Wide receiver is a very stacked position in this draft class, which is great for teams who need skill-position talent on the perimeter. However, what about the teams who need the middle of the field threat and safety net for their quarterback? Tight end is a very difficult position to scout, as many of the top players at the position currently weren’t first-round picks, and it’s very hard to make an impact as a rookie tight end. Therefore, even though I only see one first-round prospect in this year’s tight end class, there’s a lot of depth, and given the success of mid-round tight ends, there’s still a lot of intrigue with the position. So, who are the top ten tight ends in the 2020 NFL draft? Let’s take a closer look.
#1: Adam Trautman, Dayton
Year: RS Senior
Height: 6’5″ Weight: 251
Pro Comparison: Dallas Goedert
Best Fits: PIT, NE, JAX
Overall Grade: 88.05 (1st)
Adam Trautman may come from a small school (Dayton), but make no mistake, he has the chance to become a terrific all-around tight end. His height, length, and explosiveness combination is fantastic, as he’s able to be a true field stretcher, thrives over the middle of the field, and is also a terrific red zone threat. Furthermore, he’s not just an athletic freak, as he’s a great route runner, and is able to create plenty of yards after the catch. Plus, although he’s not a finished product, he’s shown to be a willing blocker, and impressive at the Senior Bowl with his physicality; he has a chance to develop his skill set to the point where he has zero weaknesses.
The main concern with Trautman is the level of competition he faced in college, which may lead to a steeper learning curve at the next level. He’s not quite ready to be an in-line blocker, and he takes questionable blocking angles, so the team that drafts him will have to develop his skills there.
For whatever reason, the tight end position seems to be a position where small-school prospects emerge. Two years ago, it was Dallas Goedert, who came out of South Dakota State, and has been a terrific all-around tight end in his first two seasons for the Eagles. It’s unclear if Trautman will be ready to make a huge impact right away, but over time, he should be able to develop into an in-line tight end, and the combination of receiving ability and blocking upside makes him easily the best tight end in this draft class.
#2: Cheyenne O’Grady, Arkansas*
Year: RS Junior
Height: 6’4″ Weight: 251 lbs
Pro Comparison: Lance Kendricks
Best Fits: SEA, NE, IND
Overall Grade: 86.775 (Late 2nd/Early 3rd)
Just from an on-field standpoint, Cheyenne O’Grady is the type of tight end prospect who could’ve been drafted in the first round. He ran a diverse route tree in college, and is able to create enough separation with those routes with sufficient athleticism. Meanwhile, he has very reliable hands, and his physical toughness shows his ability to hold onto balls in traffic. Overall, with his ball tracking ability and technique, he has natural receiving skills, and breaks plenty of tackles after the catch. Although he’s not a very powerful blocker, he’s both willing and physical as a blocker, and should be fine in an in-line role.
As mentioned, I’d have a first-round grade with O’Grady just based on his talent alone. So, why does he have a late second/early third-round grade? Well, his off-field issues are enormous, as he was suspended multiple times in college, and left Arkansas halfway through the season. Plus, not only are you sure if he’s going to be on the field, but he is playing, his effort on routes can be inconsistent, and he’s also not the most dynamic athlete. Ideally, for someone with as many red flags as he has, you’d also prefer for him to not already be 23-years-old.
O’Grady could be out of the league in a few years due to his off-field concerns, but he also has the chance to be a strong starting tight end for years to come. That said, he needs to go to the right culture, which makes teams like the Seahawks, Patriots, and Colts, who all need tight ends, stand out as excellent fits. He’s the type of tight end prospect who may not dominate in any way, but doesn’t have any real limitation, so at the end of the second-round or beginning of the third round, he’s worth a flyer if the team is committed to getting him on track to professional success.
#3: Cole Kmet, Notre Dame
Height: 6’4″ Weight: 235 lbs
Pro Comparison: Kyle Rudolph
Best Fits: GB, LAC, JAX
Overall Grade: 85.825 (Late 1st/Early 2nd)
Though Cole Kmet didn’t see much playing time before this season, since he was a two-sport athlete who also played baseball, you couldn’t tell; his skillset is much more refined than you’d expect. He’s able to play in an in-line role, as he’s proven to be competent as a blocker, and better yet, is a nice receiving threat from a three-point stance. His releases are rather smooth of the line of scrimmage, and when he needs to, he creates enough separation off the top of his routes. Plus, his reliable hands show up with his ability to hold onto the ball through contact over the middle of the field, which is where tight ends need to thrive. In the red zone, Kmet also projects well as a weapon there, as he makes the most of his frame with terrific extension skills.
