Exiting the combine, we are digging into this incoming rookie class for Dynasty Rookie Drafts, startups, and the potential these young players can have on the 2023 seasonal formats.
Even prior to the actual NFL Draft in April, rookies are available in Best Ball formats across all platforms. We kicked things off this week with a look at a good quarterback class. The tight end position is raising the bar in that regard.
Now that the NFL combine has passed, we have a plethora of new athletic data on this upcoming rookie class. That information can be applied in athletic models and used to shape the full portfolio for prospects to go along with production profiles, which is a general overlay of what these players put on tape for NFL teams.
The quarterback position for fantasy is also much different than that in real life. Scouting and analyzing how collegiate passers will translate to the next NFL has been a long-losing endeavor.
As we get more athletic testing data coming in through pro days, we will add notes here to those prospects. However, overall, athletic testing has a low correlation to actual fantasy output and when it does, it is typically counted twice from a productive player in the first place. But when a prospect has subpar athletic testing paired with a limited or nonexistent production resume, then we are playing with fire when attempting to elevate or count on that player for NFL production.
Post-draft we’ll have the added influence of draft investment and landing spot to add to the layout. Those two components carry the most influence in predicting immediate player usage, so things will be shaken up a bit come April and we will revisit both ranks and adjust accordingly, although I would express caution early on in avoiding overweighting those elements dramatically altering your approach on a player.
With all of that set up out of the way, let’s dig into the top prospects of this tight end class, which is a good one. We may not have a Kyle Pitts in this class, but this is the strongest grouping of front-end tight ends I have covered. We could see multiple tight ends selected in the first round in April, while several could be off of the board by the end of the second round. A year ago, we had just three tight ends selected inside of the top 100 picks.
1. Michael Mayer, Notre Dame, Final Year Age: 21.5 (Tier 1)
Mayer is the second-youngest and most productive tight end in this draft class. After posting a 71-840-7 line over 12 games as a sophomore in 2021, Mayer came back this past season to catch 67 passes for 809 yards and nine touchdowns.
Mayer was the Notre Dame passing game. Among all tight ends in this draft class, he led the group in:
- Share of team targets (31.5%)
- Share of team receptions (31.9%)
- Share of team receiving touchdowns (36.0%)
- Share of team air yards (38.8%)
- Rate of targets per route run (35.7%)
- Yards per team pass attempt (2.39)
No tight end in this class averaged more receptions (5.0) and receiving yards (58.3) per game throughout their collegiate careers than Mayer.
Against man coverage, Mayer averaged 2.37 yards per route run (fourth in this class) while averaging 2.61 yards per route against zone overage (third).
Mayer was also someone who was moved around in college. He played 45% of his snaps in the slot and 14% out wide.
Mayer caught 17-of-26 contested targets in 2022 while no other tight end in this class had more than 11 contested catches.
The knock on Mayer is that while his career production rivals elite tight end prospects, he was an underwhelming athletic tester at the combine and his long speed has been the largest question mark many have had. Mayer came out of Indianapolis with a 52nd-percentile athletic score in my tight end model.
That may move him down a peg when compared to hyper-productive tight end prospects such as Kyle Pitts and Rob Gronkowski, but those are the only two tight ends in my database (going back to 2000) that have a higher career production score than Mayer does. While we would have loved Mayer to check off that final box and enter April as a pristine prospect, his body of work in on-field production speaks for itself.
2. Dalton Kincaid, Utah, Final Year Age: 23.2 (Tier 1)
Kincaid is the “oldest” of the Tier 1 tight ends but was as productive of a pass catcher as the rest of this group.
After a 36-510-8 line in 2021, Kincaid exploded as a fifth-year senior to catch 70-of-96 targets for 890 yards and another eight touchdowns last season.
Kincaid racked up…
- 24.3% of the Utah receptions (third in this class)
- 21.9% of the targets (third)
- 25.5% of the receiving yards (third)
- 25.8% of the receiving touchdowns (fourth)
- 26.7% of the air yardage (second)
- 2.0 yards per team pass attempt (second)
- 51.0% of his targets went for a first down or touchdown (first)
Kincaid is all pass catcher right now so we are looking for him to find a role similar to Mike Gesicki coming out as a prospect. The only question is whether Kincaid is as good of an athlete as Gesicki was since we did not see Kincaid do any testing at the combine.
