Layout of the Preview:
1) Brief Positional Overview
2) Top 15 Prospects. Includes Grade, NFL Comparison, Summary, Extra Thoughts
*Comparisons are more about physical profile and play style, NOT projection
3) Grades only: 16-23
90+: All Pro
85+ Pro Bowl
81-84: 1st Round / Year 1 Contributor / Starter
79-80: 2nd Round / Year 1 Contributor / Year 2 Starter
77-78: 3rd Round / Contribute by end of Year 1 / Year 2 Starter
74-76: Early Day 3 / Special Teams / Future Backup / Possible Starter
71-73: Mid-Day 3 / Special Teams / Future backup / Gamble Starter
68-70: Late Day 3 / Back End of Roster / Practice Squad / Developmental
65-67: Preferred UDFA
4) Positional Approach – Draft Weekend
After the failed experiment that came from selecting Evan Engram #23 overall in the first round of the 2017 Draft, this position group was on a trajectory toward being a top need on the roster. They struck gold on day three of the 2022 Draft, grabbing one of the top values of the weekend in fourth rounder Daniel Bellinger. Besides missing five games with a freak eye-injury, Bellinger provided the prototypical “high-floor, low-ceiling” presence to the lineup. The every-down value he brought to the field was easy to overlook but the team went 1-3 in the games he spent on the sideline. The lack of proven NFL-caliber, quality depth did create the clear path toward Bellinger grabbing ahold of the starting job right away. The notion was further solidified after his injury and for the balance of the season that this group, from a macro perspective, simply was not good enough. Cue the trade for Darren Waller. Offensive Coordinator Mike Kafka, previously of Kansas City, got his Travis Kelce-type weapon (not caliber). Now, they offer a more-than-solid 1-2 punch at the position that will give the offense a lot of options. Free agent signing Tommy Sweeney has experience with Brian Daboll from their days in Buffalo and Lawrence Cager, an in-season pickup from last year, did flash as a pass catcher. Chris Myarick returns to fight for a job as a backup.
TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS
1) Dalton Kincaid – Utah – 6’4/246
NFL Comparison: Greg Dulcich / DEN
Fifth year senior. Three-year starter from Las Vegas, NV. Spent two years at San Diego University before transferring to Utah in 2020. FCS All-American in 2019, FBS All-American in 2022 in addition to two-time honoree All-Pac 12. Kincaid is a fast forward athlete when considering his size. He explodes out of his breaks and hits his top gear in a blink after the catch. The sudden movement traits are rare for a player this tall and long. The athleticism is going to be a menace to deal with at the next level. Combine that with the top tier ball skills, sure hands, and toughness, Kincaid has the makings to be one of the more unique pass game weapons in the entire class, however he will not offer much as a blocker in-line. He must be used correctly. Kincaid has special traits that can elevate a passing game led by a creative mind right away, but will need to be kept out of in-line blocking roles as much as possible.
*There are a couple speed bumps that teams have more information on than I do that center around a potential back issue. Something to keep in mind draft weekend if he starts to fall a bit. The last sentence in my summary above is key; “…can elevate a passing game led by a creative mind…”. This is where I have always seen the fit with NYG. The duo of Kafka/Daboll have proven to be both innovative and creative, carryover traits from their days prior to being a part of NYG. The trade for Waller all-but wipes out the idea of Kincaid being drafted high, however. Tight End most likely will not be considered early, thus a guy like Kincaid (who could go top 20) really does not need to be discussed much in relation to this team. I will be keeping close track of him, however. I think he is the best passing game weapon at the position in the class.
2) Luke Musgrave – Oregon State – 6’6/253
NFL Comparison: Mark Andrews / BAL
Senior entry. Two-year starter from Bend, OR. Nephew of former NFL quarterback and longtime Offensive Coordinator at both the NCAA and NFL levels. Musgrave’s sports background screams elite athlete to the highest of levels. In high school he was an all-state football, lacrosse, and alpine skiing. The rare blend of tools show up on tape. He is a quick burst, high speed, bendy mover that can go up and get it. The understanding of the game shows up across the board whether he is running routes, catching the ball, and blocking. There isn’t a box he leaves unchecked other than experience. Musgrave missed all but two games in 2022 with a knee injury and he played in just seven games in 2020 because of Covid-19. He enters the league with just 15 starts and 47 catches under his belt. As attractive as he looks on paper, there is a lot of unknown to his game on the field. The upside, however, is credibly as high as any pass catcher in the entire class.
