(Ben Fennell is an Emmy Award-winning producer, editor and researcher across several media platforms, including the NFL Network and ESPN College Football. He worked with Mike Mayock on the NFL Network’s draft coverage for five years, and has worked the last two years with Daniel Jeremiah. You can follow him on Twitter at @benfennell_NFL. For the second straight year, Ben is breaking down each position in the draft for The Inquirer. Today, in part 2 of our eight-part series, he looks at the tight end position.)
The Eagles have one of the league’s best tight-end tandems in the NFL in Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. But there is some question as to how much longer the two of them will be together.
Both have contracts that will expire after the 2021 season. Both will be looking for big, big money, particularly if some of the league’s other premier tight ends like Travis Kelce and George Kittle sign new deals before then that resets the tight-end salary bar.
With that in mind, there’s a good possibility that a young tight end will be on the Eagles’ draft shopping list later this month.
The problem is, this isn’t a great year for tight ends.
“It’s really not an exciting group,’’ NFL Network draft analyst Ben Fennell said. “There’s no clear-cut first-round pick like a T.J. Hockenson or an O.J. Howard. And it’s not a particularly deep group either.’’
While you certainly can fault the Eagles for their acumen in selecting cornerbacks in the draft, they’ve definitely had a very good nose for tight ends. They took Ertz in the second round of the 2013 draft and Goedert in the second round in 2018.
According to Fennell, while this draft isn’t completely bereft of good tight ends, teams have to look harder for them. It could be the first year since 2016 that a tight end doesn’t go in the first round.
“There are some guys with upside in the pass game like Harrison Bryant [FAU] or Hunter Bryant [Washington], he said. "But I don’t see anybody here with a first-round pedigree. There are only a few guys with much experience at putting their hand in the ground.”
The scarcity of tight ends that can both catch the football and block a little bit has pushed up the stock of players who can like Notre Dame’s 6-5, 262-pound Cole Kmet, who likely will go in the second round.
“Teams are looking for that guy with some size and a little bit of experience at the point of attack in the trenches, kind of like the way the Eagles have used Goedert or the Niners have used Kittle,'' Fennell said.
“There’s some value in a lot of guys. There just aren’t a lot of exciting players with good metrics and good production that played at big schools. It’s kind of a hodgepodge of a tight group.’’
Hunter Bryant, Washington 6-2, 248, 4.74
Brycen Hopkins, Purdue, 6-4, 245, 4.66
Thaddeus Moss, LSU, 6-2, 250, N/A
Harrison Bryant, FAU, 6-5, 243, 4.73
Mitchell Wilcox, USF, 6-3, 247, 4.88
Height: 6-2 Weight: 248
Arms: 32 inches
Hands: 10 3/8 inches
40 time: 4.74 seconds
Vertical jump: 32.5 inches
225 Bench: 23
Fennell’s take: “Bryant is that athletic matchup piece that everybody is looking for. He’s not as juicy as [Giants tight end] Evan Engram, but he can play that type of role. He’s a Trey Burton, an Aaron Hernandez.
“He’s not going to be an inline guy for you. He’s going to be a guy you’re going to put out in the slot and get matchups. He’s that shorter, oversized receiver package rather than a 6-5 Gronk or George Kittle.
“He’s a better athlete than he tested at the combine. He was hurt throughout his career at Washington, but was a really prolific recruit. His dad was a strength and conditioning coach at Washington in the ‘90s. He’s a workout freak.
"Again, he’s not a very good blocker. You’re not going to ask him to do a lot of that. You’ll ask him to do some stuff just to work in the play-actions and misdirections and stuff, kind of the way the Giants use Engram. They’ll put him in the backfield every now and then just so that can lead him up the field. Same thing with Trey Burton. Burton is probably a more apt comparison for this guy since Engram is faster than both of them.’’
Round projection: 2
Height: 6-2 Weight: 250
Arms: 31 7/8 inches
Hands: 9 7/8 inches
40 time: N/A
Vertical jump: N/A
225 Bench: N/A
Fennell’s take: “Didn’t work out at the combine. Another guy with an interesting frame. He’s 6-2, 250, which is a weird, stumpy size. He’s a Randy McMichael-Fred Davis type of guy. He started his career at North Carolina State and transferred to LSU. He sat out 2018, so he’s really a one-hit wonder. But he did a lot of things really well in that offense. He was a feisty blocker, not only inline, but also with a lot of his moving assignments out on the perimeter.
“He was a lead blocker. He has really good hands. He’s not super explosive, but he knows how to get himself open. He has really good hands in the red zone. He’s a deliberate route-runner. Because of the prolific receivers they had on the outside, he wasn’t really featured in the offense.
“He was really good in scramble drills. He knows how to get uncovered. He stays active to the whistle. Much like Clyde Edwards-Helaire, his stock rose this year with the rise of the program."