Kincaid lined up inline on just 35.4% of his snaps, the second-lowest rate in this class.55.1% of his snaps came lined up as a slot receiver, which was second, although 9.5% were out wide (seventh). He averaged 2.52 yards per route run from the slot, which led this class.
3. Sam LaPorta, Iowa, Final Year Age: 22.0 (Tier 1)
We just talked about how Michael Mayer carried his passing game, but LaPorta was right behind him in that department.
LaPorta accounted for 30.4% of the Iowa receptions (second in this class), 28.1% of the target (second), and 32.0% of the receiving yards (first).
LaPorta was Iowa’s passing game. So much so that he led this draft class in routes run as an isolation receiver (35.5% of his routes) while he ran a class-high 20.2% of his routes lined up out wide. LaPorta led this crop of tight ends in targets against man coverage (38) while his 2.72 yards per route run against man coverage were the highest in this class among tight ends that ran more than 33 routes against man coverage (he ran 115).
LaPorta’s success against man coverage is backed by his destruction of the combine a week ago, LaPorta checked out of Indianapolis in the 92nd percentile athletically. 56.9% of LaPorta’s yardage came after the catch, which was a higher rate than the other Tier 1 tight ends here in Mayer (42.7%), Kincaid (46.1%), and Washington (46.7%).
The only thing LaPorta did not do regularly in college was find the end zone. He caught just five career touchdowns on 153 receptions (3.3%), which was the second-lowest rate in this class. Iowa had just seven total passing touchdowns in 2022 and 12 in 2021 to add a grain of salt there, but it was the one area of production that LaPorta did not dominate.
LaPorta is younger than Dalton Kincaid while having much more objective production than Darnell Washington. He just needs his draft capital to push the rest of this tier.
4. Darnell Washington, Georgia, Final Year Age: 21.4 (Tier 1)
Washington was saddled with being one of the most talented blockers in this class while his production as a pass catcher was also hit by playing alongside 2022 Mackey Award Winner Brock Bowers.
Washington is a monster at 6-foot-6 and 264 pounds. He has a pterodactyl catch radius, registering 34 3/8” inch arms with 11” hands. At that size in Indianapolis, he ran a 4.64 forty (89th percentile speed score) while also posting the fasted shuttle time in this class. He came out of Indy ranking in the 93rd percentile athletically at his position.
Despite Washington having fewer counting stats than his peers here, he was a 5-star recruit that has strong underlying peripherals.
Although Washington caught just 45 career passes at Georgia, he averaged a robust 17.2 yards per catch on those grabs, which was second in this class. 48.9% of his targets resulted in a first down or touchdown, which was third in this class for 2022. He did not run a ton of routes, but Washington’s 2.75 yards per route run were the same total that Michael Mayer posted and more than Dalton Kincaid and Sam LaPorta.
Washington takes some projection due to his lack of overall production but could be the first tight end taken after Mayer and draw first-round capital due to his athletic profile and impact as a blocker.
5. Luke Musgrave, Oregon State, Final Year Age: 22.3 (Tier 2)
Tier 2 of this class has strong potential. This isn’t just a top-heavy class.
Musgrave entered the season on the Mackey watch list, but his senior season was cut short to only two games due to a knee injury.
Musgrave was able to return for the Senior Bowl and make a good impression. He then built on that with a strong showing at the combine, exiting Indianapolis in the 86th percentile at his position from an athletic stance.
While Musgrave was only on the field for 50 total pass routes in 2022, he was out of the gates with 3.52 yards per route run (which would have been tops in this class on an extended sample) while drawing a target on 31.3% of his routes (which would have been third). Musgrave averaged 3.13 yards per route against man coverage to go along with 3.84 yards per route against zone. 20% of his targets were 20 yards or further downfield, which would have been second in the class.
In that two-game sample, he posted games of 6-89-1 and 5-80-0.
We are treading into nearly a full projection extrapolating his small sample to full-season success, but it was clear that Musgrave was going to be a large part of the Oregon State offense.
6. Zack Kuntz, Old Dominion, Final Year Age: 23.6 (Tier 2)
Kuntz had a similar runout to Musgrave into 2022. After a strong 73-692-5 line in 2021, he appeared in just five games this season while running just 114 pass routes.
Kuntz lined up all over the place on his limited sample, playing 38.6% of his snaps inline, 44.7% in the slot, and 16.7% out wide.