*Musgrave is a guy I know I am taking a bit of a risk on. Normally to finish with a grade of 83 or higher, I need to see more experience. Covid and injuries left a lot of his projection in the dark, more so than others. I am going to trust the NFL lineage and understanding of how things work will be a strong enough complement to his top-shelf tool set. Musgrave really is the prototype of the new-age tight end. He is the best blend of size and speed and I’m not sure everyone knows just how good this combination of skills/tools can be. I don’t think there is a team in the league that overlooks the ceiling this kid has.
3) Darnell Washington – Georgia – 6’7/264
NFL Comparison: Adam Shaheen / MIA
Junior entry. Three-year starter from Las Vegas, NV. Second team All-SEC in 2022. Washington has rare, standout physical traits. His size is off the charts from all angles with a gigantism-type look. Washington also grades well above-average as straight-line mover. The long strides and aggressive nature make him a handful and a half to try and bring down after the catch. He creates tremendous force as a blocker and could come across as a sixth lineman. He shows advanced tactics when it comes to getting to the ball with defenders draped all over him. Washington’s short-area game may not be the flashiest, but the rare size/speed combination and bully-style approach he brings to the table can be a dangerous and versatile weapon at the next level from the Y tight end spot. As tall, as long, and as densely built as it gets for the position. Washington brings a high ceiling/low floor label into the league because while he has such a rare blend of tools, there is a lack of fluidity to his game and he simply did not get enough snaps in college to firm up who he really is as a football player.
*Incredibly tough guy to come up with a comparison for. Three names came to mind based on looking at some size/athleticism traits. Adam Shaheen, Marcedes Lewis, Rob Gronkowski. Quite the range of quality NFL players, isn’t it? And that is exactly the feel I have on Washington coming into the league. I graded him as a round one talent because of how unique he is and the fact he is going to be a better blocker than several offensive linemen in the NFL. Even if he bottoms out as a passing game threat, his impact in the trenches is going to be noticeable every week. The risk with Washington revolves around sudden movement and is ability to play quick. To be a big-time asset to a passing game from tight end, there must be more twitch than what Washington shows. I don’t care about the forty time that much. We can count on one hand how many times that mattered over his career at Georgia. That size though, man it is something else.
4) Michael Mayer – Notre Dame
NFL COMPARISON: Hayden Hurst / CAR
Junior entry. Three-year starter from Independence, KY. A two-time All American that re-wrote the Notre Dame record book, finishing atop the program’s all-time tight end ranking list in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. An every down threat, Mayer possesses every tool in the box to fit into the prototypical Y tight end role. His specialty will undoubtedly reside in the passing game where he can pose as a major matchup problem for defenses. He has the length, bulk, and coordination to win in contested situations and enough size to break through cheap tackle attempts after the catch. Mayer is a safe week one starter at the next level with as much upside as we have seen out of any tight end from the historic program. Mayer is a reliable player that brings a high floor to the position and will be a quality, versatile starter early in his career if not right away.
*Interesting situation here. The strength of this tight end class gives the image that I do not like Mayer. Look at my game notes and even my report on him and the image that I love him appears. As most debatable topics in this world, the answer is right in the middle. I graded Hayden Hurst at 80 back in 2018. He is now on his fourth team since that time, but still a good player that many teams would want on their roster. There is a safe and reliable level of play there that I think Mayer brings to the table. I do not see much more than that, however. He is not a special athlete. He is actually undersized (very few talk about that). He cannot sustain good contact as a blocker. A lot of his production was manufactured (easy routes/passes). If you know you are not getting elite from Mayer, I am fine with end-of-round-1 talk. But the quick ascent from recruit to Notre Dame stud inflated the view quite a bit. And if it were me, I am taking the other three guys in this class before him even if Mayer has the higher floor.
