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2019 NFL Draft Watchlist: Tight Ends

Many people feel like they don’t have enough control in their lives, that time marches on relentlessly no matter what they do. In fact, that’s why many of us play fantasy sports. We want to experience what it might feel like to run a team, to make the decisions, to be the iron-fisted tyrant or the cordial deal-maker. That’s one of the beautiful things about fantasy sports in general and dynasty fantasy football in specific; we can influence outcomes in a fun space and see our imaginations turn real (in a way). That’s why I decided to let you, the people, vote to determine the order we would analyze the top prospects for the 2019 NFL Draft here on Fantrax.

We have already made it through two positions, so we are here to run down the top tight ends for dynasty or developmental (devy) fantasy football players. Going forward, there will be individual evaluations of players, but this article is a quick “get to know you” for the potential class as a whole.

Measurables projections are courtesy of, and an asterisk (*) after the name means they are an underclassman and may decide not to declare for this draft class.

Which tight ends should you be watching heading into the 2019 NFL Draft?

Previous Articles

2019 NFL Draft Watchlist: Running Backs, Part 1

2019 NFL Draft Watchlist: Running Backs, Part 2

2019 NFL Draft Watchlist: Wide Receivers, Part 1

2019 NFL Draft Watchlist: Wide Receivers, Part 2


2019 NFL Draft Watchlist

1. Noah Fant, Iowa*
6’4”, 232 pounds
Age at 2019 Draft: 21 yr., 5 mo.
Projected 40-yard dash: 4.78

I don’t often rank so radically against my metrics, but Iowa Hawkeyes tight end Noah Fant shows an athleticism on tape that does not match what was measured coming out of high school. By projected Speed Score based on high school times (88.9), Fant comes in fourth-worst among the 26 tight ends whose data I compiled. On one particular touchdown catch in 2017, however, he got from the 50-yard line to the end zone in five seconds flat. His slimmer frame lends itself to being a seam-busting deeper option at the position rather than a jump-ball mauler or blocker. We just have to hope for our peace of mind that his athleticism shows at the NFL Combine the way it does on Saturdays.

As a true sophomore last year, Fant posted 30 catches for 494 receiving yards (16.5 average) and 11 touchdowns (36.7 percent rate). By soaking up 15.1 percent of his team’s completions for 20 percent of their passing yards, Fant is helping to make the case that he can be a primary option for an NFL offense in the Zach Ertz mold. His smooth movements, easy speed, and sure-handedness make Fant a top-tier option heading into the 2019 draft cycle.


2. Kaden Smith, Stanford*
6’5”, 259 pounds
Age at 2019 Draft: 22 yr., 0 mo.
Projected 40-yard dash: 4.70

We began our tight end list with a slimmer, speedier player, and we’ll continue it here with that archetype’s logical counterpoint: the physical monster. Stanford’s Kaden Smith is a massive player, and he knows how to use his size and strength to dominate the opposition. In the air, Smith’s power forward frame becomes the perfect shield for boxing out defenders; in contested catch situations, his strong hands rip passes right out of the opponents’ grasps. Smith is a bully in the best sense of the word – he outmuscles defenders on the line of scrimmage, drags tacklers behind him, and doesn’t let his size hamper his above-average speed (projected 106.2 Speed Score).

He has a ways to go in refining his game in terms of route running, as agility and quick cuts do not come naturally to him, and he rounds off many of his routes. Still, his innate size and strength allowed him to post a strong year in his first healthy college season in 2017 (he redshirted due to ACL/MCL tears from high school in 2016). Smith saw 23 catches for 414 receiving yards (18.0 average) and five touchdowns (21.7 percent rate). If he continues his breakout trajectory over a larger sample size in 2018, look out.


