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2018 NFL Draft Rankings: Top 5 Tight Ends

Hayden Hurst

Hayden Hurst

The 2018 NFL Draft is set for April 26-28, so you still have time to get ready with the Athlon Sports 2018 Draft Guide. With 526 players ranked and needs outlined for every NFL team, it has everything you need.

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Here's a sneak peek at our top five tight ends in this year's NFL Draft: 

1. Hayden Hurst

COLLEGE: South Carolina
CLASS: Jr. HEIGHT: 6’5” WEIGHT: 250

STRONG POINTS: A former minor-league baseball pitcher turned walk-on, Hurst has developed into a polished and dangerous pass-catching tight end. He’s at his best working up the seam, pushing the deep middle of the field. He brings a great blend of size and athleticism. He’s fluid and flexible, with the long speed to get up the field and the ability to adjust to the off-target throw and transition easily from receiver to runner, able to run away from defenders downfield. He’s a fluid mover in the middle of the field, with the balance and body control to maintain speed in and out of breaks, and he’s more than willing to attack the ball in contested-catch situations, absorbing contact as he does. He’s also an effective blocker when lining up at H-back or fullback, hitting his target on the move and effectively clearing out running lanes.

WEAK POINTS: He’s older than most prospects. (He turns 25 in August.) He was flexed out or in the backfield more often than not, and he might not have the bulk or functional strength to line up in-line regularly at the next level. His statistical production was underwhelming, though that had a lot to do with a rocky QB situation and a conservative passing offense. He’s not a huge run-after-catch threat when catching the ball underneath.

SUMMARY: Some teams won’t be able to get past his age, but he came to South Carolina as a raw project, and his trajectory is still pointing up from a development standpoint. There’s some Travis Kelce in his game, and while that’s a ceiling he (or any prospect) is unlikely to reach, Hurst figures to be at least a nice complementary receiver when flexed out, and an asset as a blocker in the run game.

FINAL GRADE: 2nd round

2. Mark Andrews

COLLEGE: Oklahoma
CLASS: R-Jr. HEIGHT: 6’4” WEIGHT: 250

STRONG POINTS: He’s a converted wide receiver, and he plays like one. Andrews (above, right) is a fluid mover and polished route runner who understands the nuances of creating separation. Broad-shouldered and long-limbed, he uses his frame effectively against smaller defenders and shows the kind of burst coming out of his breaks to create easy separation when covered by linebackers (though he can also create that separation against defensive backs). He has the long speed to threaten the deep middle. He has the requisite toughness to work the middle of the field and absorb hits while making a play. He’s also tough after the catch, a YAC threat when working underneath, showing enough explosiveness with the ball in his hands to break tackles.

WEAK POINTS: His blocking leaves something to be desired; his frame is maxed out, and while he’ll give effort downfield he too often seems less than enthusiastic as a run blocker, playing too high and getting little push. Offenses will likely have to run away from his side of the field early in his career. As a receiver, he too often lets the ball get into his body, and he could stand to be more aggressive when he has a chance to high-point the ball in the red zone. Overall, his production was inflated in Oklahoma’s spread offense with a Heisman winner throwing to him.

SUMMARY: Andrews is going to be a mismatch piece in the NFL who should make an immediate impact as an F-receiver, and he’s the kind of movable chess piece a passing game can be built around. The question is how much more well-rounded his game can or will become — he’s a finesse tight end who might never be trusted as a blocker.

FINAL GRADE: 2nd round

3. Dallas Goedert

COLLEGE: South Dakota State
CLASS: Sr. HEIGHT: 6’4” WEIGHT: 255

STRONG POINTS: A back-to-back 1,000-yard receiver at the FCS level, Goedert is a natural athlete who moves like an oversized wide receiver. He consistently gets open as a sharp route runner with excellent body control and short-area movement skills. His hands are exceptionally strong, and he has long arms and is a coordinated hands-catcher. He plays with a physical edge; he’s a tough runner after the catch and a competitive blocker who takes good angles and can wall off linebackers.

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WEAK POINTS: Level of competition will obviously be a leap, especially when it comes to blocking. As a receiver, Goedert’s speed will be tested. He’s a capable underneath target, but can he consistently stretch the middle of the field up the seams?

SUMMARY: Once he adjusts to the level of competition, Goedert presents a rock of a possession receiver who should eventually be able to line up in-line or flex out as a chess piece. He won’t be the most explosive playmaker at the position, but he’s a prototype modern tight end.

FINAL GRADE: 2nd/3rd round

4. Ian Thomas

COLLEGE: Indiana
CLASS: Sr. HEIGHT: 6’4” WEIGHT: 245

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STRONG POINTS: Thomas has the tools to thrive at the next level, and he showed them in a breakout senior season. He’s dangerous working the seam, with the long speed to threaten deep or run away from defenders. He transitions fluidly from receiver to runner and is physical and competitive at the catch point, able to make plays when covered. As a blocker, he’s aggressive and physical, consistently taking proper angles and sealing off defenders to create running lanes. He’s an option to play in-line.

WEAK POINTS: He’s still raw as a route runner. Thomas is good when running away from defenders, but he doesn’t set up defenders effectively when changing directions; he’s limited with what he can run on a route tree. He too often double-catches the ball or fights it, failing to catch it cleanly. That will become more problematic working in traffic at the next level.

SUMMARY: His athleticism and physicality make up for the fact that he’s going to need some time to develop, and he is one of the highest-upside tight ends in this class. He could one day be capable of lining up in-line or flexed out as a matchup piece.

FINAL GRADE: 2nd/3rd round

5. Durham Smythe

COLLEGE: Notre Dame
CLASS: R-Sr. HEIGHT: 6’5” WEIGHT: 255

STRONG POINTS: Overlooked because of a lack of statistical production, Smythe absolutely has the traits that will translate to the NFL. He has a long-limbed, well-proportioned build and good all-around athleticism. As a receiver, he’s a fluid mover going up the seam, and he made some plays in the deep middle of the field, where he tracks the ball well and shows strong hands. He’s outstanding as a blocker. He often lined up in-line and consistently won when asked to seal linebackers out of the play.

WEAK POINTS: His long speed is a question mark — will he threaten the deep seam against NFL defenses? He’s entirely unproven as a receiver at this point. He also comes with medical concerns after suffering knee and shoulder injuries that cost him most of his sophomore year and part of his junior year.

SUMMARY: Smythe could absolutely be a player who’s better in the pros than he was in college. He will provide plus blocking, and there’s a good chance he has some untapped potential as a receiver, even if he never thrives catching passes.

FINAL GRADE: 3rd/4th round

Other tight ends that could get drafted: Dalton Schultz, Stanford; Mike Gesicki, Penn State; Tyler Conklin, Central Michigan; Christopher Herndon, Miami; Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin; Ryan Izzo, Florida State; DeAndre Goolsby, Florida; Jordan Thomas, Mississippi State

(Dallas Goedert photo courtesy of South Dakota State Athletics)