The Detroit Lions have not had the best of luck with tight ends. They drafted two first-round tight ends in the last decade and neither of them ended up working out. To make matters worse, every free agent they’ve signed at the position has either had injury issues or been a disappointment. It’s a sad sign that the best tight end they’ve had in the Matthew Stafford era was actually a receiver in Anquan Boldin.
The team isn’t likely to address the position early in the 2019 draft despite the weakness of their unit and pending free agencies of most of the group, but we’re going to look at some of the more notable prospects anyway so you can keep an eye on them through the draft process.
Noah Fant, Iowa
Noah Fant x 2!— Iowa On BTN (@IowaOnBTN) September 16, 2018
And with that TD reception, Fant stands alone atop @HawkeyeFootball's all-time TD catch leaderboard for a TE: pic.twitter.com/9oTUvaUM33
Fant is the top prospect at tight end this year for most evaluators and it’s pretty easy to see why. Like most Iowa prospects, his blocking is very good, though given his size (islted at 235 pounds at tight end) is going to make projecting him problematic. Fant combines elite-level athletic traits with superb route running and soft hands to make himself a viable target and dangerous weapon on every play.
Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri
Albert Okwuegbunam is proving impossible to defend.— SEConCBS (@SEConCBS) November 24, 2017
Drew Lock's 2nd TD of the day to the tight end puts @MizzouFootball in the lead. pic.twitter.com/7mPIcCxB60
If you’re not a believer in the uber athletic, wide receiver like pass catchers of today’s NFL and are in the mood for a more traditional type of do-it-all, then you’ll probably be quickly enamored with Albert Okwuegbunam. Big, athletic, powerful, and bringing a mean streak that’s tough to contend with, Okwuegbunam is a redshirt sophomore that is likely going to tear up the combine and leave teams speechless. He’s not going to have it easy in the SEC, but I’d be surprised he isn’t in first-round discussions all year.
Caleb Wilson, UCLA
Caleb Wilson's catch radius is impressive pic.twitter.com/DVi5cl9Xkm— Bruin Report Online (@BruinReport) August 24, 2018
Wilson is another in what will likely be a long line of big receivers who make their living running up the seam and stretching defenses vertically. Good length, but lacking in bulk, Wilson looks like he has above average speed and explosion but struggles when running any breaking routes, hinting at some stiffness and lack of agility. Teams looking to free up the short middle and deep boundaries of the field by forcing the linebackers back and the safeties inward could do a lot worse than Wilson.
Tommy Sweeney, Boston College
On 3rd-and-14, Anthony Brown takes the snap out of the shotgun formation and fires a touchdown pass to Tommy Sweeney in between a pair of Boilermaker defensive backs. We're all tied up at seven. pic.twitter.com/4cUqz5lJr4— Andy Backstrom (@AndyHeights) September 22, 2018
Boston College does a ton of running and uses their TE primarily in that area. Sweeney is plus in that area, though I haven’t gone into a deep dive yet for film. As a route runner, Sweeney isn’t very refined, but he gets the job done. He’s shown fairly reliable hands and good production, making him fairly easy to project in the NFL. He looks like a plus athlete, but I’ll need more tape to be sure because of how he was utilized.
Kaden Smith, Stanford
TD SENSACIONAL DE KK COSTELLO PRA KADEN SMITH!— CollegeFootball.com.br (@collegefootbr) December 2, 2017
USC 31-28 STANFORD. TEMOS UM JOGÃO. #Pac12Championship pic.twitter.com/1MbkwJZfUc
Kaden Smith showcased some decent speed and athletic ability, but what sets him apart from the other tight ends in this class is his phenomenal body control and strong hands. Not comparing the two as players overall, but it reminds me of how Anquan Boldin would rip the ball out the air, owning the football the moment it came in his vicinity and daring you to try and take it away. Athletically, he’s not the most exciting, but he’s one whose tape I’m itching to dig into more.
C.J. Conrad, Kentucky
C.J. Conrad Making a Tough Catch in Traffic. #BBN #WeAreUK #Kentucky pic.twitter.com/RgsrPsgdLb— Wildcat Touchdowns (@WildcatTDs) September 23, 2018
Conrad was a big time high school recruit, but he’s mostly just been a background character in Kentucky’s passing game. A reliable pass catcher with good blocking skills, Conrad was the first tight end I watched that was clearly lacking in the athletic tools department. He could find a role in the NFL, but it’s not likely to be as a field stretcher or dynamic pass catcher.
Matt Sokol, Michigan State
Did you miss Spartans All-Access from @Spartan_Vision on Monday night and didn't catch the feature on senior TE Matt Sokol?? Did you watch it Monday night and want to re-watch and share with your friends who might have missed it? Welllll, here's your chance... pic.twitter.com/q6u1sDl49m— Michigan State Football (@MSU_Football) September 12, 2018
Fans always love local talent, and Sokol is likely going to be one of those guys who gets over-projected by the fan base (don’t get mad, we do this every year, guys). He looks very good from an athletic standpoint, and he’ll probably be a swift riser on many boards post-Combine. His hands and route running aren’t the best, but we’ve got plenty of season yet to put his name into Day 2 consideration.
Tyler Petite, USC
Impressive scramble by Sam Darnold to keep this play alive & find TE Tyler Petite in endzone for the TD. #USC cuts deficit to 7, now 21-14. pic.twitter.com/s2E8XXbWh0— McKenna Keil (@mckenna_keil) October 15, 2017
The most recent in a long line of USC prospects, Petite has had decent, if unspectacular, production for the Trojans. Good size and looking like he has plus athletic traits, Petite could be another all-around tight end in this class. Not as flashy as some of the other top guys, I think Petite is more likely headed for a late Day 2 or early Day 3 selection. He’s just the type of versatile player the Lions coaching staff keeps talking about.
Logan Parker, Southern Utah
BIG 3rd Down conversion for the Thunderbirds! Tyler to Logan Parker gets SUU into NAU territory #TBirdNation #BigSkyFB pic.twitter.com/U7FXFgZ3Yr— SUU Football (@SUUFB) November 18, 2017
It seems like every season we have some small school, uber athletic tight end making waves when the Combine rolls around. This season, the smart money is on Logan Parker to be that guy, and the little bit of tape I’ve seen shows some strong athletic traits that should get teams salivating once he puts up big numbers. Tape will probably still be hard to find at season’s end, coming from where he does, but I recommend watching any you can as the draft starts to near.
Alizé Mack, Notre Dame
That Jafar Armstrong touchdown was set up by the chemistry between Ian Book and Alize Mack. This is gonna be big this game pic.twitter.com/gdZyXRmxZI— #ThankYouDavidWright (@Hayes_Hair13) September 22, 2018
His production prior to this year doesn’t look flashy, but Mack has a lot of tools that teams are going to like once they start projecting for the NFL. You’re looking more at a mid-to-late round guy at the moment, but he’s one that I think you’ll see mocked a lot higher once he puts up his athletic testing. He’s not someone who will save your team off the bat, but he’s an intriguing developmental guy nonetheless.