5) Sam LaPorta – Iowa – 6’3/245
NFL Comparison: Gerald Everett / LAC
Senior entry. Three-year starter from Highland, IL. Three-time All Big Ten including a first team honor in 2022. Has a suitcase full of team awards that center around production, offseason work, and leadership. LaPorta is a natural football player in every sense, every situation. He excels at getting open and catching the ball when it is within his grasp. The dependability and versatility he brings to the position will make him a fit in every scheme. Whether he is the number one or two guy, LaPorta is going to help a team win games, plain and simple. The former high school wide receiver does not have enough size and core strength to play with his hand in the dirt every down. But a scheme that can find a move-role for him, he will create for himself and others on a consistent basis. His body control and smooth speed are stand out traits in the passing game. He is a finisher that gets the job done and his full skill set was never put on fill display being a part of the poor Iowa offense. LaPorta simply needs to be kept out of consistent in-line duties but anything else that is needed by the offense, he will be able to give a starter-caliber performance.
*While I see a distinct difference between the top four and the rest of the group, a very deep group, LaPorta is the guy that could be the surprise. He is such a good football player and part of me thinks he could be in line for a much more productive pro career than what his 46-game career at Iowa. That offense was tough to watch the past two years. Such bad quarterback play and they were simply overmatched nearly everywhere. The fact he walked away with 111 catches / 1,327 yards / 4 TD says something about him, it really does.
6) Davis Allen – Clemson – 6’5/245
Senior entry. Two-year starter from Calhoun, GA. Third team All-ACC in 2022. Allen lined up all over the Clemson offense. Their version of the H-Back saw snaps split out wide, in the slot, with his hand in the ground, and from the backfield over his career. The coaching staff lauded his ability as a blocker, calling him the best they’ve had at the position in that department. He took his game to another level as a receiver in 2022, however. He set career highs in targets, catches, and yards all while continuing to improve his drop rate for the third straight season. Allen has reliable hands with sneaky-strong ball skills once the pass is in the air. This is a player with a great feel for the game no matter the role he plays. He has the ceiling of a starter but the basement of a solid number two that will do a lot of positive things that do not show up in the box score. Allen is an underrated receiver that will make the plays he can get near, but his real value will be as a blocker where he can be moved around and thrown into the line of fire.
*I believe I am, and have been, higher on Allen than the market. He is not an impressive athlete and has just one season of notable production as a receiver. His 12 touchdowns over the course of three seasons (83 catches) does stand out. I saw most of those on tape and most of them were hard-earned. Allen is arguably the top contested catch guy in this group when watching the film and the numbers back it up. While I don’t see NYG going tight end day one or two, if Allen slips through the cracks, I feel good about what he can offer this offense from a backup role. This is the kind of guy that outlasts several players drafted ahead of him.
7) Tucker Kraft – South Dakota State – 6’5/254
NFL Comparison: Mark Andrews / BAL
Fourth year junior entry. Three-year starter from Timber Lake, SD. Two-time First Team All-MVFC and two-time All-American, First Team in 2021. After almost going unrecruited out of high school and turning his back on college basketball, Kraft turned into a classic example of a raw late bloomer that we often see from the northern portion of America’s Great Plains. He was an oversized high school running back that turned his back on transfer opportunities to several top-notch programs over the past two years. Kraft’s size and speed is hard to match, but what makes him standout is the toughness in traffic and after the catch. The physical nature does not seem pro-ready for blocking in the trenches, but the potential is there to be a starting Y tight end. His ankle injury somewhat hindered his final season, but he fought his way back and still contributed to a team that made the FCS National Championship. Kraft has all of the tools to be an every down contributor with a high enough ceiling to warrant a day two pick.
*There is a good chance that if Kraft played all of 2022, he could have cracked the top 5 in this group. His tools are legit and watching him attack the ball is fun. Kraft has dominant tape, a lot of it. Coming from FCS, you borderline need that to be considered anywhere day two. This is a guy that could match the upside of the top four in the class, but because of the unknown and the fact he has to smooth out the edges means he comes in with a lower floor. Gotta think the success of Dallas Goedert is going to help him out draft weekend.
