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Evaluations

Thor's Tight End Rankings

by Thor Nystrom
Updated On: April 21, 2020, 2:36 pm ET

My previous entries in this scouting series examined the quarterbackrunning back and wide receiver classes. Spiderweb graphs sourced from mockdraftable.com, SPARQ scores from Three Sigma Athlete, Adjusted SPARQ from Rotoworld's Hayden Winks and RAS from Kent Lee Platte


1. Harrison Bryant (Florida Atlantic) | 6'5/243

bryant

SPARQ percentile: 14.7

Adjusted SPARQ: .18

RAS: 5.16

Comp: George Kittle (Lance Zierlein)

Over the summer, I called Bryant the most underrated tight end in the class. The former two-star recruit has been overlooked or dismissed because of his lack of pedigree, his level of competition, his perceived struggles blocking, and his small-ish frame. His profile has risen since posting a dominant 65-1004-7 receiving line in 2019 and an eye-opening week at the Senior Bowl. 

But he’s still likely to get under-drafted. Mostly because, whereas guys like Trautman and Kmet look and move as we expect high-end NFL tight ends to, Bryant doesn’t. He’s on the lighter side at 243 pounds, and he also gives ground as an athlete. 

But man can he play. Bryant simply destroyed folks in Conference USA. For three consecutive years, PFF graded Bryant over the elite 90.0 threshold for receiving – that’s absurd for a tight end. Whether lined up inline or out wide, Bryant keeps defenders guessing on routes.

He shoots off the line quickly and, like a veteran pitcher, varies his patterns, using altered gait, footwork and tempo to keep defenders from jumping him. Outstanding in contested situations (13 contested catches last year), Bryant is very dangerous downfield, ranking No. 1 among TEs in the country in both deep receptions and deep yards last year. He’s also a tackle-breaking machine, ranking No. 2 among TEs in that department in 2019.

And despite his skinnier frame, and despite not being physically overpowering, Bryant acquitted himself well as a blocker in college, particularly in space. Only Georgia's Charlie Woerner graded higher than him in PFF’s run-blocking grades last year among the top-20 TEs in the class. Bryant played offensive tackle in high school and doesn’t have a kill switch on the field. 

He makes due without girth or Hulk power by going full-bore until the whistle with strong technique, shuffling his feet to wall his man off with leverage and length after engaging. Power gives Bryant fits, so he should probably avoid war-daddy DEs until he fills out his frame. And it’s important to note: He has the frame to do so. Bryant needs to spend his coronavirus quarantine drinking protein shakes and in a well-sanitized preferably private gym bulking up. With improved power, he could be a really good blocker in the NFL.

Despite his sheer domination these past three years, Bryant won’t be the easiest guy to bet on due to his lithe frame and poor NFL Combine showing.  Especially after he dropped eight balls last year. But keep in mind that Bryant had 87 catches the two years before that while dropping only one ball over 103 targets in that space. And that he only had one career fumble. And that he led FBS tight ends in targets as the focal point of FAU’s offense last year. Feels like a one-season fluke.


2. Adam Trautman (Dayton) | 6'5/255

trautman

SPARQ percentile: 66.9

Adjusted SPARQ: .73

RAS: 8.29

Comp: David Njoku (Lindy’s)

A former hoopster who signed with Dayton after failing to receive an FBS offer as a big dual-threat quarterback, Trautman asked his offensive coordinator if he could shift to tight end following a redshirt campaign in 2016. Good decision, kid! He led Dayton in receptions each of the next two seasons but truly made the leap in 2019, posting a 70-916-14 line in 11 games.

Trautman revs to top speed a few beats after the ball is snapped, and he gets where he’s going quickly. He lined up inline, in the slot and out wide at Dayton, and was equally dangerous at each spot. He’s just such a natural catching the ball. His hands are insanely slick. According to PFF, Trautman dropped only two of 72 catchable balls last year. He uses his frame like a former basketball player should, boxing out his man and high-pointing rebounds. Trautman is also agile and coordinated enough to save ducks from being incompletions by adjusting-and-plucking.

He ran a limited route tree in college and wasn’t challenged much at the line of scrimmage, concerned as teams were of him getting behind them, but Trautman should improve in this area. He consistently showed an ability to shake defenders and open throwing windows with snappy breaks and fluid acceleration out of them. Trautman’s 6.78 3-cone topped all tight ends and would have trailed only Denzel Mims among receivers.

