Zach's Draft Corner: Top Tight Ends in 2019
Image Credit: The Oregonian
Welcome to Zach’s Draft Corner, where it’s always amateur hour.
Continuing my positional previews, we are going to stay on the offensive side of the ball this week and look at the tight ends who are hoping to get drafted in 2020. In my previous articles, I’ve addressed Colby Parkinson, who has the type of all-around game that will likely make him TE1 for me. Still, there isn’t a T.J. Hockenson or Noah Fant this year, and there’s a decent chance that none of these names, Parkinson included, make it into the first round. That being said, here are the rest of the names that I'm watching this year.
Albert Okwuegbunam, University of Missouri
6'5", 255 pounds
2018 stats: 43 catches for 466 yards, 6 touchdowns
You’ll likely hear a lot about Okwuegbunam a lot this season, but you might not know it. Many in the media call him merely “Albert O.” or “A OK” if they can't pronounce Okwuegbunam (OH-koo-WAY-boo-NAM), but Joe Buck and Jim Nantz better start practicing. Okwuegbunam is a great, big target as a red zone threat, and is going to put up some points once he makes it to the pros. Additionally, he has the elite top-end speed and quickness to be one of the most dangerous playmakers overall in this draft. As a receiver, A OK is way more than his name would imply.
His downside is with blocking. He's bad. Like really bad. He will need to be dragged into a weight room to develop the necessary muscles and will need to be taught how to block entirely, and there's no guarantee how much of that will take. Okwuegbunam has the potential to be a Jimmy Graham-esque weapon in the NFL, but that includes taking into account that he will be a net negative in the run game. However, taking him off the field is a dead giveaway that you won't be passing the ball. He's a hindrance to an offense that likes to disguise their looks, but his potential as a receiver might overshadow that.
Jared Pinkney, Vanderbilt University
6'4", 260 pounds
2018 stats: 50 catches for 774 yards, 7 touchdowns
Pinkney is your typical modern day tight end that certainly has a place in the league. He is tall, strong, and fast in a straight line. However, he doesn't have the quickness of Albert O., limiting him to seam routes, crossing routes, and leaking out into space. As of right now, Pinkney is not a great blocker, but it’s mainly due to a lack of technique as opposed to any lack of strength. That’s a good thing, because you can always teach a tight end the technique needed to block well enough to at least be a net neutral player on run downs, but there’s no guarantee that they will ever have the strength needed to do so. Pinkney runs with power after the catch, which is why I’m confident he can develop into a blocker at the next level, or even in his senior year.
Grant Calcaterra, University of Oklahoma
6'4", 221 pounds
2018 stats: 26 catches for 396 yards, 6 touchdowns
Another tight end, another guy who is more glorified receiver than true all-around tight end.
Oklahoma doesn't run the ball much, so he may be okay, but he is very lean right now for a pro tight end. Calcaterra would have to be an elite technician to block effectively at his size, and with Oklahoma using him mainly as a receiver, that seems unlikely. Calcaterra doesn't have the top end speed of a Pinkney or an Albert O., but runs his routes with more nuance than Pinkney and is a more versatile receiving threat because of it. The question is whether he can bulk up, learn to block, and then still maintain his ability as a receiver. If so, he can be an average-to-good starter in the NFL. Otherwise, he'll likely be relegated to a passing down specialist.
Mitchell Wilcox, University of South Florida
6'5", 245 pounds
2018 stats: 43 catches for 540 yards, 2 touchdowns
Can I please get someone who can block? Wilcox is befuddling, because he has the size of someone who should have the strength to block, but he doesn't play with it. His blocking technique is fine, but it's a lack of strength that kills him. He seems to have maxed out his frame, too, which is worrisome if he needs to add strength. As a receiver, he does everything you want except for dropping a few too many balls. He has long arms, great speed and quickness, and has the ability to run a full route tree from the inside. However, given his lack of overall strength, his ceiling is a receiving first tight end who might be a net neutral as a blocker, but it is much more likely to be a receiving-only tight end who will be a turnstile as a blocker.
Luke Farrell, Ohio State University
6'6", 250 pounds
2018 stats: 20 catches for 205 yards, 1 touchdowns
My wish has been granted! A tight end who can block! Farrell is the first tight end that I looked at (outside of Parkinson) who is already a 3-down player. His size makes him a great red zone threat as a receiver, but his ability to block only adds to his potential because him being on the field doesn't telegraph a run or a pass. Overall, Farrell is a very safe player, and one of my personal favorites simply because he has already proven to be effective in every area a tight end should be effective in. Farrell isn't as athletic as the above names, and the vast amount of weapons for the Buckeyes means he doesn't need to be a big-time receiver. However, he can still be a receiver in addition to a blocker. It’s just that Farrell is more Jack Doyle than Eric Ebron.
