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Top 5 tight end prospects + sleepers before the 2018 NFL Combine

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The Combine is approaching, which means it is time for positional rankings. Today, we rank the best tight end prospects, along with a sleeper and others to watch.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Purdue Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

We continue our rundown of the top 2018 NFL Draft prospects heading into this year’s Scouting Combine. Today, our focus turns towards the tight ends. While I wouldn’t consider this year’s crop of prospects as a deep class, there is still some intriguing talent to be had. As for the San Francisco 49ers, I do believe the position and depth chart is still a work in progress. There is some talent and, I do believe the position is in better shape than in previous seasons, however more work is needed.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Last season the 49ers selected George Kittle out of Iowa in the 5th round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Kittle started slowly out of the gates, however he started to become more utilized in the game plan, and had an even bigger impact once Jimmy Garoppolo was running the offense. In his final three games this season Kittle recored 194 total yards with a touchdown. I like Kittle, and I believe the team does as well. I would like to think the team see’s good value in Kittle and continues to develop him with Garoppolo under center. In addition to Kittle the 49ers tight ends included veterans Garrett Celek, Logan Paulson, and Kyle Nelson.

Below is a list of the 2018 free agent tight ends. Will the 49ers be interested in signing any of these free agents? (Free Agents list provided by rotoworld)

Jimmy Graham (31)
Tyler Eifert (27)
Austin Seferian-Jenkins (25)
Trey Burton (26)
Virgil Green (29)
Niles Paul (28)
Luke Willson (28)
Ben Watson (37)
Antonio Gates (37)
Ed Dickson (30)
Crockett Gillmore (26)
Troy Niklas (25)
Chris Gragg (27)
Darren Fells (31)
Richard Rodgers (26)
Lee Smith (30)
Anthony Fasano (33)
Jeff Cumberland (30)
Derek Carrier (27)
Brandon Williams (30)
Clay Harbor (30)
Zach Miller (33)
Logan Paulsen (31)

The big names on this list include Jimmy Graham, Tyler Eifert, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. I honestly don’t see the 49ers being interested in investing significant salary cap on a tight end in free agency. However, if you are one of those hopefuls that have their sights set on a name listed above, then the good news for you is that this front office has already surprised us in multiple ways in just one short year.

Are there any tight ends listed above you hope to see in red and gold?

Onto the draft prospects. Here are the top five tight ends with a sleeper and a few others to keep a close eye on.

Hayden Hurst, No. 81 - South Carolina

Height: 6’5” Weight: 250 lbs. - Age: 25
40 Time: 4.63
2017 Stats: 44 receptions for 559 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Hurst might just be the most complete and NFL ready tight end this draft class has to offer. He isn’t going to have an electrifying highlight reel, however his overall package as a tight end is exactly what scouts look for at the position. On tape, Hurst lines up all along the line of scrimmage and runs his routes at all three levels on the field. Strong and reliable hands. Has the speed to create separation on his routes, especially up the seem in the middle of the field. Not afraid to contest catches up in the middle in traffic. A clean and reliable blocker who was effective in the run and pass game. Clean footwork as both a runner and a blocker. Age is going to be a factor (25 years old). Sometimes gets caught along the line, and route gets broken up by a linebacker that takes Hurst out of the play. Still, there is a lot to like about Hurst. In a draft class that doesn’t offer many clean and reliable blockers, Hurst is the best of the bunch. He is a fringe day one, more -than-likely day two selection.

Draft Projection: Late 1st-2nd Round

Mark Andrews, No. 81 - Oklahoma

Height: 6’5 - Weight: 253 lbs. - Age: 21
40 Time: 4.75
2017 Stats: 62 receptions for 958 yards and 8 touchdowns.

Recipient of the John Mackey Award for the nations best tight end. Andrews was a force in one of the most lethal offenses in the country last season. Andrews has strong, reliable hands, and was one of Baker Mayfield’s most trusted targets this season. Andrews offers big-window target appeal for any passer, especially in the red zone. Andrews has the size and speed to create separation, and produce yards after the catch. He is lethal down the middle of the field, and creates a physical presence and mismatch with many defenders. Catches passes with ease in heavy traffic. Has the physical traits and athleticism scouts and evaluators seek at the position. A glaring weakness in Andrews’ game is his ability to be a blocker. Many times on tape his form as a blocker was poor. Either that, or he simply was not utilized as a blocker, and his presence in the run game will need improvement at the next level. Andrews also has Type 1 diabetes. The 49ers need a red zone target, and added depth at the tight end position. Andrews would be a nice addition for those reasons, however he is not the complete package you hope to get in a tight end.

Draft Projection: 2nd-3rd Round

Dallas Goedert, No. 86 - South Dakota State

Height: 6’4” - Weight: 260 lbs. - Age: 22
40 Time: 4.71
2017 Stats: 72 receptions, 1,111 receptions, 7 touchdowns.