8) Josh Whyle – Cincinnati – 6’7/248
NFL Comparison: Coby Fleener / RET
Fifth year senior. Two-year starter from Cincinnati, OH. Also led the team in receiving one season where he was not the starter. Two-time All AAC, first team in 2022. Whyle came on the radar in the shortened-2020 season. His height/speed combination turned into production, catching 28 of 33 targets and scoring six touchdowns. Since then, the program had multiple pro-caliber receivers emerge, slightly hindering Whyle’s opportunities in the passing game. Make no mistake, this is a potential matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. He gets north in a hurry and attacks the ball with precise coordination and body control. The short area footwork and change of direction will widen his ability to run the full route tree and impact all passing situations. Whyle is best suited for a motion-type role or in a scheme where a tight end is used as a big slot receiver most snaps. Whyle may not be a true number one, but his tool set and ability to impact the passing game from the F role will be highly sought after by specific teams.
*In a normal year, Whyle could easily be a top five tight end in a group. His height/speed combination is rare. Since 2010, there have been 25 tight ends that measured in at 6’6 and a half at the scouting combine. Only two of them ran a forty under 4.7, Whyle ran a 4.69. If that isn’t good enough for you, Whyle has a below average drop rate for the position (just 1 drop in 2022) and is a menace after the catch with running back-caliber feel and vision. Even if I have a couple of capable tight ends on my roster, Whyle is a guy you make room for. If NYG wants a Waller-type in the room for backup/future purposes, this kid makes sense.
9) Luke Schoonmaker – Michigan – 6’5/251
NFL Comparison: Daniel Bellinger / NYG
Fifth year senior. Two-year starter from Hamden, CT. Two-time All-Big Ten. Schoonmaker was a high school quarterback that had a slow start to his career as a tight end at Michigan. As time went on, his size/speed combination to go along with a soft pair of hands kept on getting the coaching staff’s attention despite a crowded tight end room. He put his best season on display in 2022, more-than doubling his previous single season highs in catches and yards. The traditional Y tight end will make his money as a receiver, one that still needs to shore up some areas of his route running and ball skills. He does not have enough power to get movement as a blocker, but he competes hard consistently and knows the game well. Schoonmaker has enough in his tool set to start in the NFL, but will be best suited for a split-role with another tight end.
*Erik All is a tight end for Michigan that I liked more coming into the 2022 season. This was set to be quite the duo, but an injury to All’s back kept him out most of the year (he went back to school for the 2023 season and transferred to Iowa). This opened the door for Schoonmaker and he took full advantage. My games notes on him are full of “looks like a pro” type comments. He looks like a guy that will need time in a pro weight room and don’t overlook he is almost 25-years old already. But guys with soft hands, this kind of radius, and this kind of speed can be hard to find. Worth a shot day three if he is there but he won’t be ready right away.
10) Brenton Strange – Penn State – 6’4/253
NFL Comparison: Josiah Deguara / GB
Fourth year junior entry. Three-year starter from Parkersburg, WV. Third Team All-Big Ten in 2022. Strange has never been the focal point of the passing game, but he did show steady progression, production, and involvement over the course of his career. He also brings value as a move-blocker and special teamer. The undersized, but tough and powerful gamer showed a knack for big plays in big moments against his best competition. He should fit in well as a backup that can be a steady part of the rotation lining up in different spots. He does not have the ceiling as an every down player, but there are multiple usages he brings to a team. Strange will be attractive to both offensive and special team coaches to the point it could get him drafted a round earlier than what his tape grade would suggest.
*Strange does not meet some of the minimums some teams have for the tight end position. He may be most attractive to teams that use a hybrid for fullback/tight end roles that can interchange. His most consistent trait is the ability to block on the move; he is very effective there. Add in the fact he can make a name for himself as a special teamer because of his competitive nature and size, Strange will find a home as a versatile backup that wears a lot of hats. Seems like a Patriot-type.
