2018 Tight Ends – Top 15 prospects + Seahawks notes

Half lineman, half receiver – TE ain’t exactly the most glamorous position. Yet it’s still a top need for Seattle this offseason. Here’s a detailed look at the class of 2018 Tight Ends.

2018 Tight Ends – Top 15 prospects

1) Dallas Goedert – 6’5, 260 lbs, grade: R1-2

2) Mark Andrews – 6’5, 255 lbs – grade: R2

3) Mike Gesicki – 6’5, 245 lbs, grade: R2

4) Ian Thomas – 6’3, 255 lbs, grade: R3

5) Hayden Hurst – 6’5, 250 lbs, grade: R3-4

6) Troy Fumagalli – 6’5, 245 lbs, grade: R4

7) Dalton Schultz – 6’6, 240 lbs, grade: R4-5

8) Christopher Herndon – 6’4, 250 lbs, grade: R4-5

9) Tyler Conklin – 6’3, 250 lbs, grade: R5

10) Jordan Akins – 6’3, 245 lbs, grade: R5

11) Durham Smythe – 6’5, 255 lbs

12) Ryan Izzo – 6’5, 250 lbs

13) Adam Breneman – 6’4, 240 lbs

14) Jordan Thomas – 6’5, 270 lbs

15) Will Dissly – 6’4, 265 lbs

Notes on the Seahawks & 2018 Tight Ends

1) Tight end isn’t a heavily targeted position in the draft, with an average of only 6 TE’s picked in the first four rounds since 2013. However, the odds are high that the Seahawks select one at some point this April. In fact, we ranked TE as one of the top priority roster needs heading into this offseason:

Seahawks 2018 Team Needs

While TE isn’t a premium position by any means, Seattle’s cupboard is undoubtedly bare. Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson are unrestricted free agents, with the former all but guaranteed to walk. That leaves only unproven 2016 3rd-round pick Nick Vannett, and undrafted former QB Tyrone Swoopes.

Swoopes will surely be no higher than 4th on the depth chart going into training camp, given his modest experience and pedigree. The Seahawks will accordingly add at least two TE’s this offseason to compete with Vannett. Willson could be retained affordably, or perhaps they roll the dice on a UFA like Tyler Eifert or Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Pete Carroll will prioritize the run game this offseason, and the TE position certainly factors into that. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what the Tight End group will look like next season, as there are currently more questions than answers:

  • Will Seattle target run-blocking specialists in the draft and/or free agency to give the run-game a boost?
  • Do they still believe in Vannett as the “Y” (in-line TE) of the future?
  • And if so, will they look at add a “move” Tight End this offseason?
  • Furthermore, what resources (money & draft capital) are they willing to commit to TE with other important needs and limited cap space?

All things considered, I’d bet on Seattle being thrifty at TE with a cheap veteran signing and a draft pick. That plus Vannett can get you by in 2018 while providing options and flexibility for the future.

2) Alright, so the Seahawks will probably draft a Tight End, but who might they target? What traits do Carroll and John Schneider look for?

What if I told you they have a tendency at TE which appears just as concrete as their preference for length (32+ inch arms) at Cornerback? Here’s a list of every PCJS draft pick and relevant UDFA signing at Tight End, along with the two primary starters during this era:

  • Jimmy Graham – 6.90 3-cone time
  • Zach Miller – 7.01
  • Nick Vannett – 7.05
  • Luke Willson – 7.08
  • Anthony McCoy – 6.99
  • Jameson Konz – 6.93
  • Tyrone Swoopes – 6.89
  • Cooper Helfet – 6.82
  • Sean McGrath – 6.99

Note the bolded 3-cone results, with each player timing under 7.10 seconds. Those are all fast times, with the slowest (7.08) still being in the 62nd percentile of TE testers (per mockdraftable.com). Graham’s 6.90 3-cone time is in the 90th percentile. There are no more obviously discernible patterns to be found in the other athletic tests by Seattle’s TE’s.

What can we make of this? Well, it appears the Seahawks brass clearly prioritizes the 3-cone combine drill for Tight Ends. The drill tests agility, change-of-direction and balance, and is typically seen as an important test for edge rushers. Perhaps Seattle values those same traits in their TE’s, who are roughly the same size as the edge defenders they block.

