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Early NFL Draft TE Rankings (Analytics)

by Hayden Winks
Updated On: February 13, 2020, 5:19 pm ET

For modeling tight end prospects, we can’t have a complete projection until we are through the Combine because weight-adjusted speed and other athletic tests hold some predictive value. In the meantime, we’ll check out each tight end’s college production, which is a lot more predictive than athleticism anyways. I’ll share each NFL Combine invitee’s historical ranking in predictive on-field metrics, write up what I see on film with some statistical evidence to back up my opinions, and post the results of my pre-Combine model.

 

TE Pre-Combine

 

Of the 25 FBS prospects who had averaged at least 8.0 fantasy points per game in their first four NFL seasons (aka rookie contract production) from 2005 to 2019, all 25 of them were to the right of the “minimum threshold” line from above. It’s still early into the draft process so some of these tight ends could move up or down once we have NFL Combine data, but we can focus on these top nine prospects for now: Hunter Bryant, Brycen Hopkins, Cole Kmet, Harrison Bryant, Colby Parkinson, Albert Okwuegbunam, Thaddeus Moss, Jacob Breeland, and Jared Pinkney. You can also include Adam Trautman because of his projected draft capital, but I don’t want to compare his production as a non-FBS prospect to players who played in the FBS.

 

If you’re curious about what goes into this model, it’s a combination of age-adjusted production, team share of receiving yards, ability to find the end zone, strength of schedule, and draft capital, which is a decent way to factor in a film grade. You’ll see how each prospect turned out in some of these categories below:

 

2020 TE Prospects

Hunter Bryant Pre-Combine

Projected Overall Draft Pick: 76th

 

Hunter Bryant (6’2/241) is a highly productive, slot tight end who moves like a wide receiver. He accounted for 26% of Washington’s receiving yards (the best team share of years in the class) and had the highest yards per route run (2.9) of any tight end since 2014 (min. 250 receiving snaps) per PFF. His speed off the line of scrimmage and his in-air adjustments are fantastic traits and should translate in a modern NFL offense, at least between the 20s. Bryant failed to convert any of his seven red zone targets for touchdowns in 2019, however. He lined up all over the field (slot, inline, fullback, etc.) but doesn’t profile as a traditional run-blocking tight end given his size, even though he is a willing blocker. Perhaps his red zone efficiency and blocking ability improve with age since he will just be turning 22 years old when his rookie season starts. Expect Bryant to improve his draft stock at the Combine.

 

Situational Stats:

2019 YPR on non-red zone targets: 15.5 (4th)

2018 and 2019 touchdown rate on red zone targets: 0% on just seven targets (18th)

Where he lined up the most: slot

 

Brycen Hopkins Pre-Combine

Projected Overall Draft Pick: 66th

 

Brycen Hopkins (6’4/241) will be limited to a pass-catching role in the NFL, but his mobility and production give him big upside. His burst off the line of scrimmage, straight-line speed, and in-air adjustments are plus qualities, as is his high-end route running. He’s best going vertical, as evidenced by his 14.3 yards per reception average on non-red zone targets, but he executed a wide variety of routes at Purdue. He’ll likely test as one of the most explosive tight ends in the class. His play strength is a different story, however. PFF credits Hopkins with just 10 broken tackles on 130 career receptions despite playing in space frequently and his 30% touchdown rate on red zone targets leaves room for improvement. He also left catches on the field due to drops, although that's usually an overrated stat. Using him as a blocker is a waste of his pass-catching talent, especially since he’s a very questionable run-blocker. His last negative is his age. He’ll be well into his age-23 season when we kick off this upcoming fall. 

