In today’s NFL game, the tight end has become a very important part of most offenses. Because of the size and overall athleticism of some of these players, they can create huge mismatches vs. opposing defenses.
If we look at what today's tight ends are asked to do, we see that few are really the old-fashioned tight end from days past. It used to be that the tight end was an undersized tackle who, because of his blocking skills, would be a huge help in the run game. That position was referred to as the "Y". While many offenses still use a Y, we see more schemes today using what are referred to as an "H" or an "F." These players are more like oversized wide receivers who have a similar skill set to wideouts.
The TE class this year is deep and includes prospects who can play the "Y" position, line up as the “move” guy and in the case of a few, players who can do both.
I hate the term “one-year wonder,” but that is exactly what Sternberger is. He started off at Kansas, redshirting as a freshman then playing as a backup in 2016. He left following the 2016 season and enrolled at a juco for a year. He then transferred to Texas A&M and had a very strong 2018 season with 49 receptions for 837 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Right now he is best as a receiver, running good routes and showing the ability to get open long and short. As a blocker, he is very willing and showed improvement during the year but still needs to get better with his technique and add some strength. Sternberger is still raw and will most likely be a better pro than he was a college player.
Warring is an underclassman who entered the draft late in the process, so I wasn’t able to write him up for the Pro Football Weekly Draft Guide. But he has all the traits needed to excel at the NFL level, including very good size (6’5 – 252), speed (4.67) and explosiveness (36.5” vertical, 10’2” long jump). As a blocker, he is explosive on contact and gets movement, and has a receiver he can get open both short and long, adjusting to the ball like a wide receiver. Don’t be surprised to see Warring go as early as the second round.
Smith has outstanding tape and shows he is capable of playing as a "Y" or at the "move" position. Though he doesn’t have great size (6’2 – 242), he is very strong and shows the ability to get movement as a blocker. Smith has very good TE speed (4.63) and overall athleticism and shows he is an excellent route runner. He catches the ball cleanly and is a very strong runner after the catch.
Some clubs worry about Smith's arm length (31.5”) to play as a "Y," but he had no problem playing with leverage in the past. I doubt Smith will go in the opening round, but I do see him getting drafted in Round 2.
TE2 Noah Fant – Iowa
Seldom do we see two tight ends from the same school who are prospects at the same position. T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant not only are they from the same school, they are the draft's two best at their position. Hockenson can line up as a "Y" and be a dominant blocker; Fant is a pure "move" guy. He has rare athleticism for the position (4.50 speed, 39.5” vertical jump and 10’7” long jump) and excellent route-running ability. Fant catches the ball smoothly and is a very good runner after the catch. He will be a nightmare for defenses because of his size and speed. Some clubs will have Smith rated ahead of Hockenson, which means he will also go very early in the draft.
Hockenson still has two years of eligibility remaining, but because of his outstanding year and special skill set, he chose to declare early. Hockenson has size (6’5 – 251), speed (4.70) and strength. He can line up as a "Y" or as a "move" tight end and be equally proficient. He is a very good route runner who is gains separation coming out of cuts and also has very good hands. Though it may be difficult to ever find another “Gronk”, Hockenson is the closest we will see to the recently retired New England Patriot. He could very easily be a top-10 selection this year.