Though Kmet is a much more developed prospect than you’d expect, there’s still room for him to grow as a blocker, as he sometimes struggles when left without help. He has plenty of upside with his blocking ability, but at the moment, he’s not much of a power blocker, due to his lack of balance. Furthermore, he’s not the best athlete and doesn’t have much acceleration, so he won’t create a lot of extra yardage after the catch.
Kmet’s versatility, ability to win up the seam and over the middle of the field, as well as his upside as a blocker, leads me to believe he’ll be a starting-caliber tight end for several years to come. He’s more of an old-school prototype since he’s not the best athlete, but unlike those players, he should have a role from day one, and fits the mold as a Kyle Rudolph or Greg Olsen type. He’s a fringe first-round option, though the beginning of the second round is where teams will get the most surplus value by drafting him.
#4: Hunter Bryant, Washington
Height: 6’2″ Weight: 241 lbs
Pro Comparison: Evan Engram
Best Fits: CHI, ARI, CAR
Overall Grade: 83.825 (Late 2nd)
From a receiving standpoint, no prospect in this tight end class is stronger than that area than Hunter Bryant, who truly looks like a receiver. He runs a full route tree really well, and is able to use his short-area quickness to create separation versus man coverage; against zone coverage, he utilizes terrific instincts to find holes to sit in. He does have some drop issues, but he tends to hold onto the ball well through contact, and when the ball is in his hands, he’s an absolute playmaker. Overall, Bryant is simply a matchup nightmare in the passing game, and projects really well as a “big-slot” tight end with his complete receiving ability. In fact, if he was strictly a receiver, I don’t know if his draft stock would be any different.
Bryant’s terrific in the passing game, but you better not rely on him when you’re running the ball- he displays zero physicality and is a liability as a blocker. He shows a willingness to block and is okay in space versus defensive backs, but with a thin lower-half, there’s no way he survives in an in-line role. Therefore, he’s more of a gimmicky weapon than a complete tight end, as a lot of issues working in an in-line role can’t be fixed- he’s undersized and doesn’t possess any power.
As a receiving threat, Hunter Bryant’s versatility is very intriguing, as he could be a terrific weapon for an offensive play-caller. However, he’ll have to be used by a play-caller willing to put him in a position to succeed, as if he’s used as a traditional tight end, he’ll fail greatly. Look for air-raid offenses/opened up offenses, such as the Cardinals, Panthers, Bears, and Chiefs to all have interest in the Washington product.
#5: Brycen Hopkins, Purdue
Year: RS Senior
Height: 6’5″ Weight: 245 lbs
Pro Comparison: Vance McDonald
Best Fits: HOU, ATL, DAL
Overall Grade: 82.65 (3rd)
For teams looking for a receiving tight end, but someone with a larger frame than Bryant, Bryce Hopkins could be their guy. He’s the best vertical threat in this tight end class, as he’s explosive off the line of scrimmage, and generates plenty of production down the field; he’s too fast for linebackers and too tall for defensive backs. He’s also a terrific route runner capable of running all routes, as not only does he separate versus man coverage, but he reads coverages well and exposes holes in zone coverage. He also makes very tough catches in traffic, and with his frame and ball skills, is someone quarterbacks can rely on in the red zone. It’s close between Bryant and Hopkins, but the Purdue product may have him beat in terms of his athletic profile.
Whereas Bryant is mostly a sure-handed receiver, Hopkins’ hands are questionable, as he had way too many concentration drops in his college career. Since he’s a straight-line player, he’s also not going to create much after the catch, and like Bryant, he’ll struggle in an in-line role due to his poor blocking ability and lack of physicality. Unlike Bryant, Hopkins also is a redshirt senior, so he also has less time to develop.
Hopkins will be compared to Bryant throughout the draft process, as the two are excellent receiving threats, and probably will be the top two tight ends selected in the draft. However, players with his profile, such as Mike Gesicki and David Njoku, have struggled to adjust to the NFL. I love his upside as a Vance McDonald-type, but Hopkins has a pretty low floor, so I’d probably not take a shot on him until the start of the third round.