 

Situational Stats:

2019 YPR on non-red zone targets: 14.3 (7th)

2018 and 2019 touchdown rate on red zone targets: 30% (10th)

Where he lined up the most: slot

 

 

Cole Kmet Pre-Combine

Projected Overall Draft Pick: 48th

 

Cole Kmet (6’5/255) is a big catch radius target with all-around starting potential if given time to develop. NFL teams will need to have patience with him because he’ll barely be 21-years-old when his name is called on draft night and because he’s now just playing football full time after playing baseball at Notre Dame, but his upside is appealing. PFF credited him with dropping just two of his 60 targets over his last two seasons. More importantly, his size and speed combination allow him to work down the seam and on crossing routes as a mismatch for undersized linebackers and defensive backs. His YAC ability and blocking are average, however, but can be improved if he ever shakes his “more clumsy Gronk” style of play. Posting just 18 receptions over his first two college seasons is another knock on his profile, but last year's 81st percentile age-adjusted production makes up for some of these negatives.

 

Situational Stats:

2019 YPR on non-red zone targets: 13.0 (12th of 18 Combine invitees)

2018 and 2019 touchdown rate on red zone targets: 28% (12th)

Where he lined up the most: inline

 

Harrison Bryant Pre-Combine

Projected Overall Draft Pick: 99th

 

Harrison Bryant (6’5/242) is an ultra-productive, chain-moving tight end who primarily lines up in the slot. He led college tight ends in first downs (47 with the next closest TE down at 32), receptions (65), and yards (1,005) last season. He also led the position by a wide margin in PFF’s yards per route run (3.53) in the slot with the second place finisher all the way down at 2.38. That’s insane and is why he was the top-ranked rookie tight end in Scott Barrett's model. His straight-line speed will likely be near the top of the class as well, making him a potential starting pass-catching tight end in the NFL. He’ll need some time to develop since he’s still yet to turn 22-years-old and he does have a glaring weakness (blocking), but he has upside as a pure pass-catcher in a couple of seasons. PFF notes that Bryant had the fifth highest yards per route run (2.6) of any tight end since 2014 (min. 250 receiving snaps).

 

Situational Stats:

2019 yards per reception (YPR) on non-red zone targets: 16.4 (3rd)

2018 and 2019 touchdown rate on red zone targets: 30% (10th)

Where he lined up the most: slot (52%)

 

Colby Parkinson Pre-Combine

Projected Overall Draft Pick: 94th

 

Colby Parkinson (6’6/240) is a lengthy, contested-catch mismatch with high-end hands but average athleticism and blocking ability. His height and ability to high-point catches make him a weapon on seam routes and in the red zone. In 2018, he averaged 14.3 yards per target on deep passes, but unfortunately couldn’t replicate that elite production with sub-par quarterback play this season. Per PFF, all 15 of his 20+ yard targets were deemed uncatchable. When he did get an accurate pass, Parkinson tracked it in, even if there was a defender draped on him. He didn’t drop a single pass all year long. His weakness as a receiver is separation, but he does make up for that in some ways with his contested catch ability. His run-blocking ability is average at best as well, and it’s notable that he was asked to pass block on just four snaps in his three seasons at Stanford.

 

Situational Stats:

2019 YPR on non-red zone targets: 12.5 (14th)

2018 and 2019 touchdown rate on red zone targets: 28% (12th)

Where he lined up the most: slot

 

 

Albert Okwuegbunam Pre-Combine

Projected Overall Draft Pick: 74th

 

Albert Okwuegbunam (6’5/255) is a three-year producer who is at his best in the red zone and on vertical routes, but he has athletic limitations underneath. He followed up his 11-touchdown freshman season with back-to-back six touchdown seasons over the last two years. 54% of his red zone targets went for touchdowns over that two-year span, which isn’t a surprise given his size and ability to make in-air adjustments. He has decent long speed once his big body gets going but isn’t a separator as a route runner, particularly on underneath passes. He only averaged 5.4 yards on his targets within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage because of his lack of short-area burst and agility. He’ll be able to block in the NFL, giving him a path to being an average to low-end NFL starter with some receiving touchdown upside. Athletic testing could make his draft stock drop.

