New York Giants 2019 NFL Draft Preview: Tight Ends
90+: Elite, All Pro
85-89: Immediate starter, building block for a decade, franchise player
80-84: First round talent, starter and/or majority of the snaps each week
77-79: Day 2 pick, starter within their first 16-24 games as a pro
75-76: Fourth rounder, has starter traits but needs development
71-74: Fifth/Sixth rounder, should develop into weekly contributor over rookie contract
68-70: Draftable, hopeful for special teams impact and long term development
67 and under: UDFA
*NFL Comparison are not a projection of how good they are, more so their style of play.
WHERE THEY STAND
The Giants offense is leaning towards a run-heavy attack with a quick strike passing game. Their QB’s arm is declining year by year and he can’t evade in the slightest form of pressure, their top deep threat is off the team, and the front office traded resources to beef up the offensive line. I talk about this because Evan Engram, as much as he has flashed and as athletic as he is, may not be the fit this personnel grouping needs. He is a below average blocker in the trenches and unless the team plans on using more two tight end sets and/or splitting Engram out as a WR, his days here may be numbered. Rhett Ellison and Scott Simonson both fit the bill more so but neither are anything to write home about. While NYG can survive with these three, I’m not sure they are ideal fits.
1: TJ Hockenson – Iowa – 6’5/251
Summary: Fourth year junior entry. A steady piece of the two-tight end rotation the Iowa offense employed throughout his career. Broke out in a big way in 2018, winning the Mackey Award despite sharing snaps and looks with fellow Hawkeye tight end prospect Noah Fant. Hockenson is a throw back, hard-nosed player who has unusual short-area quickness and reliable ball skills for a player his size. He still has a ways to go when it comes to physical development and blocking presence, but the body type and mindset are both there. In time, Hockenson can be a solid every down player and starter with the ceiling of being a matchup nightmare.
*If there is one tight end I would be looking at in the first round, at 17-not 6, it is Hockenson. He is a true every down trench player who is athletic and effective enough in the passing game. While I do think some have gotten carried away with touting his blocking and athletic ability, he is on the plus-side in both departments. If NYG really did want to go with a two tight end offense to fit their approach, Hockenson does make sense but a case could be made it is still a reach at 17.
NFL Comparison: Greg Olsen / CAR
2: Dawson Knox – Ole Miss – 6’4/254
Summary: Fourth year junior entry. A former high school receiver and quarterback who was a highly touted track athlete. Knox will “wow” many in workouts with top tier explosion and speed at his size, but still has a little ways to go when it comes to the football skill set. Knox didn’t get a lot of looks in the loaded Ole Miss passing attack but when he did, he often delivered. The former walk on has a grinder-mentality that, matched with his natural ability and improving techniques, can be molded into a difference maker at the next level.
*If it is determined that the two TE offense is the way to go but the agreement in the room says Hockenson isn’t worth pick 17, Knox is a very solid fall back option who doesn’t get a ton of attention from the media. But from what I see, he is the kind of kid teams want to develop. Talent is there and the dude plays hard, really hard. Not hard to believe he just didn’t get to show the world what he can do playing in that WR-heavy offense at Ole Miss.
NFL Comparison: David Njoku / CLE
3: Noah Fant – Iowa – 6’4/249
Summary: Junior entry. First team All Big 10 in 2018. Burst on to the scene in 2017 with 11 touchdowns and 16+ yards per catch, both school records for the tight end position. Fant continued his progression in 2018 despite the ball being spread around even sharing duties with fellow position-group teammate and NFL Draft prospect TJ Hockenson. Fant is the kind of athlete who will cause the opposition to game plan around him. His blend of size, speed, and ball skills are near-impossible to stop with one player alone. He still plays and comes across raw at times, but he has shown enough in two years to, at the very least, be dangerous threat in the passing game. His ceiling is as high as any pass catcher in the class.