#6: Thaddeus Moss, LSU
Year: RS Sophmore
Height: 6’3″ Weight: 249 lbs
Pro Comparison: Richard Rodgers
Best Fits: CAR, IND, NYG
Overall Grade: 81.65 (Early 4th)
Although you may expect the son of Randy Moss to stand out with his receiving ability, it’s actual Thaddeus Moss’ capabilities as a blocker that intrigues me. With his dense frame, he’s an absolute bully up front, and has the willingness and power to be a tremendous run blocker. It’s not as though he isn’t a receiving threat though, as he has the ball skills and hands of a wideout, and is able to box out and win on 50/50 balls in traffic. Unlike most prospects on this list, Moss is also on the younger side as a redshirt Sophmore, so he’ll have more time to develop than players like Hopkins, or even Trautman.
Moss’ polished abilities are enticing, but unfortunately for him, he’s certainly not the athlete his father was. He struggles to create separation versus man coverage with his lack of change of direction skills and crisp footwork, and he doesn’t have the deep speed to be a vertical threat. If you’re expecting any extra yardage after the catch from him, you’ll be disappointed; his lack of athleticism shows with how easily defenders are able to catch up to him and bring him down. In the end, he may simply just be a check-down option in the passing game, which is a shame given his ball skills
Thaddeus Moss is definitely the most physical blocker in this draft class, and overall, he’s the type of smart player that scouts will covet. However, his limitations are massive, as his lack of athleticism hurts his value to the point that I only see him becoming a solid #2 tight end. If you’re taking him at the start of day three of the draft, that’s fine, but I’d definitely place him in a tier behind the top five players on this list.
#7: Josiah Deguara, Cincinnati
Year: RS Senior
Height: 6’3″ Weight: 240 lbs
Pro Comparison: Charles Clay
Best Fits: ARI, HOU, SEA
Overall Grade: 81.625 (Early 4th)
Though there are a lot of exciting prospects to root for, Josiah Deguara has to be at the top of that list, as his consistent effort and energy is very easy to feed off of. However, he’s not just a grinder trying to be a special teamer- he has legitimate upside as a tight end prospect. The Cincinnati product is a very nuanced route runner, as he makes good route adjustments with pace and timing. Plus, his speed and quickness coming off the snap allow him to gain separation, and when he needs to, he’s able to catch the ball through contact and make to adjust to inaccurate passes, which he dealt with a lot in college. Plus, per Pro Football Focus, he constantly graded well as a run-blocker, and his willingness to block isn’t in question at all.
Deguara is as technically sound as it gets, but his athletic limitations may catch up to him. His limited size and length will hurt his ability to serve as an in-line blocker, and he’s not going to be a red-zone threat; he struggles to extend over defenders and win on 50/50 balls.
I really like Josiah Deguara as a prospect, as he’ll be ready to contribute right away, and will be very coachable at the next level. Unfortunately for him, there’s not a lot of room for him to grow due to his modest athletic traits, which unlike Moss, also impact his upside as a blocker. He’s in the same boat with Moss, as the two are practically interchangeable, and getting either on day three would likely bring back tremendous value.
#8: Harrison Bryant, Florida Atlantic
Height: 6’5″ Weight: 240 lbs
Pro Comparison: Cameron Brate
Best Fits: GB, ATL, ARI
Overall Grade: 80.575 (Late 4th)
It’s a common theme in this draft class, but Harrison Bryant has two traits working in his favor: his receiving ability and a high motor. As a receiver, he creates plenty of separation with fluid route running, and is extremely fast for a tight end on a straight line. He also makes the most of his large wingspan, extending his body to create a large catch radius, and with strong ball skills, he’s proven to be a true downfield threat. Whether it’s in the slot or not, he’ll be a nice receiving option, and to his credit, he plays with a lot of effort, as he constantly sacrifices his body as a blocker.
Though Bryant tries his hardest as a blocker, he’s simply too undersized to survive as an in-line blocker, and that’s not something that can be fixed. Additionally, although he had previously been sure-handed, he had eight drops this season, per Pro Football Focus, which is a concern if he’s going to rely on his receiving ability to have a defined role in the NFL.
Harrison Bryant is an extremely smart player who gives his best effort on every play, and since he’s pretty refined as a receiver, he’ll definitely serve an important role for any offense. The question is if he can be a starter, but honestly, that depends on the offense. He’s clearly improved throughout his college career, which speaks well to his coachability at the next level, and though he has his limitations, smart organizations shouldn’t think twice about drafting him on day three.