Trautman’s rapid ascension up draft boards began in Mobile, where he licked Power 5 prospects in Senior Bowl drills, proving he could create space against NFL-caliber athletes. A captain at Dayton, Trautman was widely praised for his football IQ and maturity.

Trautman says his favorite route is the corner route, because he can change the angle off his cut depending on the leverage he’s getting from the defender. This is one example of how his football IQ – lauded by anyone who has talked to him – and physical skillset complement each other on a play-in, play-out basis. 

He’ll need to work on his blocking. At Dayton, Trautman was beyond fine. More than once on tape, he could be seen knocking down defenders by more or less bumping chests. His PFF grading in this area was above-average. But Trautman clearly didn’t emphasize this area of his game, and his technique needs improvement. He blocks high and gives defenders second chances by not minding his hands, which can get slapped away. This style worked in the FCS, but it won’t in the NFL.

Trautman is about to become the first Dayton player selected in the NFL Draft since 1977. He’s going to be a good one.


3. Cole Kmet (Notre Dame) | 6'6/262

kmet

SPARQ percentile: 77.4

Adjusted SPARQ: .64

RAS: 9.22

Comp: Kyle Rudolph (Joe Marino)

Kmet signed with Notre Dame as a two-sport athlete, a lefty reliever who ended up saving eight games for the Irish as a true freshman. That season, he played with his brother Casey Kmet, a former Notre Dame third baseman. Cole gave up baseball the following year to focus exclusively on football. It runs in the family: His father Frank was drafted by the Bills in the early-90s as a defensive lineman, and his uncle Jeff Zgonina played 17 years in the NFL on the defensive interior.

Kmet received only a little over 400 snaps between 2017-2018 while backing up Alizé Mack. With Mack off to the NFL last year, Kmet broke out with a 43-515-6 line despite missing the first two games with a broken collarbone. He then locked himself into the top-three of his position group with a fabulous NFL Combine, finishing with the No. 4 forty (4.70), No. 1 vertical jump (37") and No. 2 broad jump (10'3").

Kmet is a natural receiver with an enticing package of movement and size. He fires off the line and smoothly glides wherever he wants to go. His length and athleticism allow him to save off-target throws from hitting the turf, boasting one of the class’ largest catch radiuses. 

But despite the fact that he can get upfield quickly, and despite the fact that he’s so dang big with good hands (two drops on 78 targets the past two years), Kmet did very little damage deep in college. He caught only four balls 20+ yards downfield last year, and more than half his catches came in the 0-10 yard range. Notre Dame would sometimes split him out and throw him screens, but Kmet isn’t elusive and doesn’t break a lot of tackles, so the whistle usually blew quickly on those plays.

At this point, he’s predominantly a receiver. Kmet is a wall-off blocker, a guy who gets in front of his guy and tries to white-wash him while hand grappling. He doesn’t get much push, surprising for a prospect this big and this athletic who plays this hard. PFF’s grading backs up the tape, panning Kmet with a below-average 56.9 run-blocking grade last year. 

It’s possible he could improve in this area with more technical work, as all the tools and want-to are there. Kmet needs to get lower off the snap, dictate the interaction, and drive his man, with his length serving to close the deal from there. Instead he tends to lead with that, popping up and blocking high, chest-to-chest, losing the leverage battle.

There’s reason to be excited about the toolbox. But right now, tangibly, Kmet doesn’t offer much as a blocker and is more limited as a receiver than his billing would have you believe. Per PFF, he caught only 3-of-10 contested balls last year, another datapoint to suggest Kmet may not develop into the terror down the seam that his athletic profile hints he could become.


4. Devin Asiasi (UCLA) | 6'3/257

devinasiasi

SPARQ percentile: 31.9

Adjusted SPARQ: .26

RAS: 6.27

Comp: Alge Crumpler (Zierlein)

Michigan plucked Asiasi, the No. 44 prospect on the ESPN 300, out of the California football factory De La Salle in 2016. After one year in Ann Arbor, home sick, Asiasi transferred back to his native state. He was forced to sit out the 2017 due to NCAA transfer rules, and he only sporadically played in 2018 while caught behind Caleb Wilson. Asiasi finally broke out with a 44-641-4 line in 2019.

At a sawed-off 6-foot-3, Asiasi is built like a tank. He’s an average athlete overall, but blessed with solid speed (4.73 forty, one-hundredth of a second better than Hunter Bryant) that he uses to challenge the seam. He moves quicker and more fluidly than you’d expect for his size, and shows shake-and-bake to avoid jams at the line. Because of this combination of speed and brutish power after the catch, he averaged 15.2 YPC in college.


