table for him.
Warring is an intriguing prospect with the body of a Greek god and flashes of an NFL tight-end. His Blocking and route tree certainly need some development, but the physical tools and competitiveness all seem to be there. I would probably spend a pick in the middle-rounds on him if I am looking for a future guy, who I think could end up starting a couple of years down the road.
10. Kaden Smith, Stanford
This former five-star recruit out of Texas chose the Cardinal because of their success with getting tight-ends to the NFL. After redshirting his first year at campus, Smith took on a number two role behind Dalton Schultz as more of the receiving threat, catching 23 passes for 414 yards. Last season he was a second-team All-Pac 12 selection and John Mackey award finalist with 47 grabs for 635 yards and two touchdowns in ten games.
Smith is a big-bodied pass-catcher at 6’5”, 255 pounds. Dalton Schultz was more of the all-around contributor to their 2017 offense, while Smith on the other hand served the role of more of a receiving threat, lining up detached from the line primarily and even split out wide on some snaps. He was used a lot more in-line and in tight bunches last season however. Smith has good burst off the ball, runs tight breaks and really flips that head when he comes out of his breaks. He has outstanding hands to extend over his head and pluck the ball out of the air at its highest point. Smith is not afraid of going over the middle and excels with bodies around him, where he shows strong hands and the ball doesn’t move if he gets hit or a hand swipes at it. He uses slight push-offs and knows how to post up against smaller bodies, plus has the ability to go over the top of a defender and pick the ball off his head for those tough catches. Smith was tied for first among tight-ends with seven catches of 20+ yards and stood alone with 27 receptions out of the slot.
The former Cardinal TE made four huge catches in the 2017 Pac-12 Championship game versus USC, including two touchdowns with a defender right in his face and a huge catch on third-and-ten from their own ten yard line on a post route, which kept his team in the game. Smith is not easy to bring down with the ball in his hands and needs to be cut down by his feet, shows awareness for defenders and with the trust he has in his hands, he can make smooth transitions from catching the ball to getting additional yardage, plus he has a feel for where the sticks are. He has shown the willingness and potential as a run-blocker on some occasions. Smith displays a tight grip to sustain blocks and shows the ability to lock out edge defenders. As a blocker he is at his best on the move as part of toss or sweep plays, where he can put hands on people in space.
With that being said, Smith gets knocked off his routes to easily by defenders. His speed is a major question at 4.92 in the 40 and he doesn’t have the explosiveness to create a lot of separation, winning primarily on contested catches. Smith isn’t very elusive post-catch and rarely even got the opportunity to show anything with minimal space to the next defender. He wasn’t nearly the same type of run-blocker against stronger defensive linemen either. What really bumped Smith’s draft stock was that lackluster combine performance, where he put up some of the worst numbers across the board and you see some of those athletic limitations on tape.
Smith might have not played in that role a whole lot at Stanford, but his skill-set best translates to a true Y tight-end. He will never be a dynamic threat to go completely go over the top, but he has upside to improve as a run-blocker and catches the ball easily, to be a security blanket for some offense. However, he might not ever be a TE1 when in a pass-happy NFL.
Next guys up:
Trevon Wesco (West Virginia), Drew Sample (Washington), Dax Raymond (Utah State), Isaac Nauta, (Georgia), Alize Mack (Notre Dame), Tom Sweeney (Boston College), Keenen Brown (Texas State)