3. Isaac Nauta, Georgia*
6’4”, 246 pounds
Age at 2019 Draft: 21 yr., 11 mo.
Projected 40-yard dash: 4.74

When he was recruited, Isaac Nauta was the consensus top tight end in the nation per both 24/7 Sports and Rivals. His freshman 2016 season at Georgia saw him break out immediately, putting up 29 catches for 361 receiving yards (12.4 average) and three touchdowns (10.3 percent rate). The five-star recruit appeared to be the next great NFL tight end from the jump, but then the 2017 season took its toll on Nauta’s production. The Bulldogs’ offense improved, but Nauta did not, catching just nine passes for 114 yards (12.7 average) and 2 touchdowns (22.2 percent rate). Nauta found himself a tertiary option in the passing game, relegated mostly to blocking duties for Georgia.

Fortunately, Nauta does have a varied skill set, in that he can be a slot-flex option as a receiver or in-line as a blocker, but he’ll have to improve his consistency in receiving to truly make the next step as a prospect. He has solid speed for his size, with a projected 97.5 Speed Score, but explosion is another trait he needs to improve. Former Alabama product O.J. Howard was underutilized in college, had consistency concerns, and still got drafted in the first round in the NFL. There’s plenty of time for Nauta.


4. Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri*
6’5”, 260 pounds
Age at 2019 Draft: 21 yr., 0 mo.
Projected 40-yard dash: 4.84

I’ve been down this road before as a tight end evaluator: a prospect with a body like a mountain moves like a monsoon and all of a sudden I’m drooling like a cartoon wolf. In the previous case, small-school prospect Adam Shaheen caught my eye and suckered me in. Fortunately, Albert Okwuegbunam plies his trade at Missouri, which has a significantly better level of competition than a D-II school, because I am definitely intrigued by “A-OK” and his 94.8 projected Speed Score. In his redshirt freshman 2017, he turned in a strong campaign of 29 catches for 415 yards (14.3 average) and 11 touchdowns (37.9 percent rate), showing a shorter yardage but devastating red-zone dominance.

Okwuegbunam has all the tools necessary to be a devastating tight end in the NFL, and he has been used even as a slot receiver and in the “Z” position as a wideout. His raw talent shows up in his strength, size, and body control, all of which make him look like a young Jimmy Graham on the field. Like the star tight end, though, much of what A-OK has to work on are the fundamentals: blocking, route running, and decision-making. If he can land with a team that develops him well, his tools will lend to him being a true star in the pros. If not, he’ll be a big “what-if.”


5. Irv Smith, Jr., Alabama*
6’3”, 243 pounds
Age at 2019 Draft: 20 yr., 9 mo.
Projected 40-yard dash: 4.77

Alabama’s Irv Smith, Jr. is the least steady option of the top-five here, with a frame often relegated to the role of an H-back in the NFL – a hybrid fullback and tight end, often with more blocking responsibilities than receiving. That said, he has shown he has the skills to be a receiving tight end, as his size and solid frame present matchup issues for defensive backs, while his athleticism is too much for linebackers to keep up with. Smith’s 93.9 projected Speed Score isn’t incredible, but he has room to improve in that regard while maintaining his impeccable route-running and clean use of hands.

Another stain on an otherwise interesting profile: Smith has only 14 college catches for 128 receiving yards (9.1 average) and three touchdowns (21.4 percent rate). Continuing the tradition of underused college tight ends – especially from ‘Bama – Smith needs more opportunity in this run-first, run-second, and run-third offense to truly improve his dynasty stock. He has an interesting case if he can add to his resumé, but right now Smith is right where he belongs in our rankings.


… And 5 More to Watch

  • Alize Mack, Notre Dame – 6’4”, 251 pounds; 4.73 40-yard dash; 100.3 Speed Score
  • Ravian Pierce, Syracuse – 6’3”, 230 pounds; 4.73 40-yard dash; 98.4 Speed Score
  • Brandon Fritts, North Carolina – 6’4”, 250 pounds; 4.75 40-yard dash; 98.2 Speed Score
  • Farrod Green, Mississippi State – 6’3”, 246 pounds; 4.76 40-yard dash; 95.8 Speed Score
  • Caleb Wilson, UCLA – 6’5”, 225 pounds; 4.70 40-yard dash; 92.2 Speed Score


Look for more on the 2019 NFL Draft in the coming weeks.

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