2019 NFL Draft prospect rankings: Tight ends

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Here, theScore's Mike Alessandrini and Dan Wilkins break down the top prospects in the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft with position-by-position rankings and an overall top 50 big board.

Top 50
QB | RB | WR | TE | OT | iOL
EDGE | DL | LB | CB | S

Tight ends

1. T.J. Hockenson

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School: Iowa
Height: 6-5
Weight: 251 lbs

Strengths

  • Excels in every phase of game
  • Good athlete
  • Smooth at top of routes and can separate from defenders
  • Shields catch point and uses body well in traffic
  • Excellent concentration and over-the-shoulder ball-tracking
  • Feisty blocker, especially in run game
  • Able to make defenders miss after catch
  • Good hands - not many dropped passes

Weaknesses

  • Lacks elite burst off line of scrimmage
  • Can struggle high-pointing ball in air
  • Deep speed not elite

Bottom line

Hockenson is a rare tight end prospect with a polished all-around game. He's an advanced player despite only two years of college experience and is still just scratching the surface of his potential. The 2018 John Mackey Award winner doesn't have any glaring weaknesses in his game and profiles as a Day 1 starter in the pros.

2. Noah Fant

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School: Iowa
Height: 6-5
Weight: 252 lbs

Strengths

  • Elite athlete for position
  • Good size with long arms and large catch radius
  • Top-tier speed to run away from defenders on deep patterns and after catch
  • Uses length to separate at top of routes
  • Excellent burst off line of scrimmage and out of breaks
  • Tracks ball very well
  • Able to drive defenders when locked in while run-blocking

Weaknesses

  • Struggles with drops in traffic and while defenders are closing in
  • Doesn't use body well to catch in traffic despite good size
  • Often late out of his stance after snap
  • Could be more physical running routes - some defenders knock him out of position easily

Bottom line

Fant is the very definition of an offensive mismatch in today's NFL. He's simply too fast for linebackers and too big for safeties in coverage, which will have offensive coordinators salivating. His incredible athleticism, speed, and ball-tracking abilities could reap instant rewards in Year 1. Down the line, he has every opportunity to become a premier offensive weapon in the NFL.

3. Irv Smith Jr.

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School: Alabama
Height: 6-2
Weight: 242 lbs

Strengths

  • Number of long receptions in college display home-run ability
  • Great initial burst off line of scrimmage
  • Versatile weapon who lines up all over field
  • Consistently bests defenders on double moves
  • Experienced run-blocker who takes good angles
  • Has enough speed to stretch field
  • Excellent contact balance and elusiveness after catch

Weaknesses

  • Not most natural hands-catcher
  • Lacks ideal height and frame
  • Average athlete for position
  • Game speed rarely reaches second gear
  • Lacks power at point of attack in run game

Bottom line

Smith will be just 21 when the 2019 season begins, but he's shown flashes of dominance that could translate well into the pros. He's a crafty route-runner who possesses enough speed to challenge opposing defenses in a variety of ways. Smith is fairly raw but has plenty of potential to be a move tight end who doubles as a big slot receiver.

4. Jace Sternberger

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School: Texas A&M
Height: 6-4
Weight: 251 lbs

Strengths

  • Good size and uses body effectively
  • Consistently dominates one-on-one coverage
  • Excellent in contested catch scenarios - almost always comes down with ball
  • Soft hands and wide catch radius
  • Smooth route-runner who wastes little movement
  • 20 TDs over last two seasons, and tied for most deep receptions (7) at his position in 2018
  • Strong concentration and ball-tracking
  • Legitimate red-zone weapon

Weaknesses

  • Lacks power when blocking at point of attack
  • Can get pushed off initial portion of routes easily
  • Average athlete and long speed
  • Isn't overly explosive - if he doesn't win off the line, defenders can easily stick with him in coverage

Bottom line

Sternberger only has one full season of college production to his name, but he's a surprisingly refined route-runner and is dominant in tight spaces. Sternberger is still learning the position and could certainly add some strength, but he has a number of impressive traits to work with that could make him an immediate receiving threat in the NFL.

