clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Top 5 tight end prospects heading into 2018-19 bowl season

New, comments

Our look at some of the top prospects in next year’s draft continues as we examine several key names to keep an eye on at tight end. WR | LB | OL | CB | S | TE

NCAA Football: Iowa at Minnesota
T.J. Hockenson
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

We continue our pre bowl season breakdown of the top prospects at positional rankings of note for the 49ers. Today, we take a look at another potential addition on the offensive side of the ball, the tight end position.

George Kittle has been nothing short of amazing. Kittle has been a shining light on what has been a dark season, and his future on the team is bright, highlighting the potent potential the 49ers’ offense could be in the future when everyone comes back healthy.

Behind Kittle, both Garrett Celek and Ross Dwelley will be playing their final year of their respective contracts in 2019, so bolstering the position is needed. Moreover, during the Monday Night Football game against the New York Giants, the MNF crew mentioned their meeting with John Lynch where he discussed the need for another dynamic threat at either wide receiver or tight end. Why settle for one high quality George Kittle talent when you can have two?

As this is the beginning of NFL Draft season, keep in mind the rankings will be fluid and future rankings will inevitably feed your draft appetite. Nonetheless, let us know what you think in the comments below.

Noah Fant, TE, No. 87 - Iowa
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 243 | 40 time: 4.64
2018 Stats (12 games): 39 receptions, 518 yards, 13.3 average yards per catch, and 7 touchdowns

After an impressive 2017 campaign leading the nation’s tight ends with 16.5 yards per catch and 11 touchdown receptions, Noah Fant’s expectations were expected to continue to rise. The junior boasts freakish athleticism with a multi-sport background in basketball and track (sprints, high jump, triple jump). Although he spends a good amount of time as an effective blocker in Iowa’s scheme, Fant is an athletic pass catching tight end with a great combination of size, speed, athleticism, and the hops to be a red zone threat (42.1” vertical leap). Moreover, he displays the versatility to be used as an offensive weapon all over the field - a Kyle Shanahan special.

Fant displays his natural athletic gifts as a versatile prospect lining up end of line, detached, in the backfield, and out wide. He shows great explosion off the line, nice suddenness in and out of his breaks, strong hands (extends arms to make the catch), and excellent ball skills. Fant displays a keen ability to block end of line at the point of attack in a three-point stance, the agility to reach the next level and block in space with a sound base, platform, and the ability to swing his hips blocking in space whether end of line, detached, or coming downhill from the backfield. In pass protection, he showcases a solid base, platform, and hand positioning is sound, as well as displaying the ability to slide laterally with good balance. Consistency and increased functional strength will bode well for Fant at the next level.

Irv Smith Jr., TE, No. 82 - Alabama
Height: 6’4” | Weight: 241 | 40 time: 4.5
2018 Stats (13 games): 38 receptions, 648 yards, 17.1 average yards per catch, and 7 touchdowns

Irv Smith Jr. is a mismatch in the middle of the field and on the perimeter displaying an impressive combination of size, speed, explosion, and athleticism. A dangerous receiving weapon in the middle of the field, Smith can easily take advantage of defenses with his speed up the seam, the suddenness to separate and get away from man coverage taking advantage of his impressive length and athleticism, finds holes in zone and squares up presenting a large target and catching radius for the quarterback, and extends hands away from the body to make the catch. Along with good catching and great YAC ability, his blocking has been steadily improving as well (a work in progress but shown the capacity to improve).

Smith is a high effort tenacious football player with NFL bloodlines (father and uncle both played in the NFL). He is well coached and embraces the opportunities to improve his game always hungry to succeed. The 49ers are in desperate need of a playmaker wide receiver; however, a dual threat at tight end, along with George Kittle, could be an additional force Kyle Shanahan can take advantage of.