*Fant was the flavor of the fall but when I really dove into his game from a big picture perspective, there are multiple holes. As good of an athlete as he is, and we are talking elite, Fant doesn’t make much happen without space. He doesn’t cut well, he doesn’t break tackles. Blocking, well you are drafting him to block. A team that wants a mismatch in the passing game but shortcomings elsewhere can value him higher than where I do, but I see an end of day 2 type guy. I think someone takes him top 15 though.
NFL Comparison: Eric Ebron / IND
4: Drew Sample – Washington – 6’5/255
Summary: Fifth year senior. Three-plus year starter and two time Honorable Mention All Pac 12. Sample is a classic tight end prospect who has blossomed from blocker to all around threat. He is a tough, hard nosed competitor who may rank among the best blockers in this class at the group. However he showed that defenses cannot sleep on him as a pass catcher. He shows the necessary twitch and ball skills to keep them honest and similar to Will Dissly a year ago in SEA, could be a guy who breaks out as a pass catcher in the NFL.
*Keep an ear out for this kids name come draft weekend. NFL teams that want every down duty from a new tight end are going to like this kid’s game. He can do everything at a good enough level to factor right away and his pre-draft process checked a lot of gray boxes.
NFL Comparison: Kyle Rudolph / MIN
5: Irv Smith Jr – Alabama – 6’2/242
Summary: Junior entry. One and half year starter who stood out on a few occasions in 2018, earning 2nd Team Al SEC honors. While undersized, Smith plays bigger than he looks, most notably as a blocker in space. There is more power in that frame than you think and it makes a difference after the catch. He is a really balanced and under control, with route running that really developed as the year went. I got more and more impressed with him but I would be lying if I said I thought he was ready for the league now. He also may have a hard time blocking in line. Get him into an H-Back type role and he can be a difference maker.
*People love players from Alabama, which I understand. However every year I think some guys get a tad overrated for wearing the Crimson, and I think Smith fits that bill because I have heard a few say he might be a first rounder. Simply put, Smith is way undersized and while his speed is good, we aren’t talking elite. I think Smith can carve a nice role for himself but he is a day 2 guy, not even close to round 1.
NFL Comparison: Trey Burton / CHI
6: Jace Sternberger – Texas A& M – 6’4/251
Summary: Fourth year junior who has jumped around a bit. Started off at Kansas before dropping to the junior college level in an effort to kind of re-do his recruiting process. Was highly sought after but settled in at Texas A& M and put together an All American season. Sternberger is wiry-framed, solid straight line athlete with plus ball skills and ability after the catch. His aggression and desire as a blocker is a good sign of what he can be once the weight is added over time. He can be a complete, every down tight end with starter potential down the road.
*Sternberger snuck up on a few people this year. There is a lot to like when it comes to his playing style, straight line burst, and ball skills. He needs some extra time in the weight room because the power presence isn’t there, but he is a guy who plays hungry and simply made a lot of plays this year against stiff competition. High upside player, but he needs time.
NFL Comparison: Jeff Heuerman / DEN
7: Josh Oliver – San Jose State – 6’5/249
Summary: Four year starter. The former linebacker made the move to tight end during his freshman season and it was a move that paid off. Oliver earned 1st Team All Mountain West honors as a senior. The team captain shows glimpses of elite movement and ball skills, giving him the high-ceiling label. The body control combined with size and speed in the receiving game can make him a major matchup problem for defenses. He will need a year or two to add more power and mass to his frame, but the list is short when it comes to players with this kind of ceiling.
*I’ll tell you what, this 75 grade may not be the best reflection of how I think about this kid and his upside. If he can add more power to his blocking and toughen up a little, he has elite potential. The size, the way he moves, how he catches the ball, it is a thing of beauty that won’t come around often. But the fact he plays soft and doesn’t seem interested in the physical components of the game bother me. Boom or bust type, but the boom could rightfully warrant someone taking him in round 2.