5. Dawson Knox

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School: Ole Miss
Height: 6-4
Weight: 254 lbs

Strengths

  • Receiver speed in a tight end's body
  • Great athlete with excellent change-of-direction skills
  • Ability to adjust to balls while in air
  • Nice burst off line and can challenge defensive backs deep
  • Versatile weapon inline and in slot
  • Has long arms and soft hands
  • Tough competitor and serviceable run-blocker

Weaknesses

  • Many weapons at Ole Miss - didn't get many targets
  • Can be lazy/stagnant at top of routes
  • Not given many opportunities to prove himself after catch

Bottom line

Knox will draw comparisons to George Kittle due to his high-level athletic traits and lack of college production. The former Rebel is a fluid athlete who also possesses the speed to become a dynamic offensive weapon. Parts of his game - specifically aspects of his route-running - still need work, but Knox has one of the highest ceilings among tight ends in this class.

6. Dax Raymond

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School: Utah State
Height: 6-5
Weight: 255 lbs

Strengths

  • Uses size well in routes
  • Very versatile - lined up outside, in slot, and as H-back
  • Elusive after catch - natural mover in space and forces missed tackles
  • Has flashed drive and burst to thrive as run-blocker
  • Large catch radius and can extend for tough catches
  • Good speed especially evident when running seam routes
  • Physical, tenacious player

Weaknesses

  • Not experienced in pass protection
  • Average functional athleticism
  • Unpolished route-runner who lacks burst in and out of breaks
  • Can struggle to separate in man coverage
  • Can he match up well against tougher competition?

Bottom line

Raymond will likely never develop into an elite NFL tight end, but he possesses a number of intriguing traits worth taking a gamble on. His natural movement skills and above-average speed to stretch the defense make him an ideal developmental weapon at the next level. Raymond's biggest task going forward is improving his route-running to elude man coverage and get out in space - where he thrives the most.

7. Josh Oliver

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School: San Jose State
Height: 6-5
Weight: 249 lbs

Strengths

  • Does a good job extending and plucking ball out of the air
  • Physical route-runner who can separate at top of route
  • Dangerous sideline player - a terror on back-shoulder throws
  • Good body control and very wide catch radius
  • Productive 2018 season on bad team
  • Excellent at tracking ball in air

Weaknesses

  • Lacks burst to consistently separate
  • Not overly physical in tight spaces despite good build
  • Not elusive in the open field after catch
  • Overpowered in the running game as blocker

Bottom line

Oliver is an intriguing Day 3 option as a developmental tight end. He doesn't offer much in the open field, but profiles as a high-upside red-zone weapon. Still learning his craft and adding strength, Oliver has the tools to eventually become a starter in the NFL.

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8. Kaden Smith

School: Stanford
Height: 6-5
Weight: 255 lbs

Strengths

  • Very experienced lining up at multiple spots
  • Great size and uses it well to shield defenders
  • Strong hands give him tools to be an adequate pass-blocker
  • Able to consistently find soft spot in zones
  • Physical at top of routes - able to extend and separate
  • Hauled in a number of deep receptions in 2018

Weaknesses

  • Doesn't possess ideal speed or athleticism
  • Often gets jammed/knocked off his spot during early portion of routes
  • Lacks burst off line of scrimmage, leads to early route deficits
  • Can be bullied as run-blocker
  • Had a few drops over last two seasons

Bottom line

Smith is a solid, sturdy prospect who has plenty of experience lining up in the slot at Stanford. Unfortunately, he lacks explosiveness and athleticism to be deployed there in the pros. Smith has a high football IQ and excellent body control but likely maxes out as a second tight end.

Other notable prospects

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Kahale Warring (San Diego State)
Caleb Wilson (UCLA)
Foster Moreau (LSU)
Isaac Nauta (Georgia)

Top 50
QB | RB | WR | TE | OT | iOL
EDGE | DL | LB | CB | S

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2019 NFL Draft prospect rankings: Tight ends
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