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NFL Draft TE Rankings

by Thor Nystrom
Updated On: April 4, 2019, 7:56 pm ET

7. Josh Oliver (San Jose State) | 6'5/249

SPARQ percentile: 56.1
Comp: Tyler Higbee (AJ Schulte)


 

josh oliver combine

 

 

Were it not for a twist of fate in Oliver’s first year on campus, he may well have never played tight end. San Jose State initially intended to bulk this lanky high school receiver into an edge rusher. But injuries decimated the already-thin tight end depth chart, forcing an emergency position shift.

It wasn’t an immediate success story. Over his first three years playing, Oliver posted a combined 42-358-3 line. He surpassed those catch and TD marks and almost doubled the yardage total in 2018 alone, bursting onto the scene as an intriguing NFL prospect.

He’s a paper cut player. He averaged less than 11.0 YPC in college (Sternberger averaged 17.3 YPC in the SEC last year with inferior athleticism) and isn’t a home run threat down the seam. But Oliver is a reliable chain mover who creates space on routes by cleverly manipulating defensive backs with altered tempo and chop-chop feet.

In 2018, 67.9% of his catches (38 of 56) resulted in either a first down or a TD. And that was with opposing defenses keying in on him and shading coverage his way, particularly on money downs — Oliver’s supporting cast on last year’s 1-11 SJSU squad was abominable. Oliver, of course, led the team in catches. He also finished with nearly 200 more receiving yards than the team’s leading rusher’s rushing yards.

Right now, Oliver is an F-TE or a big slot only. As a blocker, he’s kind of a mess. He has very little idea what he’s doing, and he isn't yet strong enough to make much headway even if he did. He very well might improve in this area with more coaching — Oliver’s dedication is raved about — but you aren’t drafting Oliver with an inline profile in mind. If he gets there down the line, aces. But you’re bringing him in to be a reliable grinder in the intermediate area who’ll hang in there and take a monster shot to move the chains.


8. Alizé Mack (Notre Dame) | 6’4/249

SPARQ percentile: 64.1
Comp: Jordan Leggett (Gabe Ward)


 

alize mack combine

 

I wish I knew how to quit Alize.

A former all-world tight end recruit developed at one of the nation’s top high school programs (Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas) who tested as a 99.69% athlete at NIKE’s SPARQ Combine, Mack showed flashes while working in as a true freshman in 2015. He looked poised to become one of the best tight ends in the history of Notre Dame football.

But Mack’s career has hit several snags since then, from a one-season academic suspension in 2016 to a pair of concussions that limited his field time and may have hindered his effectiveness once back. You may think of him as the Jarrett Stidham of the tight end class, with Mack’s academic suspension acting as Stidham’s transfer year.

The past two summers, I predicted breakout campaigns for Mack in my work with college fantasy football rankings. He disappointed both times, disappointed throughout his career at Notre Dame. And yet I still can’t entirely dismiss him as an NFL prospect.

And that’s because Mack is arguably the most natural pure receiver in this class when he’s on. He’s capable of making catches that no other TE coming out can make, casual one-handed grabs of balls that have no business being caught, or getting off the ground to snatch errant throws like a center fielder stealing a home run. On some plays, you’d grade Mack’s hands as A++.

On others, they’re an F. For a natural receiver with soft hands, Mack drops too many balls. Is that from a lack of concentration? Yeah, probably. Could some of it have to do with the concussions he dealt with in college? I think that’s plausible — we often see baseball players struggle with hand-eye coordination when returning from head injuries and football players aren’t immune to the same issue.

And while Mack is a strong athlete and a fluid mover sprinting down the seam, he’s got no nuance with the ball in his hands. In college, I thought that might be attributed to his eyes being bigger than his stomach — that Mack was always looking to take it to the house and wasted precious split-seconds after the catch looking for daylight, as though he were more Percy Harvin than OJ Howard.

Turns out he probably just lacks foot quickness: Mack finished behind blocking-TE Drew Sample in the 10-yard split, short shuttle, and three-cone drills at the combine. This can be seen on his routes as well: Mack looks much better stretching the field vertically than he does running a 10-yard out.

And all of that is a big issue, because Mack has no interest in blocking. A former ballyhooed recruit whose skills have been gushed over for years going back to his prep days, I imagine Mack’s always viewed himself as a Tony Gonzalez type. Mack wants the glory. He wants to wow you. He wants to dent the scoreboard and draw roars from the crowd. 

He’s not interested in dirty work in the shadows. Mack doesn’t want to play inline. He doesn’t see himself as a tight end. He wants to be in the slot. Let me give you a spoiler alert: That isn’t changing.

I question Mack’s desire, I question his durability, and I’m here to tell you that he’s a bona fide one-trick pony. But I’ve never questioned his ability — that one trick of his is the kind of thing that could help a championship team if he finds the right circumstance. I’m rolling the dice mid-Day 3. But even as a guy still holding onto his Alize Island passport, I can’t go any higher than that.


9. Foster Moreau (LSU) | 6'4/253

SPARQ percentile: 89.9
Comp: Perhaps a Jack Doyle-type (Chris Trepasso), but Moreau's stunning George Kittle turn at the NFL Combine adds a little intrigue


 

moreau combine graph

 

As Kaden Smith or Isaac Nauta were torpedoing their NFL Draft stock with painful NFL Combine showings, the Island of Foster Moreau drifted inland and burst out of the sea like a Kraken. He posted top-five position performances in the 40-yard dash, the bench press, the vertical jump, and the broad jump.