11) Will Mallory – Miami – 6’5/239
NFL Comparison: Brycen Hopkins / LAR
Fifth year senior. Four-year starter from Jacksonville, FL. Second Team All-ACC in 2022. Son of Coach Mike Mallory who has been a Special Teams Coach in the NFL for ten seasons and is currently rumored to be heading to Michigan for the 2023 season. Will comes from a football family, to say the least. In addition to his father, both of his uncles and his grandfather are/have been coaches/Head Coaches at the college level. Will grew up as a highly sought-after recruit and accomplished track athlete. He has been a steady contributor as a receiver but does not have the power or mass to handle blocking duties. He will need a specialty-type role, one that primarily lines up away from the line. Mallory brings a credible vertical threat to the passing game with ability to create after the catch as a backup.
*Mallory will have his fair share of fans. We are talking about real, functional speed and an obvious level of football intelligence considering his background. He also brings some swagger to the field that I was drawn to. His success in the NFL will very much be about scheme and fit, but do not look past him if the right play caller/designer gets ahold of him.
12) Cameron Latu – Alabama – 6’4/242
NFL Comparison: Grant Calcaterra / PHI
Fifth year senior. Two-year starter from Salt Lake City, UT. Originally recruited as an edge defender, Latu made the move to tight end in his second year at Alabama. He put himself on the radar in 2021 with a breakout year, setting a program record for tight ends with eight touchdowns while also averaging just under 16 yards per catch. Latu does not have a standout trait to his game, but he does enough things well to be considered a solid backup at the next level. The hope with him will center around the fact he did not play a ton of tight end compared to others. He needs to improve his ball skills and blocking techniques while also trying to pack on some weight. He will not be athletic enough to warrant extra looks as a slot receiver. Latu will bring special teams and depth value early on in his career with a limited, but very attainable ceiling.
*Latu would be an interesting day three pick. One of the negatives some have on Alabama prospects is that many of them are so well trained on and off the field, that they’re almost at their peak. Some of them just don’t have another step up the ladder to go. Latu, I don’t feel that way about. He is a solid football player that is rough around the edges of his skill set. Maybe the transition to tight end will simply take him a bit longer. At the very least, I can see the former defender contribute on special teams at a high level.
13) Brayden Willis – Oklahoma – 6’4/241
NFL Comparison: Noah Gray / KC
Fifth year senior. Three-year starter from Arlington, TX. Second Team All-Big 12 in 2022. Willis lined up all over the Sooners offense and has all of the respect from the coaching staff. They label him an ideal representative of the program. His best tape is found as a blocker on the move, further strengthening the idea he can play fullback for teams that still use one. Willis does have enough size to play tight end line, both F and Y roles. He plays bigger than his size. Do not sleep on his ability as a pass catcher underneath, either. He is sudden and instinctive and will find a way to find the crease. He does not have a standout physical trait, but he is a tough guy that will wear many hats on gameday.
*Willis could go a lot higher than where I have him. He has been hampered by a hamstring injury throughout most of the pre-draft process. If a team (likely one that uses a fullback) can find the right usage, he is simply an economic presence to have. He will be reliable, yet unspectacular.
14) Payne Durham – Purdue – 6’6/253
NFL Comparison: Jesse James / CLE
Fifth year senior. Four-year starter from Suwanee, GA. Three-time All-Big Ten. Durham was an accomplished high school lacrosse player that was on a trajectory to play in college. A late pivot back to the gridiron after not playing grades 9-11 led him to Purdue, where he redshirted and then quickly became the team’s top tight end. Durham has a unique body type for the position. He is long and top heavy, but lacks the lower body thickness to factor as an in-line blocker against defensive ends and tackles. That said, he is a physical, try-hard player that will make things happen through grit and hustle. His greatest impact will be felt as a receiver. He can use his radius well to out-reach defenders and there is some sneaky athleticism he shows after the catch. Durham projects to the back end of a depth chart while he enhances his power and strength with the upside of being a rotational, versatile chess piece.
*Durham turned some heads at the Senior Bowl. He won the National Team’s Player of the Week, an award given out from the practices. He is a coachable player with plus size and underrated straight-line speed. The short area movement and lack of stability that comes from his lower half worries me a bit. There just isn’t a ton of margin to work with, thus he needs to clean a bunch of things up. I like the long-term upside, but a lot of boxes will need to get checked.