Asiasi is deceivingly long, with a wingspan only topped by the 6-foot-5 Stephen Sullivan among the TE group. This widens his catch radius, and, in conjunction with his sure hands and ability to adjust to off-target balls on the move, make him an intriguing developmental receiving proposition. He dropped only one of 45 catchable balls last year, per PFF, and finished in the top-10 of TEs with nine contested catches.

And how about this? The kid can block! He’s huge and aggressive and he doesn’t quit. His PFF run-blocking grade of 68.0 was among the top-5 of this class last season. This phase of Asiasi’s game will absolutely translate. In fact, it’s likely to get better. Because of circumstance, Asiasi saw fewer reps than he otherwise may have and remains unseasoned in some technical aspects of his craft. Blocking is one of those areas, but he’s already good with the potential to be really really good.

Another area for work is route running. Asiasi is more of a straight-line athlete, and he thus labors to change directions, allowing defenders to close distance at the catch point. He was below-average in contested situations last year, so creating any extra space he can at the catch point will be beneficial. Without aid of high-end agility, Asiasi is going to have to learn to be a route technician to level-up his game. If he does, he’s going to be a steal. 


5. Hunter Bryant (Washington) | 6'2/248

hunter

SPARQ percentile: 32.3

Adjusted SPARQ: .16

RAS: 6.78

Comp: Gerald Everett (PFF)

A top-150 overall recruit coming out of the greater Seattle area, Bryant elected to stay home and play for the Huskies. The first two years of his career featured flashes and frustration in equal measure. Bryant elbowed his way into playing time immediately as a true freshman on a team that also had future NFL players Cade Otton, Drew Sample and Will Dissly in the tight ends room, posting a 22-333-1 line in nine games before suffering an ACL and MCL injury in the UCLA game. When he returned for spring ball, he tore his meniscus, which kept him out of commission until the final five games of his sophomore year (11-238-1).

Bryant needed to stay healthy as a junior, and he needed a big season. Mission accomplished on both fronts. He posted a 52-825-3 line over 12 games in 2019, skipping the Las Vegas Bowl to prepare for the draft. Bryant saw fewer snaps (627) than fellow tight end Otton (869) and was used in a much more specialized way, as you’ll see in the NFL. Of those 627 snaps, 297 came in the slot, 271 came inline, and 29 apiece came in the backfield or out wide.

Bryant dispelled concerns over his problematic knee last fall. He’s a big-play maven (16.4 career YPC) who threatens downfield and is trouble to deal with when he has the ball in his hands (18 broken tackles on 85 career catches, per PFF). Get him the ball quick and let him manufacture yards, or send him down the seam. The hands and ball skills are natural on tape. But it’s worth noting that he dropped five balls last year while posting a rough 21.4% contested catch percentage when finally seeing regular snaps. Not great for a move tight end, Bob.

Bryant is basically a wide receiver with wonky dimensions (6’2/240) -- Delanie Walker’s build (or close to Dez Bryant, if you prefer). Bryant himself evokes Walker when asked for a comp, along with a recent move-TE to enter the pros: "I like Evan Engram a lot in the pass game. I like Delanie Walker in the run game. They're both similar size to me and they're very elite players. I look at them." 

But Walker was a great blocker and Bryant doesn’t block at all. Bryant conceded at the NFL Combine that teams had brought this up to him as the area he needed to work on, not a surprising admission. Health remains a concern (964 snaps over three seasons), though it’s fair to note that Bryant hasn’t missed a game since returning at the end of his sophomore year. I’ve always struggled with Bryant. He’s an injury-prone one-trick pony, and a tweener to boot. But luckily for him, his one trick is quite valuable.


6. Brycen Hopkins (Purdue) | 6'4/245

brycen

SPARQ percentile: 50.7

Adjusted SPARQ: .36

RAS: 7.98

Comp: Vance McDonald (Benjamin Solak)

The son of former Tennessee Titans offensive lineman Brad Hopkins, Brycen grew up around Steve McNair and Eddie George. Brycen’s sport was basketball, but he eventually gave it up to focus exclusively on the family business as a junior in high school. The three-star recruit chose Purdue over Florida.

Hopkins is a very interesting case. He’s long, he’s athletic, and he’s a proven big-play threat in the Big Ten. Hopkins ran a 4.66 forty in Indy, tied for second among the tight end group, and his SPARQ score finished behind only Adam Trautman and Cole Kmet among guys higher than him on this list.