His masterstroke came in the 20-yard shuttle, where he led all tight ends with a 4.11-second run. Simply stunning results. It’s not that Moreau was considered to have no athletic ability while at LSU. More that he wasn’t really considered at all. He acquitted himself well enough as a pass catcher when called upon, but like Warring and Sample, that didn’t happen often on a conservative, run-happy attack.

So what is the Island of Foster Moreau actually? A freak athlete who was caught in a bad collegiate situation? Or a mediocre football player who LSU used correctly by limiting usage? The reality is probably somewhere in the middle

Moreau’s combination of athletic traits and #motor shine as a blocker. Moreau wants to cave in your chest.

But for as much conviction as Moreau puts into his blocking assignments, there is less confidence when he’s asked to run routes. Linebackers tend to stick to Moreau despite his athletic profile. Again: Is that from a lack of development, or a byproduct of LSU’s conservative offense or mediocre quarterback play? Or is the jury already more or less in on the Island of Foster Moreau as a blocking specialist who could chip in on special teams?

Honestly, I don’t have a clue. And I’m not going to pretend to. But if eight tight ends listed above him come off the board in April, I’m rolling the dice in the sixth round.


10. Kaden Smith (Stanford) | 6'5/255

SPARQ percentile: 8.8
Comp: CJ Fiedorowicz (AJ Schulte)


 

kaden smith combine graph

 

You already know that Smith lost a ton of money by running a 4.91-second 40-yard dash in Indianapolis and turning in a sub-10th percentile athletic profile. Words like “disqualifying” were thrown around in the aftermath. Once considered a Day 2 pick — heck, some even saw a first-rounder last May — Smith is no longer a lock to be picked.

Smith’s game isn’t about speed, it’s about physicality, not only as a blocker, but also as a receiver. You see that for sure at the catch point, where he uses his body well and fights for the ball, but also on routes, where you aren’t going to dislodge him off his route. Get the ball within snatching distance of Smith and he’s going to pluck it. 

In college, he had a knack for arm wrestling defenders for catches while suspended in the air. Stanford used him heavily in the slot — he finished No. 1 in the class in slot receptions — and also downfield in Stanford’s jump-ball offense, also topping the class in receptions on balls thrown 20-plus yards downfield. But here’s the issue: Smith almost assuredly doesn’t have the athleticism to consistently win from the slot in the NFL. To hang, he has to become a different kind of player.

Which brings us to blocking, of course. Smith is a willing blocker, but remains sloppy and, in general, lacking in both power and consistency. He doesn’t have much of a choice but to work doggedly to improve in this area, specifically in the technical aspects, because he’s never going to have TJ Hockenson or Drew Sample’s inline pop.

Smith’s one-trick pony act of hauling in tough passes isn’t going to cut it in the NFL, where he’ll be a sub-mediocre athlete. I wanted to rank Smith lower. But heck, somebody had to be TE10. And it wasn’t going to be a guy like Dawson Knox, whose hype is entirely a byproduct of anonymous quotes and unverified testing from multiple years ago.


 

Fullback/H-Back


1. Trevon Wesco (West Virginia) | 6'3/267

SPARQ percentile: 34.9
Comp: Jim Kleinsasser (Jordan Pinto)


 

wesco combine graph

 

Wesco isn’t much of an athlete, and his calling card of blocking isn’t very sexy, but he’ll hang around the NFL for a while. At 6-foot-3, 267 pounds, Wesco is a big, strong dude -- he led all prospects in the combine tight ends group with 24 bench press reps.

And while he’s a plus as both a run and pass blocker, Wesco needs to keep working on that area of his game. He can sometimes be a little too wild in trying to get into it. The idea of the impatient running back not allowing his blocks to set up sometimes plays out in reverse with Wesco, when he becomes so eager to engage that he plays himself and whiffs, which can lead to the running back behind him getting tattooed.

This can also happen when he is kept in to block for the passer. An earlier engagement than necessary, a little lunge, and then suddenly Wesco is watching TCU DE L.J. Collier smash Will Grier. In those moments when Wesco is able to let the game flow to him, his willingness to engage and stay engaged as a blocker is a beautiful thing.

Wesco offers a little as a receiver, too, but don’t go overboard. As a safety valve in West Virginia’s bombs-away offense, he could leak out into an open flat. We rarely saw him run traditional routes and we never saw him have to fight for the ball in traffic.

But when he gets the ball, he’ll fight for yards. He was No. 2 among FBS tight ends in missed tackles forced last season, behind Texas State’s Keenan Brown. Wesco’s attitude and relative polish in blocking make him a borderline draftable H-back for a team that could use an all-purpose blocker who won’t embarrass himself as a receiver.


2. Alec Ingold (Wisconsin) | 6'1/242

SPARQ percentile: 61.7
Comp: Nick Bawden (Matty Breisch)


ingold combine graph


3. Winston Dimel (UTEP) | 6'0/233

*Did not receive invitation to NFL Scouting Combine




4. Andrew Beck (Texas) | 6'3/255

*Did not receive invitation to NFL Scouting Combine




5. George Aston (Pitt) | 6'0/252

*Did not receive invitation to NFL Scouting Combine


Thor Nystrom

Thor Nystrom is NBC Sports Edge’s lead CFB writer. The 2018 FSWA College Sports Writer of the Year, Nystrom’s writing has also been honored by Rolling Stone magazine and The Best American Essays series. Say hi to him on Twitter @thorku!