Not all draft classes are created equal, and the 2020 tight end draft class is weaker than most. Some might be bored by a class with no projected future stars, but with no scheme-transcendent players, understanding individual strengths and weaknesses becomes even more important. Maybe there’s no future George Kittle or Travis Kelce, but there are players who can fit a particular inline, redzone, receiving, or fullback role.
Best Route-Runner: Harrison Bryant, Florida Atlantic
There are bigger guys, faster guys, and guys that tested better at the Combine, but no one was more productive in 2019 than Bryant, who won the Mackey Award as the best tight end in college football. The Owls used him as a big receiver, aligning him in the slot, out wide, and as an H-back and asking him to run a variety of routes at all levels of the field. His feet are quick enough to separate at the line against press coverage, and he looks like a wideout running his vertical stem and making his breaks. He’s also savvy about settling in zones.
Honorable Mention: Adam Trautman has the sharpest cuts in the class, though it looks like he’s freestyling some of the time. Hunter Bryant and Brycen Hopkins are two undersized “move” tight ends with route-running savvy and top movement skills.
Best Hands: Adam Trautman, Dayton
A visual demonstration:
Earlier in the game, Trautman hauled in a one-hander on a post. And he’s sure-handed as well as spectacular.
Honorable Mention: Thaddeus Moss isn’t the fastest player, but he has sure hands and terrific body control to stay in at the sidelines. Colby Parkinson excels at using his frame to ward off defenders so he can secure passes, even with little separation.
Best Blocker (Inline): Devin Asiasi, UCLA
Asiasi’s squatty build generates good power, and he latches on to opponents and keeps his legs moving through the whistle. He was asked to execute a variety of assignments for the Bruins and acquitted himself well, a rarity in the modern college game. UCLA often ran behind him in big spots. Even if the defender gets an initial advantage, Asiasi will fight with urgent energy to turn the tide and re-position himself to better effect.
Honorable Mention: Cole Kmet, Jared Pinkney, and Jacob Breeland were inconsistent, but both flashed quality reps inline. In a weak class, that gets an honorable mention.
Best Blocker (H-Back): Thaddeus Moss, LSU
Moss played a unusual role in the Tigers’ offense: a blocking H-back. That wasn’t all he did, but it was what he did best, throwing vicious cutblocks at edge defenders, jarring linebackers with violent chips before releasing, and sealing off second-level defenders. He’s not sized for traditional inline duties, and he’s not the dynamic athlete teams expect from a flex, but his toughness, aggressiveness, and power should let him carve out a role.
Honorable Mention: Dalton Keene was nearly effective as Moss, and he’s bigger and might translate to a more traditional inline role at the next level. Josiah Deguara is even smaller than Moss, but excelled at combo blocks; he might find a home as a fullback for a team that does a lot of zone blocking.
Best After the Catch: Dalton Keene, Virginia Tech
One of the oddest games I saw on film was Virginia Tech against North Carolina. Injuries left the Hokies short at running back, so they plugged in Keene – at 6’4” 253 pounds! Keene was a high school running back and shows power, speed, and a surprising amount of shiftiness in the open field:
Honorable Mention: Brycen Hopkins ran one of the best 40 times in Indianapolis and he can turn on a dime. Cole Kmet is a giant and frequently needed multiple defenders to bring him down.
Most Intriguing Prospect: Keene
It’s a cliché to say that a receiver was underutilized in college or “will be a better pro than a collegian,” but Keene has the talent to make those clichés come true. He was rarely targeted downfield in Virginia Tech’s run-heavy O but flashed some ability there and has the sure hands and speed to threaten the seam. With a 9.33 Relative Athletic Score, he arguably had the best Combine in the class. He blocked effectively as an H-back and has enough size to potentially work inline. He needs to expand his route tree, but I love his potential as a guy that likely goes in day three.
Honorable Mention: Albert Okwuegbunam ran a positional-best 4.49 40 at the Combine, he’s got prototypical size, and he had some decent production. That speed didn’t always show up on tape, however, and he’s got work to do blocking. Colby Parkinson towers at 6’7”, suggesting an inline prototype, but Stanford turned him into the college football’s most plodding slot receiver. Once the nation’s #1 recruit at TE, he’s got untapped potential.
Best Prospect (Traditional): Cole Kmet, Notre Dame
If you’re looking for the next Rob Gronkowski, keep looking. But if you need a solid tight end with size, power, and some ability in both the blocking and receiving game, Kmet is your man. At nearly 6’6” and over 260 pounds, he’s got prototypical size. He lined up in several spots in a pro-style offense, including plenty of blocking work inline. He’s got the speed to threaten the seam, and power to bulldoze defenders after the catch. He has to refine his route-running and blocking technique, but he checks the most boxes for teams looking for a prototypical “Y” tight end.
Honorable Mention: Devin Asiasi doesn’t look the part of a traditional Y at only 6’3” and a weight that ballooned up to 280 pounds at times, but he’s an effective inline blocker whose build belies surprising vertical speed and overall athleticism.
Best Prospect (Modern): Trautman
Trautman might be able to play a traditional role in the right offense, too, but asking him to bulk up and down-block on defensive ends is kind of missing the point. Trautman’s movement skills are special; his 6.78 three-cone time would have ranked second at the Combine among wide receivers. And he’s no shrimp at 6’5”, 255 pounds. He can beat press coverage at the line, break ankles with cuts in the open field, and then leap over defenders and make the spectacular grab.
Honorable Mention: Harrison Bryant rarely played inline and his short arms and lack of play strength limit him as a blocker, but his polished receiving skills can help a team willing to be creative.