Hopkins recorded 17 catches that traveled over 10 yards downfield last year, per PFF, and he ended up averaging 15.0 YPC over his four years, a rare big-play tight end threat. Hopkins knows what he’s doing. He gets downfield quickly and smoothly, avoiding contact and keeping coverage at bay with clean, concise routes. 

But man: His hands are a problem. Hopkins has poor ball skills, allowing the pigskin to gobble him up, and his stone paws have led to an unfortunate habit of sometimes double-catching the ball. Hopkins dropped 22 balls in college. Per PFF, that’s eight more than any other tight end in this class.

Hopkins doesn’t block. He’s light and doesn’t have the anchor to stop defenders from jarring him back or the leg-churning power to move them. His PFF grade in this area of 41.7 is an eyesore. As a receiver, Hopkins has Pro Bowl potential if he ever cleans up the drops. But between those and inability to block, Hopkins may just remain the infuriating player he was at Purdue, an athletic but drop-prone tease. 


7. Colby Parkinson (Stanford) | 6'7/252

parkinson

SPARQ percentile: 18.0

Adjusted SPARQ: .70

RAS: 5.96

Comp: Joseph Fauria (PFF)

You could make a contextual argument that Parkinson is being slept on. The former five-star recruit scored four TD on 10 catches behind Dalton Schultz and Kaden Smith as a true freshman before earning regular playing time his final two seasons with Schultz out the door. Smith vacuumed up a ton of targets in 2018 precisely where Parkinson is most dangerous – in the slot, depriving Parkinson the opportunity.

Apples-to-apples that year, Parkinson was the far more dangerous receiver, averaging 16.7 YPC against Smith’s 13.5 and scoring seven TD against Smith’s two. With Smith off to the NFL last spring, it was finally time for Parkinson to go nuts. But circumstances bit him again when starting QB KJ Costello went down injured, killing Stanford’s passing attack. Parkinson put up a solid 48-589-1 line, but it could have been better with a full year of Costello.

On the surface, Parkinson’s NFL Combine showing didn’t look like much, with a poor 18th percentile SPARQ score. But Hayden Winks’ adjusted SPARQ metric, which adds greater weight to tests that have shown to correlate to NFL success in the past, was much higher on Parkinson’s week, placing him in the 70th percentile. Winks’ research indicates that tight ends who show well in speed score, the 3-cone drill and vertical jump have greater odds of translating. The 40, 3-cone and vertical, along with the 10-yard split, were Parkinson’s best showings (he stunk in the other tests).

Parkinson’s special sauce is a combination of height, length, and downfield skill. He was at his best at Stanford sprinting down the seam with Costello firing one up made to order. Parkinson’s catch radius is absurdly large, and he catches basically every ball you can fit inside it. In college, he dropped only three balls on 90 catchable targets, including no drops last year, per PFF. He doesn’t create much separation and he goes down pretty easily after securing the ball, so his best usage is definitely down the field where you can leverage the catch radius and sure hands for a profit.

The gaping hole in Parkinson’s game is a lack of power. Stanford, a tight end factory, mostly played him in the slot – giving him only 377 inline snaps over the past two years – and with good reason. He can’t block defensive ends. Parkinson is what he is: A 6-foot-7 slot receiver who should do some damage downfield and be a red zone threat. He probably won’t develop into more than that, but those are nice areas to pitch in with.


8. Albert Okwuegbunam (Missouri) | 6'5/258

alberto

SPARQ percentile: N/A

Adjusted SPARQ: .93

RAS: N/A

Comp: Mark Andrews (Zierlein)

It wasn’t a huge surprise that Okwuegbunam’s least-impressive statistical season was his last – the year that he had neither QB Drew Lock nor OC Josh Heupel to work with. Heupel’s schemes led to multiple freebie scores during his 11-TD freshman campaign, while Lock proved far more adept at finding the big fella up the seam than Clemson castoff Kelly Bryant.

Okwuegbunam is huge and very fast, with 4.49 wheels. The last tight end to log a higher weight adjusted speed score than Albert O’s 126.9? That would be Vernon Davis. Noah Fant, last year’s TE freak, scored a 121.4. But Okwuegbunam needs a runway to get going. His routes are paint-by-numbers because he labors to change directions, forcing him to telegraph every swivel of those wide hips. SEC linebackers and safeties weren’t able to steal pots from him through those poker tells as often as will be the case in the NFL.