Keep note during next week’s NFL combine which TE’s can race to a time in the 7.00’s or faster. It’ll be a small group, and should help to narrow down Seattle’s top TE targets in the draft.

3) There are a few interesting 2018 Tight Ends to choose from in this class, yet Dallas Goedert stands alone at the top. The South Dakota State product is outstanding, and would be generating far more publicity if he hadn’t played for an FCS program. Nonetheless, he is a matchup nightmare at TE and a dark horse candidate for Seattle’s top draft pick.

The intrigue starts with his imposing athletic profile, which allows him to excel at all three levels of the field and from any alignment. Look how he stacks up physically against the league’s elite Tight Ends:

Dallas Goedert

That chart includes Combine/Pro Day results from the NFL stars, and Goedert’s reported testing numbers within the past year. We’ll get a more accurate read on his athleticism at the combine next week, but he clearly compares favorably to the NFL’s best. Each of his measurements and athletic scores above would place him in the top third of all TE combine participants. He also sports a 550 lbs squat, a 380 lbs bench press, and an SDSU-record 380 lbs power clean.

Goedert’s appeal as a Tight End prospect goes far beyond his impressive size and athleticism however. He was extremely productive over the last two years, catching 164 passes for 2,404 yards (14.7 avg) and 18 touchdowns. You want top small school prospects to dominate their opponents, and that’s exactly what he did.

Goedert is a seam-stretcher who can go up and snag the ball in traffic. He uses his great frame and basketball background to box out defenders, and displays impressive verticality for his size. To say nothing of his tremendous ball skills, which come from a combination of body control, big hands, and a monstrous catch radius. Check out the many acrobatic one-handed catches he makes with ease, in the highlight video at the top of this post.

His size and speed make him a downfield threat, and a load to handle after the catch. He’s still a raw route-runner, but flashed plus separation ability vs. athletic coverage LB’s during his one Senior Bowl practice. The Jackrabbits utilized him all over the field: in-line, from the slot, as a wing TE, and even out wide. Despite the low level of competition, his physical profile, skills and experience should make Goedert an early-impact player in the NFL.

Oh, in case you were wondering – the man can block. He physically overwhelmed FCS defensive ends at the point of attack and often generated big movement on runs. He’ll need some fine-tuning at the NFL level, though his size, power and technique give him high upside as an in-line blocker.

I’m tempted to bump Goedert up to a clear-cut 1st round grade, but we’ll see how he looks at the combine next week. If Seattle punts on TE in free agency while addressing other needs, he’ll warrant consideration with their first pick (after the likely trade down).

4) There is a ton of variability out there in the draft grades for Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews, and it’s not hard to see why. Many analysts question how he’ll translate to the NFL from the Sooners’ air-raid offense, not to mention his athletic upside.

While their concerns are understandable, I believe they are overblown. Particularly the worries about his physical profile. Standing 6’5 and weighing 255 lbs, Andrews has a solid combination of size, speed and quickness. He moves like a WR in a TE’s body, though more so in terms of fluidity than explosiveness. He’s the best route-runner amongst the 2018 Tight Ends, and makes defenders miss after the catch with exceptional footwork and agility.

Andrews won the 2017 John Mackey Award as college football’s most outstanding TE. It was well-deserved, earned by catching 62 passes for 958 yards (15.5 avg) and 8 touchdowns. He was highly productive despite playing with Type-1 diabetes, which forces him to manage his blood-sugar levels every game.

Largely an oversized slot receiver in OU’s spread attack, a smart team will initially use him in that capacity while they teach him “NFL concepts.” He wasn’t asked to block in-line very often, which is frequently ripped-on by anonymous scouts. I find their critiques to be a little cringe-worthy to be honest. He’s a smart, disciplined player who’s flashed an ability to block adequately from the Y-TE position. He’s at his best blocking on the move however, where he can take advantage of his quick feet and length to win vs smaller defenders.

Although I have a high grade on him, I don’t expect Carroll and new OC Brian Schottenheimer to target him early. They really want to run the ball, and Andrews certainly requires projection as an in-line Tight End.

5) Penn State’s Mike Gesicki has some striking similarities to Goedert as a receiving weapon. He is over 6’5”, 242 lbs with 34” arms and 10” hands. On top of that, he’s an extraordinarily explosive athlete as well. Within the last year Gesicki has timed at 4.54 seconds in the 40 while jumping out of the gym (38” vertical, 10’10” broad). He was a star basketball and volleyball player in high school, and that athleticism translated to the football field.