T.J. Hockenson, TE, No. 38 - Iowa
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 250 | 40 time: 4.72
2018 Stats (12 games): 46 receptions, 717 yards, 15.6 average yards per catch, and 6 touchdowns

Earlier in the collegiate season I highlighted one Iowa tight end to keep an eye on in Noah Fant, but Iowa does not disappoint with their tight ends. T.J. Hockenson may not get the same recognition as Fant, but an argument could be made Hockenson could be better of the two. The redshirt sophomore has stepped out of the shadow of Fant and his gameplay has raised eyebrows leaving him an enticing option to take advantage of his draft value when it is time to declare. Moreover, joining another talented Iowa tight end in George Kittle will help solidify the 49ers’ tight end position.

Hockenson offers an athletic frame with a terrific combination of size, speed, athleticism, and strength. He displays fluidity in his route running, showcases excellent ball skills, very strong reliable and outstanding hands, attacks the ball at its highest point, and is an exceptional blocker (Iowa’s bread and butter). Hockenson displays outstanding awareness always finding the holes on defense and quickly squares up to make a large target for the quarterback, as well as the suddenness to separate with impressive burst from his breaks creating separation. He shows an excellent ability to block end of line at the point of attack in a three point stance using solid hand technique and leverage. Hockenson shows the agility to reach the next level and block in space with a sound base, platform, and the ability to swing his hips blocking in space whether end of line or detached and will finish defenders with a nasty imposition. An all around complete tight end that is still growing. My favorite tight end in the class.

Kaden Smith, TE, No. 82 - Stanford
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 252 | 40 time: 4.77
2018 Stats (9 games): 47 receptions, 635 yards, 13.5 average yards per catch, and 2 touchdowns

Kaden Smith is another product of Stanford’s success at the tight end position. The mold of tight end David Shaw has employed at Stanford has transitioned nicely at the next level, and Smith is another prospect off the Stanford tight end production line destined to find success in the NFL. The junior and former two-sport (football and basketball) star athlete is a dual-threat tight end showcasing an impressive skill-set as an in-line blocker and an extremely reliable option in the passing game.

Smith is solid at the point of attack, eagerly engaging defenders with quality blocking fundamentals showcasing a great ability to block end of line at the point of attack in a three-point stance, the agility to reach the next level and block in space with a sound base, platform, and the ability to swing his hips blocking in space whether end of line, detached, or coming downhill from the backfield. As a receiver, Smith shows good explosion off the line, decent suddenness in and out of his breaks, tremendously strong hands (extends arms to make the catch), and excellent ball skills with amazing body control. Although gaining separation at the next level will be a work in progress, Smith has a tremendous knack for outmuscling defenders winning in a crowd with great balance and vice grips for hands.

Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, No. 81 - Missouri
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 260 | 40 time: 4.5
2018 Stats (9 games): 43 receptions, 466 yards, 10.8 average yards per catch, and 6 touchdowns

When you think of a big, fast, and dominate wide receiver, Albert Okwuegbunam comes to mind. The redshirt sophomore tight end will definitely need to develop the nuances of the position for next level (Mizzou loves to split him out wide), but as a pass catching tight end with vertical threat speed, Okwuegbunam is definitely an enticing prospect a Kyle Shanahan offense can truly take advantage of.

Okwuegbunam is an athletically explosive raw talent with impressive speed, length, agility, and athleticism. He has the speed and size to be a nightmare match-up for defenders flying up the seam with athletic fluidity presenting a large catching radius (long arms) and soft reliable hands. Okwuegbunam shows the ability to extend hands away from his body to make tough catches with terrific body control and high-pointing skills making him an ideal threat in the red zone. Although run blocking is a work in progress, Okwuegbunam shows effort and desire in run blocking and pass protection with a fair ability to block end of line at the point of attack in a three-point stance and coming downhill from the backfield, as well as the burst, fluidity, and agility to the reach the next level blocking in space making great effort attacking with hands to drive defenders and the hip flexibility to swing hips.

Player measurables courtesy of team pages. 40 times projected.