A former receiver, Albert O is a natural ball-catcher with great ball skills who is hell to deal with down the seam. He’s got long arms on that 6’5 frame, and his basketball background is apparent when he goes airborne to high-point. But he’s a straight-line athlete whose statistical explosiveness is dependent on scheme. His yards per catch dropped from 14.3 with Heupel in 2017 to 10.8 and 11.8 with Derek Dooley in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Last season was easily his worst, by both PFF grading (by more than 10 full points!) and conventional numbers (26-306-6). 

Okwuegbunam drops a lot of balls (12 over four years) and isn’t good in contested situations. He also isn’t a big threat after the catch, not breaking many tackles in college. Okwuegbunam is also a below-average blocker. He perhaps wasn’t as invested in this area of this game as he could have been. He’ll need to start, as he’s likely to begin his career off the bench.


9. Thaddeus Moss (LSU) | 6'2/250

moss

SPARQ percentile: N/A

Adjusted SPARQ: N/A

RAS: N/A

Comp: MyCole Pruitt


10. Jared Pinkney (Vanderbilt) | 6'4/257

pinkney

SPARQ percentile: N/A

Adjusted SPARQ: .09

RAS: 3.55

Comp: Randall Telfer

Pinkney was among a small handful of tight ends in contention for 2020 TE1 honors entering the fall. He was coming off a dominant junior campaign (50-774-7) in which he showed true next-level inline potential. He should have declared for the draft last year. As a senior, Vanderbilt’s offense cratered, as did Pinkney’s usage and draft stock. He posted a middling 20-233-2 line as his targets were cleaved in half. He looked less athletic than the year before, and also less physical.

PFF grading had his receiving drop from 81.9 in 2018 to 53.8 in 2019, his run blocking drop from 60.0 to 55.8, and his overall grade plummet from 78.5 to 53.8. Pinkney badly needed a strong combine, but he ran a 4.96 forty and disappointed in a few other drills before calling it a day. 

His 2019 tape shows a player lacking in long speed, short-area explosion and body armor, such that he got shucked aside during blocking cameos and jarred off his path on routes. His 2018 tape showed a potential gem of an inline prospect, the former tweener 225-pound three-star WR recruit wreaking havoc as a receiver and chipping in as a try-hard blocker without a ton of power.

He simply doesn’t have a tremendous feel for what he’s doing as a blocker, so when he doesn’t rock his man back on initial movement with force, his feet start disappearing into the grass as though it's quicksand. With continued technical and core strength improvement, he could develop into a league-average blocker – I don’t see more.

Pinkney can be used in the intermediate sector, and he’ll break tackles after securing it. Just don’t stretch him. He’s not a burner, and he requires a bit of a runway to get to top speed. Superior athletes have stymied him. Pinckney needs to show the ability to make modifications in response. A little nuance to his routes would go a long way, as would an increased understanding of the coverages he’s facing. 


Best of the rest

Name Rank Ht Wt Comp SPARQ RAS Adj. SPQ
Dalton Keene TE11 6'4 253 Blake Bell 80.1 9.32 0.54
Stephen Sullivan TE12 6'5 248 Pharoah Brown 47.2 7.62 0.42
Josiah Deguara TE13 6'2 242 Kahale Warring 58.4 7.62 0.2
Cheyenne O'Grady TE14 6'4 253 LJ Smith 39.8 6.15 0.14
Charlie Woerner TE15 6'5 244 Jake Murphy 42.5 7.36 0.32
Jacob Breeland TE16 6'5 252 Luke Stocker --- --- ---
Charlie Taumoepeau TE17 6'2 240 Dante Rosario 64.5 7.82 0.27
Sean McKeon TE18 6'5 242 Tyler Kroft --- --- ---
Mitchell Wilcox TE19 6'3 247 Kaden Smith 9.0 2.51 0.02
Joey Magnifico TE20 6'3 246 Doug Jolley --- --- ---
Dominick Wood-Anderson TE21 6'4 261 Martrez Milner 25.1 5.82 0.15
Ben Ellefson TE22 6'3 251 Rhett Ellison --- --- ---
Kyle Markway TE23 6'4 252 Jeremy Sprinkle --- --- ---
Farrod Green TE24 6'4 245 Kris Wilson --- --- ---
Ahmad Wagner TE25 6'5 236 Ricky Seals-Jones --- --- ---
Thor Nystrom

Thor Nystrom is Rotoworld’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!