Gesicki creates separation with long strides, smooth movements, strong route-running and swift top-end speed. Like Goedert, he wins at the catch-point with a large catch radius, frequently making fantastic plays on the ball. His two-year production across 2016-2017 includes 105 receptions for 1,242 yards (11.8 avg) and 14 touchdowns.

I have a couple issues with Gesicki, chiefly his blocking ability (or lack thereof). He’s an awkward-looking blocker with his lanky frame, hunched upper body and haphazard hand placement. He Improved in 2017 with more reps, but it’s still a question mark and may limit his immediate NFL impact. As with Andrews, I think Seattle would want more in-line blocking from a high TE draft pick.

Gesicki also doesn’t always play up to his athletic ability. He needs time to load up off two feet to put his explosiveness on display, and lacks short-area burst & quickness. His slight frame also poses issues off the line, where he gets thrown off balance too easily at the start of routes.

6) The stocks of South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst and Indiana’s Ian Thomas are rising in the lead-up to the combine. In fact, Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com recently reported that many teams consider them top-3 TE’s in this draft. That’s a lofty ranking for the duo, as it implies both are grading out on day two. Hurst even received some 1st round love from Daniel Jeremiah in his first 2018 mock draft. Do their games justify the hype?

While they are impressive athletes with versatile skillsets, the second round is a little rich for my blood. They both have red flags, and similar prospects will likely be available at a significantly discounted price.

7) My main issue with Hurst is that he’ll be 25 years old before ever playing an NFL snap. That’s not the end of the world, though you want overaged rookies to be polished entering the league. Unfortunately, Hurst is not. He’s still quite raw, taking a little shine off his intriguing size/speed profile and competitiveness. He played professional baseball for two years prior to walking-on for the Gamecocks, and is still behind in his development.

Likewise, UCF TE Jordan Akins spent considerable time in professional baseball before returning to the gridiron. And the man figures to be relatively topped-out as a 26-year-old (!!!) rookie. That said, he flashes NFL-ability as a receiver with terrific speed and ball skills. He’s not the blocker or competitor that Hurst is, but isn’t too far below him as an overall prospect. As a result, Akins in the late rounds seems like a better value than Hurst in round two.

8) Thomas’ discounted doppelganger is Christopher Herndon of Miami (FL). Both impress physically; Herndon with a long frame and fluid athleticism, whereas Thomas is fast and powerful at 6’3+, 256 lbs. They also have injury concerns, and their college production left a bit to be desired. Moreover, both have upside as combination Tight Ends in the NFL, despite being similarly raw as receivers and blockers.

Thomas is receiving some post-Senior Bowl hype, while Herndon’s stock is quiet as he recovers from a torn MCL. I like them both, but Seattle may be better off considering Herndon in the middle rounds (4-5) than Thomas in the 2nd. The gap just isn’t that large between them, though Thomas can validate his current stock with a huge combine performance.

9) Troy Fumagalli is a smooth-moving receiver and fundamentally sound blocker, yet lacks standout athletic ability and play-strength. His best opportunity to rise to day-two was the Senior Bowl, but he didn’t stand out enough…

Durham Smythe is a true Y-Tight End who fires off the ball with swift footwork and balance as a blocker. He’s got a strong build, but is limited by exceptionally short arms (31 ½”) and mediocre athleticism. He’s not a receiving weapon, but will make the play when the ball goes his way…

Dalton Schultz carries a bit more intrigue as a Y-TE. You can’t help but love his footwork, awareness and tenacity as a run blocker. He needs to get bigger however, as his 242-pound frame is too skinny for a 6’6” in-line Tight End. He’s not going to threaten with special speed or explosiveness, but he’s not a stiff athletically. I think he offers more upside as a receiver than Smythe…

Watch for former offensive lineman Jordan Thomas to wow physically at the combine. He’s 6’5, 270 lbs, and actually played some wide receiver for Mississippi State this year. There’s something to work with here, but he’s got a long way to go…

10) We’ll provide live updates and analysis on the combine next week, with a focus on potential Seahawks draft targets of course. I’m pumped for it! Go Hawks.