 

Situational Stats:

2019 YPR on non-red zone targets: 12.6 (13th)

2018 and 2019 touchdown rate on red zone targets: 54% (4th)

Where he lined up the most: inline

 

 

Thaddeus Moss Pre-Combine

Projected Overall Draft Pick: 86th

 

Thaddeus Moss (6’3/249) is a potential low-end NFL starter as a primary run-blocker. His speed, short-area burst, and agility are weaknesses, and LSU used him as if these traits were deterrents. 31 of his 57 targets came between the numbers within 0-10 yards of the line of scrimmage. His below-average athleticism doesn’t allow him to separate from defenders, so he will be limited to short-yardage dump-offs in the NFL. He does have a big catch radius and doesn’t body catch in traffic, but he only had one red zone touchdown last season despite playing in the best college offense. PFF does note that he didn’t drop a single pass in 2019, but only having six receptions from 2016 to 2018 is a major red flag. His easiest path to a more diverse role is to lose weight because he currently doesn’t move like his father, Randy Moss.

 

Situational Stats:

2019 YPR on non-red zone targets: 13.2 (10th)

2018 and 2019 touchdown rate on red zone targets: 11% on just nine targets (15th)

Where he lined up the most: inline

 

 

Jacob Breeland Pre-Combine

Note: Breeland would’ve been higher in these categories if he would’ve played an entire season but, unfortunately, knocking him for a major injury seems fair to some degree.

Projected Overall Draft Pick: 112th

 

Jacob Breeland (6’5/248) was a productive, pass-catching tight end when healthy, but injuries and average to sub-par overall athleticism may limit his upside depending on how he performs at the Combine. On tape, he was at his best on deep crosses and seam routes that allow him to build up his long speed. He was second in the class in yards per reception on non-red zone targets (16.8). However, his questionable burst off the line of scrimmage makes him an average separator on shallow routes. He will also be coming off a season-ending injury. He’s average at best as a run blocker and should rarely block on passing downs at the next level. 

 

Situational Stats:

2019 YPR on non-red zone targets: 16.8 (2nd)

2018 and 2019 touchdown rate on red zone targets: 38% (6th)

Where he lined up the most: inline

 

 

Jared Pinkney Pre-Combine

Projected Overall Draft Pick: 115th

 

Jared Pinkney (6’4/254) was a high-end producer in 2018 (50-770-7), but he regressed in a major way in all categories last season (20-233-2). His efficiency dropped to below-average levels (46% catch rate and 5.4 yards per target) and more importantly, he wasn’t a focal point of the offense any more with his targets dropping from 81 to 43. On tape, he tracks the ball well and has the size to be a threat in the red zone. 38% of his red zone targets went for touchdowns over his last two seasons, the sixth-best in the class. But he doesn’t appear to be a plus athlete, and he had bad blocking grades from PFF. He needs a nice day at the Combine to stop the downward descent. I'm not so sure that he saves the day with nice measurables.

 

Situational Stats:

2019 YPR on non-red zone targets: 11.9 (15th)

2018 and 2019 touchdown rate on red zone targets: 38% (6th)

Where he lined up the most: inline

 

 

Adam Trautman Pre-Combine

Projected Overall Draft Pick: 87th

 

Adam Trautman (6’5/251) is a productive, small school prospect with some three-down NFL upside as a willing blocker and capable pass-catcher. A former quarterback and honor roll student, he should be a quick learner but will need time to develop after switching positions at Dayton. His receiving production improved every year, ending with 916 yards and 14 touchdowns across 11 games. PFF noted he had the third highest yards per route run (2.7) of any tight end since 2014 (min. 250 receiving snaps). I’m slightly skeptical of drafting small school prospects because they are overdrafted on average, but he was definitely way more physical than his small school opponents and reportedly held up against Senior Bowl competition. He should be a plus-level blocker in the NFL given his size and attitude -- he said he’d rather block for a touchdown than catch a touchdown (that’s freakin’ weird to me tbh) -- but he needs to test well at the NFL Combine to have legit Day 2 appeal. I’m not buying into the hype until I see what his athleticism is.

 

Situational Stats:

2019 YPR on non-red zone targets: NA

2018 and 2019 touchdown rate on red zone targets: NA

Where he lined up the most: inline

 

Page 2 has the rest of the tight end prospects.