15) Zack Kuntz – Old Dominion – 6’7/255
NFL Comparison: Donald Parham / IND
Fifth year senior. Two-year starter from Camp Hill, PA. First-Team All-Conference USA in 2021. After spending three seasons at Penn State where he played 17 snaps and caught three passes, Kuntz moved on to Old Dominion. The high school state champion hurdler and district title high jumper brings a rare blend of size, speed, and explosion to the table that does not come around often. He can use the tools as a vertical route runner and contested situations at a high level. He screams matchup nightmare for the defense. As good as Kuntz looks on paper, he never quite evolved into a quality short space mover. He does not play sudden as a route runner or ball carrier. Separating from defenders is unlikely unless it is a simple route up the seam. There is also no impact as a blocker in the trenches. The initial punch is soft and there is a lack of lower body and core strength to sustain good contact on to his man. Kuntz will give the perception of a guy that has the ceiling of taking over games on third down and near the end zone, but the natural skills and fluidity have not arrived yet. He is a risky project.
*Above, I mentioned Josh Whyle and how rare his size/speed combination was. Well, Kuntz takes the cake there because there has never been a combine invite at tight that ran a 4.55 while also measuring in over 6’6. Add in the elite leaping ability, massive hands, and long arms and this kid is full-blown unicorn status. A historic prospect. Because of that, we could see someone take a chance on him as early as round 4. My initial look at him had a top 5 grade. The tape against Virginia (a team with multiple future pros) was very good. The deeper dive saw a lot of the issues that come from a guy with this body type. He lacked twitchy change of direction, and he was a liability as a blocker. There are options he brings to the table that others will not. He can be a solid package player, but I wouldn’t even label him second string caliber. Interesting prospect to say the least.
16) Blake Whiteheart – Wake Forest – 6’4/247: 70
17) Leonard Taylor – Cincinnati – 6’5/250: 70
18) Jahleel Billingsley – Texas – 6’4/224: 70
19) Noah Gindorff – North Dakota State – 6’6/263: 70
20) Ben Sims – Baylor – 6’5/250: 69
21) Travis Vokolek – Nebraska – 6’6/259: 69
22) Ryan Jones – East Carolina – 6’1/240: 68
23) Camren McDonald – Florida State – 6’4/237: 68
If I had to choose one position on this roster that NYG will ignore in the 2023 NFL Draft, tight end is it. Even more so than quarterback. The irony? This my personal favorite tight end group I have ever scouted. It is both strong at the top, and deep through the end. I bet there is some chatter out there proclaiming this was THE year NOT to trade a draft pick for a veteran tight end that chews up an above average portion of the salary cap. I do not agree with the sentiment. One look at the database of tight ends I have for the sake of historic measurements, and some draft weekend analytics I use quite often, it is easy to see how volatile this position is. There are absolute freaks drafted at tight end every year. There are guys who had elite production in college. There are receivers, there are blockers. The amount of tight ends who do not pan out at the next level is more than people think. Simply put, as a coach once told me, tight end is the hardest position to adjust to in the NFL from college other than quarterback. The decision to cross off the tight end need by trading for Waller was a good decision. The one note that sticks in the back of my mind? He is essentially playing on a few one-year option deals that NYG can get out of in a hurry at minimal cost. Waller is not locked into this spot for a long time contractually by any means.
This brings me to the burning question. If (more likely, when) a big-time value is available for NYG at tight end on day three, do you use a pick on one? Waller and Bellinger are the unquestioned 1-2 punch. Tommy Sweeney was hand-picked by this Head Coach/General Manager duo after working together in Buffalo. Lawrence Cager showed us a few things down the stretch last season that I know this front office likes and personally, I think can be a weapon at some point. Four tight ends (plus Chris Myarick) simply mean the van is full. No more seats. I stand pat with the projection they will not draft, nor should they, unless there is a special teams/fullback type weapon in his arsenal. The other reason would be that they feel they can stash him on the practice squad which can always be tough because he would then be there for the taking all year by the other 31 teams. As much as I like the class – it is the year to look away. Something tells me this isn’t the last time we are going to see a tight end class like this anyway.