2023 NFL Draft: Generational Tight End Class? - StatsBomb | Data champions (2023)

Autor Matt Edwards|March 15, 2023|4 minute

2023 NFL Draft: Generational Tight End Class? - StatsBomb | Data champions (1)

A little over a month ago, we watched the Kansas City Chiefs win the Super Bowl. There were so many great stories from the game: Patrick Mahomes taking another step toward dethroning Tom Brady as the GOAT, Jalen Hurts cementing himself in the league's best QB debate, Andy Reid coaching against his former team, and us not we can forget the halftime performance with rihanna who killed it on stage while pregnant. The game was one of the best played Super Bowls ever. One of my favorite parts was the memorable plays of two tight ends: Travis Kelce and Dallas Goedert.

Travis Kelce is one of the best tight ends in the league and is putting together a resume that will be one of the best tight ends ever. He already holds the NFL records for most 1,000-yard catches by a tight end (7), most receiving yards in a single season (1,416), most 100-catch seasons by a tight end (3) and more. With Tyreek Hill moving to the Miami Dolphins after the 2021 season, Kelce had to take on an even bigger role this year. And he stepped up. He had an incredible season, ranking 3rd in receptions (1st among TEs), 8th in yards (1st among TEs), 2nd in TDs (again 1st among TEs). He performed at the WR1 level while playing tight end.

Dallas Goedert doesn't have quite the same career resume as Travis Kelce. No pro bowls, All-Pro teams or 1,000-yard seasons. But when his number was called on Super Bowl Sunday, he made some of the most memorable plays in the game. Namely, a great catch on 3rd and 14 on the sideline to continue the drive in the third quarter. His ability to make big plays added another weapon to the Eagles' potent offense.

Tight end

Tight Ends are the Swiss army knife of football players. Most offensive positions have one primary job. Offensive lineman block, receivers catch, running backs run the ball. Quarterbacks are the obvious exception because of all that is asked of them. But tight ends is another position that is asked to do more things at a high level. Truly great tight ends can block almost as well as an offensive lineman and are just as effective as wide receivers in the passing game. Tight ends can cause big problems for defensive coaches due to matchup issues. What type of personnel do you send on the field, especially since multiple tight ends are involved? Do you treat the tight end as a receiving threat and put multiple DBs on the field? Or are you trying to match a linebacker with a tight end? These are the types of questions that give defensive coaches nightmares.

Another advantage of a good tight end is their contract. As noted above, Travis Kelce has emerged as a top catcher this season. However, his average annual salary is slightly more than 14 million dollars. Contrast that with D.K. Metcalf at $24 million APY, Davante Adams at $28 million APY or Tyreek Hill at $30 million APY. The Kansas City Chiefs received $28 million in production on a $14 million contract. It's not as much of a benefit as a stud QB on a rookie salary, but it's a big deal.

Potential 1st round tight ends

This year there are 5 tight ends that are highly ranked in various mock drafts: Dalton Kincaid (Utah), Sam Laporta (Iowa), Michael Mayer (Notre Dame), Luke Musgrave (Oregon State) and Darnell Washington (Georgia). Most likely, not all five tight ends will go in the first round, but there is serious potential in this first group of tight ends.

Dalton Kincaid

2023 NFL Draft: Generational Tight End Class? - StatsBomb | Data champions (4)

As a former coach, I am drawn to the use of film as an evaluation tool. I like to get initial information on a player from a stat standpoint, but then I'll go back to film to confirm what I'm seeing. Three clips after watching Dalton Kincaid's film I thought (I definitely didn't say it out loud because I was alone in the office) that he looked a lot like Travis Kelce. Kincaid runs smoothly, catches well off the body and has incredible balance. Not to mention he gets his hands up while running lanes like Kelce. Interestingly, they had similar results according to our measurements. Kelce has a slightly higher percentage share (defined as plays that gain 15 yards or more, explosive % is defined as 30 yards or more) and higher yards per target. But target depth, YAC, target separation and more point to very similar players.