Goedert is slowly but surely rising up my rankings. The more tape I watch on Goedert, the more positives I am finding in his game and his abilities as a tight end at the next level. Goedert was utilized heavily as a receiver this season, and demonstrated his ability to create separation. He has demonstrated the ability to make catches at all three levels on the field. On tape, he is constantly out-boxing defenders and plays with a physical presence fighting for jump balls. He has improved in his abilities as a blocker, yet there is still room for him to grow in this department. Due to where he played (Missouri Valley Conference) some will question his ability to raise his game against much stiffer and elite competition. Needs to continue building his route tree and not lead defenders on him too quickly when the plays breaks.

Draft Projection: 2nd-3rd Round

Troy Fumagalli, No. 81 - Wisconsin

Height: 6’6” - Weight: 248 lbs. - Age: 22
40 Time: 4.65
2017 Stats: 46 receptions, 547 yards, 4 touchdowns.

Rankings are going to be all over the place for Fumagalli. Some will agree he belongs in the top five, and some will not. His tape is one of the best I have studied at the tight end position this year. Mostly works up the middle as a pass catcher and was lethal on the intermediate routes. Can read a defense and run his routes without giving himself up early to defenders. Was a reliable blocker for Wisconsin who ran the ball heavily. Tracks the ball as well as any tight end I have studied the last couple of seasons. Strong hands, who reels in passes, even missing his index finger on his left hand. The concerns begin with that missing finger. Not surprisingly, it has left some scouts concerned. I am concerned about his frame and how he will hold up at the next level. Durability will have to be monitored. At times he will allow defenders to take away his route and even the ball altogether (See Denzel Ward vs Troy Fumagalli - Big 10 Title Game). Overall though, Fumagalli offers a wonderful combination as a pass catcher and blocker, and will bring his best effort to the field each and every time. P.J. Fleck says it best in the first 25 seconds of the highlights video above!

Draft Projection: 3rd Round

Mike Gesicki, No. 88 - Penn State

Height: 6’6” - Weight: 252 lbs. - Age: 22
40 Time: 4.65
2017 Stats: 57 receptions, 563 yards, 9 touchdowns.

One of the fastest tight ends in this draft class. The Penn State product was a constant mismatch all season long for defenders and opponents. Has a blend of size and speed that offers him the opportunity to make catches in the short, intermediate, and deep routes. One of those rare tight ends who can change up his motion and speed to knock linebackers and other defenders off balance in pass coverages. Has a great spring in his legs and rises up for jump balls. On tape, Gesicki is confident with his movement and his abilities as a pass catcher. As reliable of a pass catcher as you will find. On tape, I couldn’t remember him ever dropping a pass! He physically has the looks of a receiver instead of a tight end. His blocking leaves something to be desired, and he will need to trust his hands more in the run game. He makes me nervous as a blocker, but gets me excited as a receiver.

Draft Projection: Round 3-4

Mid-Round Sleeper

Ryan Izzo, No. 81 - Florida State

Height: 6’5” - Weight: 250 lbs. - Age: 22
40 Time: 4.81
2017 Stats: 20 receptions, 317 yards, 3 touchdowns

Izzo is another intriguing tight end prospect who I believe is going under the radar. He is going to be one of the best blockers you watch on tape this draft season. Is a physical freak at the position who has a frame that evaluators and scouts seek at the next level. On tape, Izzo is a great lead blocker who can push defenders backwards and contributes significantly in the run game. Clean footwork and a natural blend of upper and lower body strength as a blocker. Trusted receiver who has respectable speed for the position. Izzo isn’t going to lead the league in touchdowns, however he does become a big-target option and tough blocker who can contribute in both run and pass protection. Needs to work on his burst and agility off the line, and needs to make more of a presence in the pass game. As a receiver he can get physically outmatched by defenders. Still, I like his combination as a blocker and pass catcher. Keep Izzo on your radar.

Draft Projection: 4th-5th Round

Others To Watch:

Dalton Shultz, No. 9 - Stanford

Height: 6’6” - Weight: 240 lbs. - Age: 21
40 Time: 4.78
2017 Stats: 22 receptions, 212 yards, 3 touchdowns.

Durham Smythe, No. 80 - Notre Dame

Height: 6’5” - Weight: 253 lbs. - Age: 22
40 Time: 4.72
2017 Stats: 15 receptions, 244 yards, 1 touchdown.

Jordan Akins, No. 88 - UCF

Height: 6’3” - Weight: 246 lbs. - Age: 25
40 Time: 4.74
2017 Stats: 32 receptions, 515 yards, 4 touchdowns.

What tight ends are YOU most excited about this draft season? Please share in the comments below!