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2023 NFL Draft: Tight End Positional Primer

It’s never too early to get a jumpstart on college scouting. Let’s prime the TE pumps as we begin turning our attention towards a stellar 2023 draft class!

Another exciting college football season is winding down. For many dynasty managers, a season of injury and turmoil has turned their attention toward the celebrated 2023 NFL Draft class. We are still far from concrete conclusions about most of these prospects. However, whether you are contending or rebuilding, it’s never too soon to familiarize yourself with what’s upcoming.

As we approach trade deadlines in dynasty leagues (if your league still has one), the valuation of 2023 picks will be important as managers assess what to target and what to move. While tight end rarely dictates the value of draft picks, especially premium picks, it’s a consideration for building teams when trading away existing players. The 2023 Tight End class has first-round NFL talent, a feature that did not exist in the 2022 draft class. However, despite featuring headline NFL talents, the fantasy outlook of the premium names is less defined. Let’s explore the fantasy prospects of the top tight ends in 2023.

Top Five

*The cream of the crop. These players are likely to declare and are players likely to go on days 1 and 2 of the NFL Draft.

Michael Mayer | Notre Dame | 6’4” | 265

A three-year starter for the Irish, NFL coaches and GMs are drooling over the prospects of Mayer. A true two-way tight end, capable of sealing the edge as a blocker and then flanking out as a receiver, there are very few questions about Mayer’s NFL talent. Mayer is ready to start and contribute in ways few rookie TEs traditionally can. As a result, he will offer some instant viability to dynasty managers as a rookie. However, there will be questions about Mayer’s athleticism and eventual upside as we approach the NFL Draft.

Despite possessing excellent body control and strength, Mayer is average, even limited, as a linear athlete. His size and contested catch ability give him an elite touchdown upside. But, like so many tight ends, landing spot and quarterback ability will have as much impact on his actual fantasy upside as athleticism. A likely top-20 NFL Draft selection in the coming months, what team selects Mayer may powerfully swing his value. Without knowing a landing spot, Mayer belongs in the mid-second of rookie drafts, with the upside to push into the top 12-15.

Darnell Washington | Georgia | 6’7” | 270

Washington is a complex asset to value in dynasty leagues. Primarily known in his time at Georgia for being a punishing blocker, Washington is flying up NFL boards. Overshadowed by sensational underclassmen TE Brock Bowers, Washington has flashed a receiving skillset in 2022 we hadn’t seen in previous seasons. A surprisingly fluid mover, he is among college football’s most impressive athletes. However, he will be drafted by NFL teams first for the ability to impact the game blocking and secondarily to develop as a route runner and receiver. A selection in the first round, certainly within the first 50 selections, seems likely for Washington in the upcoming NFL draft.

This combination of draft capital, athleticism, and outrageous size will be tempting for dynasty managers. I expect Washington will eventually pay off a second-round dynasty valuation. However, he fits the stereotypical TE profile that loses value over the early portion of their career. He checks in as my TE2 because the eventual upside, for NFL and dynasty, is higher than anyone in the class. Be prepared for the long haul if you draft him, and plenty of rebuy opportunities from impatient managers if you miss out.

Benjamin Yurosek | Stanford | 6’4” | 242

A tier drop here, Yurosek is an impressively limber athlete who, despite lacking a physical skillset, is a talented jump ball and vertical stretch player. A preseason Mackey Award watchlist player, Yurosek has the film in 2021, as well as solid performances vs. USC, UCLA, and ASU in 2022, to validate a second-day NFL Draft selection. Yurosek added weight coming into the season and has the frame to continue to do that as we move toward the combine. I think it’s important to note, Yurosek is only coming into his first year of draft eligibility. While he could elect to return to Palo Alto for another season, QB prospect Tanner McKee leaving for the draft would make it likely Yurosek declares. The upside is there, but seasoning, either on campus or with an NFL team, is still necessary for this talented Cardinal.

Dalton Kincaid | Utah | 6’4” | 242

Utah’s offense leans heavily on two-TE sets, and Kincaid shouldered a heavy load in 2021, scoring eight touchdowns on 33 receptions. In 2022, after an injury to the second TE, Brant Kuithe, Kincaid’s offensive yoke has only gotten heavier, and he continues running forward. In seven games since Kuithe’s injury, Kincaid has seven touchdowns on 44 receptions, totaling nearly 600 yards. Dalton is a competent route runner in the short and intermediate areas but is exceptionally talented after the catch. Kincaid is ready to help an NFL offense as a TE2 immediately and can develop into a second-day starter. He is a late-round dynasty target until his landing spot is known.

Sam LaPorta | Iowa | 6’4” | 249

An above-average linear athlete with a solid strength profile, LaPorta is the classic do-everything receiving TE for the Hawkeyes. LaPorta runs the widest variety of routes in the class and, similar to Kincaid, is the focal point of his college offense. A converted high school WR, LaPorta can create separation within patterns but also understands coverages and when to settle in space. Sam has second-day potential but won’t slip far into day three if that doesn’t come to fruition. LaPorta could be a sharp late-round dynasty investment that should eventually find his way into a starting NFL job.

Will They Declare?

*These are highly graded or highly touted players who, through circumstance, may not declare but would boost the class if they forgo remaining eligibility and enter the NFL Draft.