With Kincaid's ability in the passing game, you'd think he'd see more use in college or beyond. But he was at tight end 65% of the time, more than some other more "traditional" tight ends like Michael Mayer and Sam Laporte. Darnell Washington lined up just 67% of the time at tight end, just slightly more than Kincaid.

Sam Laporta

I made it, I saw some offensive film in Iowa and I lived to tell the tale! As bad as their offense was last season, Sam Laporta was a big bright spot. He was able to routinely turn seemingly insignificant plays into huge gains. And it shows on his radar. His low percentage % but high explosive % shows that when he had big plays, they were BIG plays. Almost all of his big gains were 30 yards or more. That's a great sign when you're looking for future NFL players. His radar is similar to Kincaid and Kelces, except for a higher explosive % and lower success %. Laporta was very much an option for a player who could rise or fall in the receiving game. As a bright spot in Iowa's lack of offensive production, it's easy to see that the tools are there.

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Michael Mayer

Benjamin Robinson fromGrinding the Mockspulls data from mock drafts and gathers information to create a large board for NFL draft picks. The wisdom of the audience's approach to the NFL draft helps to see the overall consensus. Michael Mayer is the No. 1 tight end and his average draft position is 20 overall. He is projected as the No. 1 tight end for the entire season in mock drafts (over 1000!). And his play this season has backed it up, as he passed Tyler Eiffert to become Notre Dame's all-time leading receiver for a tight end. At Notre Dame this season he had a high target %, could catch the ball and help move the chains to a high level.

2023 NFL Draft: Generational Tight End Class? - StatsBomb | Data champions (6)

Another big advantage for Mayer is his catch radius. His ability to catch away from the body showed on film and in the data. High, low, it doesn't matter, he can get the ball in.

2023 NFL Draft: Generational Tight End Class? - StatsBomb | Data champions (7)

Luke Musgrave

Luke Musgrave was on the verge of a great junior season until he injured his knee. In just two games, he had 11 catches for 169 yards and a TD. It was important for him to play well in his postseason opportunities and show that he has fully recovered from the injury that kept him out for the season. During the Sr Bowl, he topped out at over 20 mph and also tested very well at the combine. His two games showed a lot of explosive ability in the passing game. He showed a diverse range of routes and did a good job stretching the field in the passing game. At 6'6" and 253 pounds, he has the size and athleticism to make an immediate impact.

2023 NFL Draft: Generational Tight End Class? - StatsBomb | Data champions (8)

Darnell Washington

Darnell Washington may be the most intriguing of all the tight end prospects in the draft. Based solely on size and athleticism, Washington would be a safe top-10 pick in the draft. He hadRelative sports score(RAS) taller than #4 overall pick Kyle Pitts (H/T @mathbomb's somewhat confusing name for RAS), had a longer wingspan than the 42 offensive linemen called to the combine this year (82%!!) and ran 3 . the fastest shuttle in the combine this year. Washington clearly has all the tools to become a star at the next level.

Why isn't he being discussed as a consensus #1 TE and top 10 pick? Georgia happened to have another generational talent at tight end last season, Brock Bowers. If Bowers wasn't in Georgia, one can assume that Washington would get even more touches, more attention and more opportunities to show what he can do.

Of all the tight ends in the draft, Washington is the best blocker in the group. Has the size and ability to move defenders (or aweighted sled!) in the running game, and can develop into an adequate blocker in the passing game.

2023 NFL Draft: Generational Tight End Class? - StatsBomb | Data champions (9)

Darnell Washington: Tight End Radar

2023 NFL Draft: Generational Tight End Class? - StatsBomb | Data champions (10)

Brock Bowers: Tight End Radar

Conclusion

As a former tight end, I understand I'm biased, but tight ends can be some of the most effective tools on offense. They create mismatches, can do a little bit of everything and are big, friendly targets for running backs. The increase in NFL offenses utilizing multiple tight end sets, as well as the wealth of options, is what makes this year's tight end lineup so intriguing. I can't wait for the NFL draft to see where everyone ends up.

Matthew Edwards
Head of American football analysis
@thecoachedwards

2023 NFL Draft: Generational Tight End Class? - StatsBomb | Data champions (11)

Autor Matt Edwards|March 15, 2023

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