Round projection: 3
Height: 6-2 Weight: 239
Arms: 31 5/8 inches
Hands: 9 inches
40 time: 4.72
Vertical jump: 35.5 inches
225 Bench: 25 reps
Fennell’s take: “Deguara is another move tight end. He tested really well at the combine. He ran fast, lifted well, jumped well. Probably collectively, he had the best week there of the tight end group. He also looked good at the Senior Bowl.
“He played primarily in the slot at Cincinnati. He has really good suddenness in his routes. Very good hands. He just wasn’t really a yards-after-the-catch threat in the open field. He has good speed off the line of scrimmage. He just doesn’t have that kind of extra gear down the field. But he’s a good player and a good special teams player. You could see him carving out a kind of Lance Kendricks [Chargers] kind of role on a team. Or kind of like the way Irv Smith is used with the Vikings. With this being a down year for tight ends, that should help his stock.’’
Round projection: 6-7
Cole Kmet, Notre Dame, 6-5, 262, 4.77
Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri, 6-5, 258, 4.49
Devin Asiasi, UCLA, 6-3, 250, 4.73
Dom Wood-Anderson, Tennessee, 6-4, 261, 4.92
Cheyenne O’Grady, Arkansas, 6-4, 253, 4.81
Height: 6-5 Weight: 262
Arms: 33 inches
Hands: 10 ½ inches
40 time: 4.77 seconds
Vertical jump: 37.0 inches
225 Bench: N/A
Fennell’s take: “Kmet was a 1 ½-year starter for the Irish. He hasn’t been on the field a whole lot. He lined up in a variety of alignments, but was inline the most. About 56% of the time this year. But he did play some slot, lined up in the backfield and out wide.
“I didn’t love him on tape. He’s kind of a lumbering runner. He doesn’t have a lot of juice. But he’s a huge target. He’s broad, long. They used him on a lot of play-action stuff, so a team with a run-heavy offense will like him a lot. He’s a guy who will block for you. And he can leak out in some play-action concepts.
“If you can disguise your intent by being a two-way player, that’s everything. You don’t have to be an ‘A’ blocker. You don’t have to be an ‘A’ receiver. But if you’re on the field and people don’t know what you’re doing, that’s the value in a player like this. Two-way players are what make offenses tick. That’s why Kittle is so good. Because you don’t know what they’re going to do with him. He excels at both.
“Kmet ran well at the combine, but I didn’t love his balance. He’s not a great athlete. But he seems to get a lot of praise from opponents. Michigan’s Khaleke Hudson said he’s one of the toughest guys he’s ever played against. A really tough blocker. You like hearing that personal-experience stuff from opponents.’’
Round projection: 2
Height: 6-5 Weight: 258
Arms: 34 1/8 inches
Hands: 10 ½ inches
40 time: 4.49 seconds
Vertical jump: N/A
225 Bench: N/A
Fennell’s take: “This is a guy who came on really early in his career when Drew Lock was the quarterback at Mizzou. A couple of years ago, he had 11 touchdown catches. And he puts his hand in the turf. He has two-way ability and the size. He showed up at the combine and ran a 4.49. That was out of nowhere. No one expected that.
“He’s got a little waddle to him. He’s got a bubble butt. He had to deal with the Clemson transfer, Kelly Bryant, at quarterback this year. Bryant was god-awful. But A.O. has been really good in the red zone throughout his career. He has broad shoulders, a big body and soft hands. That recipe right there will get you on the field. Plus the fact that he ran that 4.49, which means he has a little bit of juice vertically to threaten some safeties and linebackers.
“He’s a decent blocker. At least he has experience doing it. The term I like that scouts are using now to describe a lot of these guys is they lose slowly. If you lose slowly, that gives you a chance. Just don’t lose right away. That’s A.O. He’ll lose slowly for you. And that’ll get the job done 80% of the time.’’
Round projection: 3-4
Height: 6-3 Weight: 257
Arms: 33 ¼ inches
Hands: 9 ¾ inches
40 time: 4.73 seconds
Vertical jump: 30.5 inches
225 Bench: 16 reps
Fennell’s take: “Asiasi is another guy with an interesting career trajectory. He was a four-star recruit coming out of high school. Initially went to Michigan and then transferred to UCLA and sat out a year. When you do that, your stock, your buzz, literally goes to bupkis.
“He played inline a lot for Chip Kelly. Sixty-three percent of his snaps were inline. He was a really productive player this year. He had 44 catches for 641 yards. You put up over 500 yards as an inline tight end, you’re a top-10 producer. Because there really aren’t a lot of prolific [pass-catching] tight ends that are used that much as an inline blocker.
“Asiasi has very good hands. He’s a solid route-runner. He rolls off the line of scrimmage and threatens vertically immediately. He has 4.73 speed, which is really good for 260 pounds.
“He’ll be a developmental starter in the NFL. He’s a guy that was a late bloomer in his college career, but will start as a productive backup and then emerge into a role, like a Chris Cooley, or the way Nick Boyle emerged with the Ravens.’’