#9: Sean McKeon, Michigan
Height: 6’5″ Weight: 246 lbs
Pro Comparison: Ben Koyack
Best Fits: SF, NO, CLE
Overall Grade: 79.575 (5th)
If you were looking for the ideal tight end five or ten years ago, then Sean McKeon may have fit the bill. He has the NFL size you’re looking for with a pretty sturdy frame, and as a blocker and receiver, he’s technically sound. He has shown the ability to win with power as a blocker, and he’s been used in an in-role at Michigan. As for his receiving ability, his routes are rather crisp, and for the most part, he displays soft hands and nice ball-tracking ability. His ability to sit in between zones is impressive, and overall, he’s the type of tight end who can be used on all three downs.
I hinted that McKeon may not fit the prototype of a tight end in today’s game, and that has to do with his lack of athleticism. He struggles to separate from defenders in man coverage, is essentially a non-factor in the vertical passing game, and simply isn’t a threat after the catch. Therefore, he’s mostly just a check-down option for quarterbacks, and even as a blocker, he should add more wait to thrive in the power-running game at the next level.
Sean McKeon is the perfect tight end to plug-in as a #2 or #3 option from day one, but unfortunately for him, his skill set isn’t valued in today’s game. For any team that utilizes heavy personnel, like the 49ers, Saints, Patriots, Browns, and Titans, he fits as a solid blocker and a receiving threat in the short passing game. He’s a nice target for those types of teams in the fifth or sixth round, but I don’t see him becoming a starter at the next level.
#10: Colby Parkinson, Stanford
Height: 6’7″ Weight: 260 lbs
Pro Comparison: Gavin Escobar
Best Fits: KC, IND, NYG
Overall Grade: 79.15 (5th)
With a massive 6’7″ frame, Colby Parkinson is probably the best red-zone threat in this draft. He extends for the ball very well over defenders, and with the ability to track passes really well, it is excellent working down the seam as a vertical threat. Because of his lethal combination of height and speed, he’s a mismatch weapon for all defenders, whether it be linebackers or defensive backs, and to his credit, he’s pretty fluid for a player of his size. He’ll never work as an in-line blocker, but when in space, he’s certainly capable blocking for ball carriers.
Parkinson is intriguing as a receiving option, but once he gets the ball in his hands, the play is over; he offers nothing after the catch. Additionally, he’s not physical at all versus press, and with minimal experience as an in-line blocker, projects more as a “big-slot” type than a true tight end. He may have straight-line explosiveness, but that’s about where his route tree ends, as when you’re someone of his size, it’s going to be difficult to refine your abilities running more complex routes.
Colby Parkinson is a great contested catch tight end, but he has the type of skillset that teams are moving away from. His lack of run after catch ability, as well as his complete lack of physicality, are serious red flags, and in the end, he’s more of a developmental project. I’d like to see a smart offensive play-caller get a chance to use his skills properly, but if he’s asked to be a standard tight end, he’ll struggle mightily.
Here are the other tight ends that were scouted and considered for this top ten list, ranked with their overall grade:
11) Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri (78.475, Late 5th/Early 6th)
12) Jared Pinkney, Vanderbilt (78.375, Late 5th/Early 6th)
13) Jacob Breeland, Oregon (77.7, 6th)
14) Charlie Taumopeau, Portland State (76.976, Early 7th)
15) Joey Magnifico, Memphis (76.9, Early 7th)
16) Mitchell Wilcox, South Flordia (76.85, Early 7th)
17) Stephen Sullivan, LSU (75.35, Late 7th/UDFA)
This isn’t the strongest tight end class in the world, with only Adam Trautman standing out as a first-round caliber tight end, but there is a decent amount of draft. Hunter Bryant and Brycen Hopkins could thrive in the right scheme, while Cole Kmet is a very versatile option capable of fitting in any offense. Thaddeus Moss, Josiah Deguara, and Hunter Bryant, meanwhile, all have starting potential in the future and all could be steals on the third day of the draft, and even after them, there are some intriguing development projects for the future. It may not complement the stacked receiver class well, and not all of the abundance of teams in need of a starting tight end will find the middle of the field threat they need, but still, we’ve certainly had worse tight end classes. Trautman, in particular, has a chance to be the steal of the draft if he falls out of the first round.