Jaheim Bell | South Carolina | 6’3” | 232

Bell vaulted up boards as we headed into the offseason after a five-catch, 159 yards, and two touchdown performance in Duke’s Mayo Bowl vs. UNC. However, 2022 hasn’t turned out as we hoped for Bell. The offense has faltered under QB Spencer Rattler, and Bell isn’t involved nearly enough. An extremely talented hybrid RB and TE, Bell has some intriguing fantasy appeal if he declares. Yet, without a significant change in the current Gamecock offense, it’s hard to imagine Bell gaining day two consideration. Another year in Columbia, or elsewhere, may be in store for this talented hybrid.

Erick All | Michigan | 6’5” | 255

All had the potential to be ranked top-five coming into the season, but a back injury ended his 2022 before it could get going. Now post-surgery, it’s a near certainty All will head back to Ann Arbor for 2023. However, he is an explosive athlete and after-the-catch weapon with tremendous upside once healthy again.

Tucker Kraft | South Dakota State | 6’5” | 255

Another player that could easily justify top-five consideration, Kraft, was injured in week one, rendering an already tedious punt-fest vs. Iowa utterly unwatchable. He has since rejoined the Jackrabbit starting lineup, registering seven catches for 122 yards in two games against Northern Iowa and North Dakota. Kraft has eligibility remaining, and coming out of a small school with limited final-year film could make returning the most practical option. Despite this, Kraft is a talented two-way TE with significant upward mobility if he can remain healthy and garner an all-star invite. The most likely player of this group to declare.

Arik Gilbert | Georgia | 6’5” | 255

It’s been some time since Gilbert’s breakout freshman season at LSU, but the former top recruit still deserves brief acknowledgment here. An incredibly gifted athlete, reports are that Gilbert has struggled with his weight and conditioning since his transfer to UGA. Buried behind at least two TEs on that Bulldog depth chart, the path to playing time could open in 2023. Arik will have a chance to play in the NFL even if he never plays another college snap, but returning to campus seems a near certainty.

Steady Production

*This group of players is likely to declare but may have capped upside or a longer developmental track.

Will Mallory | Miami | 6’5” | 242

This Hurricane TE has been on draft radars for several years and has never been able to elevate his stock beyond the third day. Mallory has inconsistent hands, offers little value after the catch, and is a player who doesn’t rate above average in any athletic area. While concentration drops appear, he has a knack for making contested grabs and is an efficient route runner. There are some tools here to like, but not enough consistency to value above a dart-throw dynasty selection.

Cameron Latu | Alabama | 6’5” | 244

Latu is an effective zone beater and edge setter who offers good versatility as a TE2 for an NFL offense. Like most TEs, most of the fantasy upside Latu has ties to his quarterback and offensive firepower. Still, he is among the safer bets to take advantage of a plus situation.

Payne Durham | Purdue | 6’5” | 255

Durham is an imposing red-zone weapon and check-down target. While offering little explosiveness after the catch, Durham has reliable hands and catches the ball well in a crowd. Put himself on the map late in 2021 with an impressive two-touchdown performance vs. Tennessee in the Music City Bowl. Payne has followed that up with quality showings against Syracuse, Maryland, and Wisconsin in 2022.

Cade Stover | Ohio State | 6’4” | 255

Long and lumbering, Stover is a fun watch after the catch. He can step out of, power through, or outright evade tacklers in bunches. Stover has both NFL size and athleticism but hasn’t fully developed as a route runner and zone beater. He could use another year on campus, but with QB CJ Stroud heading to the NFL, Cade likely declares and develops on an NFL roster. An attractive long-term investment late in rookie drafts to stash on a taxi squad.

Positional Converts

*In an inherently athletic position, tight ends occasionally are quarterbacks or wide receivers transitioning to TE. A couple of raw players here that are intriguing positional converts.

Jake Bobo | UCLA | 6’5” | 215

A transfer from Duke, Bobo has emerged as one of the best weapons in the Pac-12. Operating from the slot in Chip Kelly’s spread offense, Bobo has developed excellent chemistry with QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson over the middle of the field. Bobo has displayed a combination of route running and flexibility rare in a 6’5” frame. He has the tape and athleticism to be an NFL playmaker, no matter how he is designated. However, he could have enhanced NFL value and may offer some cheat code dynasty value if he is willing to transition to TE.

Trey Knox | Arkansas | 6’5” | 233

A player who has already begun the transition to TE, Knox was a highly regarded WR recruit and prospect early in his Razorback career. Knox splashed immediately in 2022 with a two-touchdown showing against Cincinnati in week one but has been quiet until a recent two-touchdown performance vs. Liberty. With excellent burst and speed, even after adding weight in the offseason, Knox has the potential to be an interesting developmental chess piece for a creative NFL offense.

One Omission

*We all make mistakes.

Luke Musgrave | Oregon State | 6’6” | 252

My apologies to Corvallis. As a one-person scouting operation, I have not yet found the time to watch Musgrave. The unfortunate news is that I’m unlikely to get the chance in the future, as a foot injury has sidelined Musgrave since week two. He started 2022 hot, with consecutive 80-yard performances, and despite having remaining eligibility, appears to be preparing to head to the NFL. Check back in the coming months as we learn more about this talented Beaver tight end.

While I jokingly acknowledged that Musgrave was my only omission, I’m sure there are favorite TE prospects that didn’t make this article. Be sure to comment on anyone deserving of NFL acknowledgment. And if you’re that involved, maybe you are already a #Nerdherd subscriber, but if you aren’t, stop waiting. The dynasty film room will provide hours of entertainment in the endless pursuit of crushing your dynasty drafts!

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