The Detroit Lions tried to trade for a tight end in 2018 but were unsuccessful. They tried to lure free agent tight ends in, but were unsuccessful. The reason is unknown, but they ended up letting Eric Ebron leave to become a Pro Bowler and signed the likes of Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo, neither of whom are expected to return, and Detroit expected that group to be okay. They’ve clearly gotten the message that this isn’t okay as they’ve spent a great deal of time this year searching the market for trade opportunities, looking at potential free agents, and paying close attention to this fantastic tight end class. So let’s see how they did at the Combine, shall we?
Noah Fant, Iowa
Prior to the 2018 season, you would have been hard pressed to find someone who didn’t have Noah Fant as their top tight end. There were plenty of guys in that mix after him, but he was top dog. Some had concerns about his size and usage, but no question that he was an elite athlete deserving of a top selection.
His teammate, T.J. Hockenson, overshadowed him somewhat during the draft buildup since he is a better blocker than Fant, but Fant came to the Combine bulked up, nearly the same size as his former teammate, and went on to crush every portion of the Combine from the 40 to the drills. Fant is back where he was before the season, in top of the first round consideration, and it’s like he never left.
T.J. Hockenson, Iowa
Oh, just because Fant had himself a day, don’t let that distract you from how good Hockenson is. Hockenson only needed to prove that he wasn’t a bad athlete to show NFL evaluators that he could hang, but he managed to crush expectations and measure out nearly as well as Fant did in several drills. Hockenson is already considered a top prospect in many people’s eyes, and his fantastic Combine ought to do nothing to dissuade decision makers from considering him either 1A or 1B at the position.
Kahale Warring, San Diego State
If you hadn’t heard of Kahale Warring prior to the Combine, don’t worry. The relatively unknown prospect out of San Diego State wasn’t very heralded coming into the day, but in a day full of highly touted prospects, he not only held his own but managed to set himself apart from his peers. Warring measured out as an elite athlete and left teams with positive impressions for anyone that talked to him.
Foster Moreau, Louisiana State
Unlike Warring, Moreau came into the Combine as anything but unknown. It seems like every scout, every analyst, and all of their mothers were onto Moreau as a guy who was going to climb once the day was done, and he finished his Combine Saturday as a very clear riser. Calm throughout every drill and every measurement, he did nothing but show he belonged with the big boys. He was a niche Day 2 projection before the Combine, but he’s going to be a staple once the weekend is done.
Irv Smith Jr., Alabama
“The Big Three” is a term you run into with most draft classes at most positions outside of quarterback. It’s an easy way to compartmentalize prospects. Still, the 2019 tight end class looked special and the big three for most of the process have been Noah Fant, T.J. Hockenson, and Irv Smith Jr.
Smith, unlike his Iowa counterparts, did more to hurt his prospects than to help them. He looked pretty good in drills, but was overshadowed by several others. He started the Combine off by measuring in as the smallest tight end there and by a margin. Then he went on to measure out as a very average athlete with nothing to hang his hat on outside of speed.
Isaac Nauta, Georgia
There are always some sleepers in the build up to the Combine, and Nauta was one of those guys this year. After measuring out right about where was expected, he ran a terrible 40-yard dash and somehow managed to go downhill from there. Nauta’s draft stock was probably as a mid-round lottery pick before the Combine, but he not only validated the athletic concerns that many had prior to the day, but he made them look like they were overestimating him.
Kaden Smith, Stanford
You’ve seen for months that we’ve been calling this tight end class stacked, so there’s no shortage of sleepers. I had four, myself. Kahale Warring did pretty well for himself (see further up), Foster Moreau wasn’t exactly a guy I had all to myself, Donald Parham is a small schooler who wasn’t at the Combine, and then... Kaden Smith. Smith has great hands, and he attacks the ball in the air with aggression. I had some concerns about his athletic ability, but shrugged it off because I liked what he could do up the seam. His day was not great. He measured very poorly and struggled in many of the drills. As a fan, it was a bit tough to watch.