NFL Comparison: Zach Ertz / PHI
8: Kahale Warring – San Diego State – 6’5/251
Summary: Fourth year junior entry. Late comer to the game, as he played football for just one year in high school. A preferred walk on, Warring developed nicely in his time at San Diego State and ended up Honorable Mention All Mountain West in 2018. He is very much a projection-type prospect but there is so much natural talent oozing out of his nicely developed frame that he could end up going a lot higher than people think. Warring has size, speed, ball skills, and a really hungry approach as a blocker. There is still a little ways to go when it comes to skill set, but he can be a starter within 2-3 years.
*A surprise declaration turned into a prospect who has the high ceiling label with a higher-than-initially-perceived floor. This kid is so raw and new to the game but there are traits here that raise eyebrows. I bet if Warring went back to school in 2019, he would be in the top 60 overall discussion next draft. Like Oliver, a guy who I could see going much higher than this.
NFL Comparison: Ryan Griffin / HOU
9: Foster Moreau – LSU – 6’4/253
Summary: One and a half year starter. Wore the #18 jersey for the Tigers, given to the team’s leader and one who exemplifies grit, hard work, and competitive spirit. Moreau will be drafted based on his ability to block both in space and in-line. He has some fullback capabilities to his game as well. Moreau has a soft pair as hands as well and will make the easy but often overlooked catches. He is a little lethargic and late as a route runner and he wont scare anyone athletically, but he can factor on all three downs. He looks like a really solid backup and rotational player who will stick around for awhile.
NFL Comparison: Geoff Swaim / JAC
10: Trevon Wesco – West Virginia – 6’3/267
Summary: Fifth year senior, former junior college player who missed a season with injury. Wesco was a little off the radar coming into the 2018 season but he broke out and earned 1st Team All Big 12 honors. He is best known for his blocking prowess but now that he is entering the league and into a pro offense, Wesco could be a guy who produces more regularly. His game translates well into the role of a tight end who splits time between the trenches and the backfield. He has violent pop as a blocker but also excels as a short to intermediate pass catcher. He is limited athletically and there is a medical red flag here, but he will be drafted and I bet he plays relatively early.
*Interesting kid here. I wouldn’t want him as a starter in my offense, but I would find a role for him on at least 30% of the snaps. He can play tight end, h-back, and fullback. I do get worried about some lower body stiffness and some awkward movement, but he is a dirty-work guy who can fill some needed holes. Versatility is key for day 3 guys and he has plenty of it.
NFL Comparison: Rhett Ellison / NYG
11: Alize Mack – Notre Dame – 6’4/249: 71
12: Kendall Blanton – Missouri – 6’6/262: 70
13: Kaden Smith – Stanford – 6’5/255: 70
14: Zach Gentry – Michigan – 6’8/265: 69
15: Andrew Beck – Texas – 6’3/257: 68
16: Keenan Brown – Texas State – 6’2/250: 68
17: Isaac Nauta – Georgia – 6’3/244: 68
18: David Helm – Duke – 6’4/249: 67
19: Tommy Sweeney – Boston College – 6’4/251: 67
20: Donald Parham – Stetson 6’8/237: 67
**TOP UDFA SLEEPER**
Jerome Washington – Rutgers – 6’2/243
A Fifth year senior who has previous stops at junior college and 1 year stint at Miami, Washington has the look that caught my eye back in 2017. Well, his senior year was marred by injuries but when looking at the physical package, I think he can fit somewhere as an H-Back/Tight End mix. Rutgers’ leading receiver in 2017, Washington shows nice ball skills and tested well athletically.
As stated earlier, much of this depends on the team’s approach to Evan Engram and his fit within this offense. Personally, he is not a talent I would want to give up on and he really turned it on late in the year when he got healthy. This kid can be a big time difference maker. However, if NYG decides to trade him for other assets that fit in with their long term plan, this is a top heavy group that offers what they ma be looking for. True 3 down tight ends who can play right away can be had in the top 3-4 rounds but it is a drop off after. This group isn’t particularly strong and I think it shouldn’t be a top priority especially with Engram in the picture.