When looking at the positional draft value placed on the tight ends in recent draft history, it may resemble a healthy cardiogram or, even better, a fluctuating and highly active volatility index measuring the modern economy. In the past decade, we have seen a range of the 4th overall to 55th overall pick being used to select the first TE in the class, with a total of 3 being selected with top 10 picks and 4 sliding all the way into the second round. The classes have varied in both star power and depth, but the roles certain prospects can fill have placed a very unique value on certain players deemed worthy enough to be selected. In the modern era, finding a do-it-all tight end is like trying to find a needle in a haystack…if you don’t take your shot when you can, then you may never get another opportunity. Just last year, we saw the highest drafted Tight End ever, Kyle Pitts, get picked a selection ahead of the generational WR talent Ja’Marr Chase; the TE role is clearly becoming more valuable and advantageous than ever.
Having an elite tight end does so much more than just adding another strong-handed target to your QB’s arsenal. Having a do-it-all Tight End is not only a matchup nightmare, but is an extra element to a high functioning offense. It opens up your offense while adding to your run game, something that cannot be overlooked in the direction that the NFL is headed. It’s no coincidence that the previous 6 Super Bowls have featured Greg Olsen, Rob Gronkowski (3 times), Travis Kelce (twice), Zach Ertz and George Kittle. The even more astonishing fact is that just one of the listed above, likely Hall of Fame TEs, was drafted in the first round (Olsen, 31st overall in 2007). A major reason why TE is one of the hardest positions to come by is because it is the hardest position to find and identify in the draft. Not only do Kyle Pitts type prospects only come around once in a generation, but George Kittle type prospects can be found lurking in the mid rounds more often than not. So, this being said, how does the 2022 class stack up and are there any diamonds in the rough?
Top of the Class
Trey McBride | Colorado State, JR 6’4″ 260 lbs
McBride was a bit of an after though heading into the season, but his production alone was enough to elevate his name into relevancy. The big bodied receiving threat was one of the few bright spots on the 3-9 Rams and despite only finding the end zone twice, he hauled in 90 receptions for 1,121 yards. To put those numbers in perspective, both categories rank higher than top receivers Treylon Burks, Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave and Drake London. He is not the best blocker in college football, but is certainly talented enough to find some success in that department and continue to grow at the next level. McBride is expected to run somewhere in the 4.6-4.8 range, which is in the same ballpark as what T.J. Hockenson ran before being selected 8th overall in 2019. It’s early, but McBride likely sits on that late-1st Round bubble and will have many suitors trigger happy and licking their chops if he makes it to Day 2.
Jalen Wydermyer | Texas A&M, JR 6’5″ 255 lbs
Since joining the Aggies, we’ve been waiting for Wydermyer to make the jump into being one of the elite TEs in college football. Many had him pegged to having a Kyle Pitts type breakout this year, but he never made the transition from “very good” to “great”. He is still certainly one of the top draftable prospects in this class and is rumored to have the league’s big board top TE split between McBride and himself. Wydermyer has a great NFL build, is quick-footed and runs very well for a guy tiptoeing around the 260 range…he actually looks a lot leaner on tape. He was a favorite and frequent target for veteran Kellen Mond, but his production took a dip this season with a couple of inexperienced QBs taking over. Despite the shakey production, he was an absolute matchup nightmare and frequently got open all over the field. One of his most impressive performances on tape was the upset over Alabama where he got open all day and made some huge, game changing blocks. He certainly will need to improve on his blocking at the next level, but it is rare that there is a prospect who doesn’t need to. He will play a large receiving role in the NFL and his athleticism and versatility will allow for him to lineup on the line, in the backfield, as an h-back, out wide and in the slot.
Others I Love
Isaiah Likely | Coastal Carolina, SR 6’4″ 240 lbs
Likely wrapped up an incredible season with a huge performance in the Cure Bowl, where he amassed 7 receptions for 96 yards and 2 TDs. Although this may seem like an amazing statistical performance for a TE, it was probably his 4th or 5th best outing of the year. When grading a prospect, you can only rely on statistical production so much…but when you’ve got a guy who can put up a 232 yard and 4 TD performance (with a 99 yard TD), it helps you see how that player can produce at the next level. Likely was one of the top target’s of Coastal Carolina’s efficient QB, Grayson McCall. Despite being apart of a run heavy scheme, Likely was plenty involved in the overall production of the Chanticleers offense. He doesn’t have prototypical size, as he may even be a hair under 240, but he blocks well enough to temper any worries in that department. He is extremely athletic and can play a bunch of different roles at the next level, but also possesses raw strength. This combination reminds me a lot of Tommy Tremble, who was a 3rd round pick last season by the Carolina Panthers. Likely is likely a project at the next level, but very much should get involved offensively as soon as he gets to the NFL.
Josh Whyle | Cincinnati, JR 6’6″ 245 lbs
Whyle is the exact type of prospect that you could qualify as a “diamond in the rough”. He was apart of a high powered offense that ran through Desmond Ridder, in which he played a major role that has propelled the team to a 26-1 record over the past 2 seasons. His production may have been limited by his role, but the tape shows a ton of promise. The reason I say he is a diamond in the rough, is despite his lesser production, I could absolutely see him breaking out in the NFL and leading this class in statistics right away if he is drafted into the right scheme. He is lean and lanky, at just 245 lbs, but has some of the best natural ability in the class. The strength to his game are his hands and his above average body control, but there are areas that will need major improvements to make it at the next level as a complete TE. He is a promising blocker, which has propelled his stock and also will help scouts overlook the fact that he has 724 yards in 3 seasons, but don’t forget that Kittle had just 737 yards in 4. I see Whyle playing a role similar to that of Dan Arnold in Jacksonville, which will allow him to lineup both in-line and in the slot.
Charlie Kolar | Iowa State, SR 6’6″ 260 lbs
Kolar has been one of my favorite TEs to watch through the past two seasons and was actually a top 5 TE of mine, if he had gone pro last year. He is a natural receiver and shows his athleticism all over his tape and shockingly tips the scale at 260 lbs. His massive frame looks much lankier on film, but he gets the job done all over. His catch radius and ability to haul in the jump balls is impressive and adds to his diverse skillset. He reminds me a lot of Greg Olsen and likely will play in a similar role at the next level. He is a true receiving tight end who can run a full route tree and will likely play both in the slot and in-line.
Gerrit Prince | UAB, SR 6’5″ 240 lbs
Prince was a an absolute no-name heading into the 2021 season, but played a huge role in the Blazers offense where he wracked up 700 yards and 10 TDs. The true senior had just 14 receptions heading into the season, but enjoyed a nice breakout campaign that ended with an upset bowl victory over #13 BYU, where he tallied 2 TDs. As of now, Prince is still a major no-name for the NFL Draft, but I could see the late bloomer turn some heads with his technically solid skillset. SEMI-HOT TAKE: He may be a DEEP sleeper now, but I think Prince is a guy that could very well end up being drafted and make a 53 man squad.