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‘Weak’ TE class under the microscope during bowl season

If your team is in desperate need of a Day 1 starter at tight end, the 2020 NFL draft might not be the place to find him.

That’s because the 2020 TE class appears to be relatively weak, especially compared to recent years. In the 2019 draft, for example, eight tight ends were among the top 96 picks, including a pair of Iowa first-rounders in T.J. Hockenson, who went No. 8 overall to Detroit, and Noah Fant, who went No. 20 to Denver.

This year?

It’s possible – probable? — that a TE won’t be drafted until the second round, at the earliest. And with the depth at other positions coupled with the perceived value of the tight end position, it wouldn’t be a shock if a TE wasn’t drafted until the third round in 2020.

That hasn’t happened since 1987, when San Diego State’s Rob Awalt was the first tight end selected, going No. 62 overall to the St. Louis Cardinals. However, that pick would be a late-second rounder now, so you’d have to go back another year, 1986, to find such a late pick at the position. Michigan’s Eric Kattus was the first tight end selected that year after he went in the fourth round to Cincinnati at pick No. 91 overall.

 

TEs could fall to third round

Examining this year’s class reveals a lack of a consensus “top” tight end. Basically, if you look at 10 different mock drafts, you might find 10 different “best” tight ends.

The Fanspeak-Steve big board, for example, lists Missouri’s Albert Okwuegbunam as its No. 1 TE, but he’s the No. 60 overall player, which makes him a fringe second-rounder. Vanderbilt’s Jared Pinkney (No. 66), Purdue’s Brycen Hopkins (No. 70) and Stanford’s Colby Parkinson (No. 83) are the only other tight ends in the top 100 of the Fanspeak-Steve big board.

Meanwhile, the top tight end in the Fanspeak-Jake big board is Washington’s Hunter Bryant, the No. 73 overall player. Only one other TE made the Fanspeak-Jake big board’s top 100, with Hopkins checking in at No. 84 overall. Pinkney is ranked No. 101.

The 2020 class TE class took a hit when two of the top players at the position – Penn State redshirt sophomore Pat Freiermuth and Notre Dame junior Cole Kmet – decided to return to school.

“I think tight end appears to be the weakest position in the draft,” said Steve Shoup, creator and co-founder of Fanspeak On the Clock draft simulator. “After strong classes in 2017 and 2019 and a decent 2018 class, this appears to be the weakest it’s been in years.

“With a couple of top names already heading back to school, and (Oklahoma’s) Grant Calcaterra retiring due to injury, this group is pretty thin. For teams hoping for an early impact, they could be pretty disappointed.”

Some under-the-radar names to watch

Pro Football Network recently examined five tight ends who could improve their draft stock during the bowl season, assuming the underclassmen declare for the draft. Of those five – Wisconsin’s Jake Ferguson, Iowa State’s Charlie Kolar, Florida Atlantic’s Harrison Bryant, BYU’s Matt Bushman and Western Michigan’s Giovanni Ricci – only Bryant and Bushman are listed among Fanspeak’s top tight end prospects. Bryant, the John Mackey Award winner this year, is sitting out FAU’s game against SMU in the Boca Raton Bowl.

The others, particularly Wisconsin’s Ferguson, have fallen under the radar.

“Only a redshirt sophomore, Ferguson is just scratching the surface of his potential,” PFN’s AJ Schulte writes. “He has shown solid athletic ability in the open field to be an effective receiver at the next level and blocks reasonably well, but is better off as a receiver at the moment. With all eyes on the Rose Bowl and facing a talented Oregon defense, Ferguson could catch serious momentum to become a top NFL Draft selection in April.”



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