Matt Bushman, Brigham Young University
6'5", 245 pounds
2018 stats: 29 catches for 511 yards, 2 touchdowns
Since his freshman year, Bushman has been a consistent threat as a receiver. As shown by his yards-per-reception stat, what separates him from the rest of this bunch is his ability as a deep threat option as opposed to solely an underneath option. Bushman truly excels at tracking the ball and has the speed to run past linebackers and safeties, all with the size to catch 50/50 balls over most anyone who would be covering him. It follows that Bushman also plays outfield for BYU’s baseball team, as the traits that make him a great deep threat are the same traits needed to play defense as an outfielder. Bushman still needs to develop as a blocker, but his frame has room for a little more muscle and some better overall technique could do the trick. Outside of Parkinson and Okwuegbunam, Bushman has the highest ceiling of any of these prospects.
Jared Rice, Fresno State University
6'2", 225 pounds
2018 stats: 55 catches for 664 yards, 3 touchdowns
There’s no question that Rice is a fantastic receiver with great speed and quickness, just as every offensive player with the last name Rice should be. The issue with Rice is going to be his size. There just aren't many tight ends who are 6'2" and 225 pounds that have success. Even Delanie Walker, who is only 6'0" tall, is still 250 pounds. Rice can move all over the formation and can run any route you’d like him to. He'll have a place somewhere in the NFL, even as just a change of pace receiving threat. However, unless he finds a way to add significant bulk and improve his blocking technique, that's likely all he'll be.
Bryce Wolma, University of Arizona
6'3", 252 pounds
2018 stats: 5 catches for 69 yards
He doesn't qualify as a small school sleeper, since Arizona is a power-five school. Nonetheless, Wolma is still my hidden gem. He's not on many radars in the preseason after playing a full, healthy 2018 season and only amassing 5 catches for 69 yards total. Looking solely at his 2018 tape, you might think he is merely a blocker and should be treated as such. However, in 2017, Wolma had a much more respectable 28 catches for 241 yards as a freshman. A change in system between 2017 and 2018 forced him to focus on blocking instead of receiving, and he responded impressively. Ultimately, Wolma is probably the best blocking tight end in the draft. He pairs that with the ability to be a plus receiver when given the opportunity. He likely won't test as well athletically as some of the pure receivers, but Wolma's ability to do everything at a high level makes him a strong, though maybe not a flashy, prospect in my eyes.
Jacob Breeland, University of Oregon
6'5", 248 pounds
2018 stats: 24 catches for 377 yards, 2 touchdowns
Breeland is likely a better college player than what he’ll be as a pro player. Breeland is perfect for Oregon's type of speed spread offense, but he doesn't have the quickness and flexibility to run cutting routes, and doesn't have the strength to be a blocker. His ceiling is low, and his floor is pretty low too. He'll put up stats in Oregon's offense, meaning he will be talked about and the production might get him drafted, but he'll be pretty low on my board once it gets set up.
Cheyenne "CJ" O'Grady, University of Arkansas
6'4", 251 pounds
2018 stats: 30 catches for 400 yards, 6 touchdowns
I want to like O’Grady. I really do. He is a very talented prospect, but a very troubled one, too. Earlier in his college career, O’Grady was arrested on suspicion of DWI and possession of alcohol as an 18-year old freshman, In 2018, he was suspended for undisclosed reasons, though many believe it was because he was skipping workouts. Ultimately, O’Grady has to prove he has the desire to be a football player in 2019. He’s not a great blocker, but seems more effort driven than anything to do with his technique or his strength. When he catches the ball, he tries plenty. However, an NFL tight end needs to be involved in every play, and many times in ways that don't include getting the ball. Plenty of prospects waste talent due to immaturity and/or effort issues. O'Grady might be next.
Daniel Imatorbhebhe, University of Southern California
6'3", 240 pounds
2016 stats: 17 catches for 250 yards, 4 touchdowns
His last name, like Okwuegbunam, is very difficult to pronounce (ee-MAT-tor-bay-bay), so why don't you just call him Jordan Reed instead. That’s because, while Imathorbhebhe is incredibly athletic and was a very promising prospect after his freshman year, he hasn't seen any type of extended action since 2016 due to injuries. In 2017, he had a hip injury in the first game of the season that sidelined him for the remainder of 2017 and the entirety of the 2018 season. The injury affected a nerve in his hip that needs to heal fully before he can play again. First and foremost, he just needs to get healthy. If he can get and stay healthy, then the sky is the limit. Unfortunately, this may be a career ender for a guy who had all the promise in the world.
SMALL SCHOOL SLEEPER
Adam Trautman, University of Dayton
6'6", 251 pounds
2018 stats: 41 catches for 604 yards, 9 touchdowns
When you want to take a prospect from outside of the FBS, you need that player to be dominant in most every area of the game. Many players at this level can be one-dimensional, but one dimension against low level talent is usually enough to put up good numbers. Trautman dominates the competition at Dayton both as a receiver and as a blocker. His size is an elite combination of size and strength, but matches that with good speed at the position. He also has a ridiculous catch radius, likely resulting from necessity while having an FCS-level quarterback throwing him passes. Trautman shows everything you want from a tight end, and the only question will be whether he can do it when facing a huge jump in the talent level of the competition.
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