Kuntz posted a class-high 3.18 yards per route against man coverage while being targeted on 48.5% of his routes against man coverage.
Against zone coverage, things were a different story. Kuntz averaged a class-low 0.49 yards per route run while being targeted on 15.4% of his routes.
Despite the uneven splits in his shortened sample, Kuntz has a larger body of work than the other tight ends in this tier while he did just as much to help himself at the combine as anyone. Kuntz logged a 94th percentile speed score at his position after running a 4.55 forty at a stature of 6-foot-7 and 255 pounds. He then tacked on to that by posting the highest explosion score (vertical plus broad jumps) and the best weight-adjusted agility score in those drills. When the dust settled, Kuntz came out of Indy with the highest athletic score in this class, checking out in the 98th percentile.
7. Tucker Kraft, South Dakota State, Final Year Age: 22.2 (Tier 2)
Kraft is a smaller school prospect who broke out in 2021 when he caught 65 passes for 770 yards and six touchdowns. He only played in six games this past season, catching 19 balls for 232 yards and two scores.
Kraft was a former high school running back and his athleticism also showed up last weekend when he exited with an 86th-percentile athletic score. Kraft was supposedly even busier throughout the interview process, interviewing with 15 different teams.
Only Michael Mayer (5.0) and Zack Kuntz (4.2) averaged more career catches per game than Kraft’s 4.1 per game.
Rest of the class…
8. Payne Durham, Purdue, Final Year Age: 22.5 (Tier 3)
9. Will Mallory, Miami, Final Year Age: 23.6 (Tier 3)
10. Cameron Latu, Alabama, Final Year Age: 22.9 (Tier 3)
11. Brayden Willis, Oklahoma, Final Year Age: 22.1 (Tier 3)
12. Brenton Strange, Penn State, Final Year Age: 22.0 (Tier 3)
13. Josh Whyle, Cincinnati, Final Year Age: 23.3 (Tier 3)
14. Luke Schoonmaker, Michigan, Final Year Age: 24.3 (Tier 4)
15. Blake Whiteheart, Wake Forest, Final Year Age: 22.8 (Tier 4)
16. Noah Gindorff, North Dakota State, Final Year Age: N/A (Tier 4)
17. Davis Allen, Clemson, Final Year Age: 22.9 (Tier 4)
18. Leonard Taylor, Cincinnati, Final Year Age: 24.9 (Tier 4)
19. Kyle Patterson, Air Force, Final Year Age: N/A (Tier 4)
20. Travis Vokolek, Nebraska, Final Year Age: 24.6 (Tier 4)
The depth of this class is solid, but we will need to see where the draft capital falls on a number of the players down in this area of the position.
Noah Gindorff caught 12 career touchdowns on just 44 career catches. That 27.3% touchdown rate was tops in this class.
Luke Schoonmaker averaged 2.35 yards per route run against zone coverage in 2022, fourth in this draft class behind Luke Musgrave, Dalton Kincaid, and Michael Mayer.
Blake Whiteheart had a class-high 53.6% of his yardage come as an isolated receiver while a class-high 29.7% of his targets came on throws 20 or more yards downfield. 27.0% of his targets were contested catches (the highest rate in this class) while he managed to secure 70% of those targets (third).
Davis Allen secured 11-of-12 contested targets in 2022, the highest rate in this class.
Kyle Patterson only caught 18 passes over his collegiate career but is regarded as one of the best run blockers in this class while he averaged a class-high 17.7 yards per catch on those receptions.
Payne Durham ran the most routes of any tight end in the country last season while playing in the slot 63.9% of the time, the highest rate in the class. Unfortunately, Durham averaged just 0.76 yards per route run from the slot (third lowest) while he came out of Indianapolis with a 20th-percentile physical profile.
Brayden Willis played inline on just 34.2% of his snaps, the lowest rate in the class.
2023 Pre-Draft Tight End Rankings
|1||Michael Mayer||Notre Dame||21.5||1|
|5||Luke Musgrave||Oregon State||22.3||2|
|6||Zack Kuntz||Old Dominion||23.6||2|
|7||Tucker Kraft||South Dakota State||22.2||2|
|12||Brenton Strange||Penn State||22||3|
|15||Blake Whiteheart||Wake Forest||22.8||4|
|16||Noah Gindorff||North Dakota State||n/a||4|
|19||Kyle Patterson||Air Force||n/a||4|