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Top tight end prospects heading into the NFL Combine

We’re continuing our look at positions of need for the Niners heading into the Combine by taking a glance at which tight ends made an impact in 2018.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Hello faithful! We are back with another round of position rankings. Today we take a closer look at some of the top tight end prospects in the 2019 NFL Draft class. The San Francisco 49ers struck gold with 2017 Draft fifth round draft pick George Kittle who set a record for most receiving yards by a tight end in 2018. Only two years into his career and George Kittle has made it clear, he is an elite all-pro who is going to be a cornerstone in this 49er’s offense. Joining Kittle is Garrett Celek and Rose Dwelley. Let’s get right to it, and see if one of the following prospects will be wearing red and gold in 2019.

What are YOUR thoughts on these top 5 tight end prospects? Who else are you excited about in the 2019 tight end draft class? Please share in the comments below!

1. T.J. Hockenson, TE, No. 38 – Iowa
Height: 6’5” - Weight: 250 - 40 Time: 4.63
2018 Stats: 49 receptions, 760 yards, 6 touchdowns

Is it safe to assume that Iowa is the tight end football factory in the country? The same school that gave us George Kittle has now delivered the top two tight end prospects in the country. First up we have redshirt sophomore T.J. Hockenson. Hockenson is a smooth route runner with a pro ready frame and catch radius. Can high point the ball, with good balance. Has soft and reliable hands. Has demonstrated his ability to catch footballs in wet conditions when Iowa played Penn State this season. Has a respectable second gear after catching the football and gaining yards after the reception. However, what truly makes Hockenson the TE1 in this draft class is his do-it-all ability on the field. His versatility as a pass catcher and a blocker make him a three down offensive weapon on the field. An in-line blocker in pass protection and the ability to vertically stretch the field will give offense coordinators plenty to work with at the next level.

Draft Projection: 1st Round

2. Noah Fant, TE, No. 87 – Iowa
Height: 6’4” Weight: 232 Projected 40 Time: 4.64
2018 Stats: 39 Receptions, 519 yards, 7 touchdowns

Like Hockenson, Noah Fant is also a smooth and versatile route runner at multiple levels on the field. Has reliable hands when catching the ball and has explosive burst when gaining yards after the reception. Fant just might be the fastest tight end in this draft class. Can be lined up at multiple spots along the line of scrimmage. For a tight end, and someone his size, Fant has a tremendous amount of flexibility. Moves quite freely on the field. Has strong football instincts and awareness on the field. As a blocker, Fant has had more success as a space blocker. His athleticism allows Fant to make instant adjustments. Overall, I feel Fant can be a real mismatch as a receiver at the next level. While he is a good blocker, he is not yet a finished product in this department. There is plenty to like about Fant and at the moment he is a borderline first round prospect.

Draft Projection: 1st-2nd round

3. Irv Smith Jr., TE, No. 63 – Alabama
Height: 6’3” – Weight: 243 – Projected 40 Time: 4.58
2018 Stats: 44 Receptions, 710 Yards, 7 Touchdowns

Irvin Smith made a big impact for the Alabama Crimson Tide. Smith might be the best run-blocking tight end this draft class has to offer. Has tremendous leverage and controls his blockers from start to finish. Works his angles extremely well, and does a great job of sealing off rush lanes. While I wouldn’t call Smith a burner, he does have above average speed which helps him create separation. Builds up speed and has demonstrated his ability to make catches at all three levels on the field. Is an accurate and precise route runner and can stretch the field vertically if asked to. His route running and blocking raise his value and could potentially help him sneak into the end of the first round.

Draft projection: 1st-2nd round

4. Jace Sternberger, TE, No. 81 – Texas A&M
Height: 6’4” – Weight: 250 – Projected 40 Time: 4.74
2018 Stats: 48 Receptions, 832 Yards, 10 Touchdowns

After transferring from Kansas, Sternberger was able to produce results and find success on the field. Has demonstrated his ability to reel in passes, and on tape has shown the ability to catch the ball outside his frame. Has great speed and burst off the snap and can give linebackers fits trying to cover him in the seems. Constantly finds yards after the reception, and fights off initial first contact. As a blocker, he has shown more positive results as a pass protector. It is his run blocking that is still a work in progress. Can get out-muscled along the line and has a hard time finishing against blockers. However, Sternberger does compete at a high level when he is on the field. Can block really well downfield, and possess a high level of athleticism. With some improvement in his route running and run blocking, Sternberger could become a well-rounded tight end at the next level.

Draft Projection: 2nd-3rd Round

5. Kaden Smith, TE, No. 82 – Stanford
Height: 6’5 – Height: 253 – Projected 40 Time: 4.76
2018 Stats: 47 Receptions, 635 Yards, 2 Touchdowns

Kaden Smith offers a nice catch radius with a good frame that scouts and evaluators seek at the next level. His size is something special and has shown the ability to out-box defenders upon arrival. Has an assortment of roles that he’s played on the field for the Cardinal, and his versatility is a big plus. On multiple occasions this year Smith has been utilized successfully as a vertical receiving threat. His route running still needs some work and he is limited in this department. Running up the seem from the slot is where he performs best and where he finds more consistency. Works through his hips well as a blocker, however he lacks consistency as a blocker in general. Will sometimes get too narrow and is not able to finish his blocks against his opponents. However, what teams will like about Smith is his big target appeal than can be a vertical threat and stretch the field.

Draft Projection: 3rd Round