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After focusing on defense in our first two position previews, it was time to take a look at the offense, and we’re starting with tight ends.
The 2019 tight end class is quite deep and has a few promising prospects who project to be top-10 level starters at their position in the league.
While the Denver Broncos have drafted three players at the position in recent years, every single one of them has struggled with injuries, and with a really talented class, finding an immediate and long-term upgrade should definitely be explored. Denver needs to find a solution at the position for Rich Scangarello’s offense to succeed and max out Joe Flacco’s ability.
Here’s who the Broncos could target.
The dark horse picks at 10
T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa
Hockenson is the one true contender at 10 for Denver and is as pure an in-line tight end as you’ll find coming out of college. Beyond being an excellent blocker, Hockenson is a nasty finisher who plays with an edge and loves to get dirty in the run game.
As a receiver, he’s an already polished product, with smooth hands and detailed route running. His high-end athleticism really shines after the catch, where he’s a handful to bring down and will try his best to run over defenders in the open field. His athletic leaping ability also gives him significant upside as a red-zone weapon.
Hockenson’s one drawback is that he’s not a mismatch in the passing game as of yet, as he won’t stretch the seam vertically and isn’t Gronk sized.
His floor is really high, the big question is how high is his ceiling is? He has a first-round grade on our board but isn’t a top-10 prospect.
Noah Fant, TE, Iowa
Fant will go in the first round but shouldn’t be a top-15 pick, though crazier things have happened in the draft and “the other” Hawkeye tight end is really enticing because he is a mismatch in the passing game.
Fant can stretch the field and be a big-time weapon flexed out in the slot and in the red zone, with incredible athleticism and solid production throughout his career. Only thing is, he’s riskier than Hockenson because his route running isn’t refined, his hands can be inconsistent, and he’ll need to be developed as a blocker.
If Denver were to trade down, Fant would be worth considering, though he’d still present some risk with a first-round selection as he might end up becoming just a gadget player that’s worth $5 million a year. He’s reminiscent of Eric Ebron, good and bad.
Options on day two
Irv Smith Jr., TE, Alabama
Smith is a very intriguing tight-end prospect and pretty unique due to his 6-foot-2, 242-pound frame. Thing is, Smith doesn’t play like he’s undersized as he’s a very strong blocker and an explosive receiver.
That explosiveness constantly stood out about Smith, whether when shooting off the line to block, breaking on routes, or high-pointing throws, Irv’s burst is special. His size will force offensive coordinators to adjust, using him as an H-back and taking advantage of his speed in the open field.
Prior to the Combine, he was in the running to be the top tight end in the class and was neck-and-neck with Hockenson.
There’s still a good amount of upside to Smith, who was just scratching the surface a year ago, he’d be a really interesting pick in Scangarello’s offense at 41.
Jace Sternberger, TE, Texas A&M
The Kansas transfer got to College Station and tore up the SEC with 832 receding yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging an impressive 17 yards per reception.
Sternberger is a really talented receiver who’s a train after the catch and looks really natural running routes and making contested grabs. He’s a fluid athlete who looks like a receiver, with intriguing skills after the catch.
Even if his 6-foot-4, 251-pound frame isn’t colossal and he tested out as an average athlete in Indianapolis, the Oklahoma native is going to go in round two because of his receiving skills and how easily he’d translate to the NFL.
He promises to be a weapon in the passing game, the question is more about his blocking, though he’s shown flashes there.
Foster Moreau, TE, LSU
Unlike Sternberger and Smith, who are second-round targets, Moreau is more of a third-round pick as he’s much more of a gamble on upside. He has the size and tested off the charts in Indy, but the production wasn’t there.
It should be said, Moreau didn’t get that many targets either and had his flashes as a receiver, but he’s a bit of an unknown in that aspect of his game.
He can definitely be a security blanket on short routes, and he’ll be a threat running after the catch, but the real question is if his athleticism can take him over the top. If it can, watch out, because Moreau has it all and could be a high-end starter for years to come who impacts all phases of the game.
Dawson Knox, TE, Ole Miss
A lot of what we said about Moreau is also true about Knox, and maybe even more so, as the Mississippi tight end never scored a touchdown in his college career.
Granted, he had to share touches with D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown and Co. but for a football Adonis type like Knox, it’s odd he didn’t produce more.
Knox tested through the roof and is a really strong blocker. His upside is as high as anyone’s in the class.
Kahale Warring, TE, San Diego State
Warring profiles as an in-line tight end with a high ceiling and intriguing strength at the point of attack. He possesses great size and impressive raw athleticism, which he showed in flashes last season, especially when skying to make tough grabs in traffic.
His receiving talent is very intriguing as both a big slot and as an in-line blocker who can separate underneath. He’s shown upside as a route runner, has nice hands, and even some ability to stretch the seam. He checks off a lot of boxes and profiles to be an NFL starter with the potential for more.
Caleb Wilson, TE, UCLA
Wilson was one of the most productive receivers in the Pac-12, a pretty rare feat in the college game, where tight ends are often underutilized. Even more impressive, Wilson did so under two different coaching staffs and while returning from injury in 2018.
He doesn’t look like he’s a special athlete on tape, but he’s crafty and a really talented receiver who’s natural using his body to gain position and high point the ball.
He ran a terrific 4.56 40 and will test linebackers and safeties in man coverage. He isn’t a great blocker and doesn’t show much promise in that department, but he could be a real factor as a big slot and receiving tight end.
Kaden Smith, TE, Stanford
Smith is strong at the catch point and really savvy in using his big frame to box defenders out. He had two very productive seasons at Stanford and was a key target for their aerial attack. He has some blocking ability, but he’ll need to be developed as he was primarily used as Stanford’s receiving specialist throughout his career.
If he can become a true in-line tight end, he’ll never be a mismatch like Travis Kelce, but he could be a really solid starter.
Josh Oliver, TE, San Jose State
Oliver’s intriguing because he checks off a lot of boxes. His blocking ability is there, his route running is promising, and his ability to go up and make contested catches is enticing.
He’s a gifted athlete who had a break out season last year and might have some more untapped potential to him.
Drew Sample, TE, Washington
Sample is another underutilized blocking tight end, with good size and significant upside who tested really well in Indianapolis. Rather than spending a high third-round pick on Knox, taking someone like Sample in the fifth might present better draft value with similar returns.
Dax Raymond, TE, Utah State
The third Mountain West tight end on our list, Raymond is still raw and a big slot type with significant upside if he can turn into a solid blocker. In the Aggies spread offense, he was mostly used to block from the slot and not in-line, and his production wasn’t anything special. However, he has really smooth hands and is very capable roaming the middle of the field to make tough grabs, even if he’s not the greatest athlete.
He has intriguing potential to profile as a future starter.
Isaac Nauta, TE, Georgia
Nauta would’ve been much higher on this list before he really disappointed in his athletic testing. At his best, he’s a solid blocker with refined route running and hands. He was a playmaker for the Bulldogs and has some YAC ability, too. He could even be used out the backfield as an H-back from time to time. Nauta could be a nice value assuming his testing plummets his stock to day three, though you wonder if he’s maxed out his ability in college.