In this article, I will be ranking the top rookie tight ends for your dynasty fantasy football rookie drafts. This is the exact same article I’ve written every year at around this time – Barrett’s Rookie Model: Tight End Rankings (2022, 2021) – only now with a more SEO-friendly name.
Scott Barrett’s Tight End Model and Rankings
My rankings are heavily influenced by my model, which looks only at the most predictive production, efficiency, and athleticism metrics for the position. In other words, I try not to be influenced by subjective factors this early into my process – industry mock drafts (and other forms of projected draft capital), rumors regarding off-the-field concerns, and the like. Instead, I focus solely on the objective – a player’s cold, hard, brutally honest numbers. I’ll run each player’s college statistics and Combine/Pro Day numbers through my model for an initial ranking: “Who leads this class? How does that player compare to the leaders of previous classes?” Consider this “‘Phase I” of my model, which you can take as something akin to a production-plus-efficiency-plus-athleticism score.
“Phase II” of my model includes draft capital — the most predictive variable for any position — and to a lesser extent, various subjective factors: “How good was this landing spot? What did the team’s GM say in their post-draft press conference?” I will then release these updated rankings following the NFL Draft.
Without further ado…
Notes: All especially dank stats are highlighted in bold.
Tier 1: The Studs
1. Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Height: 6’4.5”, Weight: 249 lbs, 40-yard-dash: 4.70
SPORQ: 65.1, Former: 5-star, Age: 21.7
Projected Draft Capital: TE1, pick 22
Mayer was named Kentucky’s Gatorade Player of the Year award as a high school senior, catching 15 touchdown passes (and 4 interceptions on defense) before leading his team to a Class 5A state championship title. This helped earn him a coveted 5-star rating and scholarship offers from just about every big-name program.
Mayer would go on to play at Notre Dame, and he would be immediately productive in his age 19 season, ranking 2nd on the team with 450 receiving yards (ahead of future NFL receivers Ben Skowronek, Tommy Tremble, and Kevin Austin).
Mayer then exploded as a sophomore, recording 71 catches, 840 yards, and 7 touchdowns in 12 games. His 70.0 YPG average ranks 6th-best by any Power 5 TE since at least 2014.
Top YPG Seasons by a Power 5 TE (Since 2014)— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) March 31, 2023
1 Kyle Pitts, 2020 (96.3)
2 Evan Engram, 2016 (84.2)
3 Caleb Wilson, 2018 (80.4)
4 Dalton Kincaid, 2022 (74.2)
5 Greg Dulcich, 2020 (73.9)
6 Michael Mayer, 2021 (70.0)
9 Mark Andrews, 2017 (68.5)
10 Michael Mayer, 2022 (67.4)
Although Mayer was technically slightly less productive as a junior (67-809-9 in 12 games), he was far more efficient. He saw his YPRR average jump from 1.99 to 2.44. For perspective, that was the best single-season mark by any Power 5 TE in the class, and the 7th-best mark by any Power 5 TE since at least 2014 (min. 250 routes, 221 qualifying seasons). And if we touchdown-adjust that number, he improves to 5th-best (2.99 touchdown-adjusted YPRR).
Top Touchdown-Adjusted YPRR Seasons (Since 2014)— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) March 31, 2023
+ All Power 5 TEs, min. 235 routes
1 Kyle Pitts, 2020 (4.28)
2 Brock Bowers, 2021 (3.90)
3 Irv Smith, 2018 (3.07)
4 Mark Andrews, 2017 (3.07)
5 Evan Engram, 2016 (3.04)
6 Michael Mayer, 2022 (2.99)
Although Mayer declined in YPG (down to 67.4), this was another top-10 season since 2014. And his numbers look even more impressive when you consider he averaged nearly 2.5X as many YPG as the next-closest Notre Dame receiver (67.4 YPG vs. 27.8). This was good for a 33.3% YMS in games active, which ranks 3rd-best by any Power 5 TE since 2008. And, better yet, only two Power 5 WRs from this class earned better marks as a junior (Trey Palmer and Zay Flowers).
If you’re looking for red flags, you’re not going to find very many of them. The only knock I’ve seen on Mayer is that he’s a good-but-unspectacular athlete. And so, Dalton Kincaid may offer more upside. I don’t think that does much to damper Mayer’s otherwise flawless analytical profile, but I am also somewhat sympathetic toward this line of reasoning. Athleticism is most important (i.e. most predictive) at the TE position, and although Mayer’s 65.1 out of 100 SPORQ Score was “good” or at least “more than good enough,” it was comparatively “not great” for this class.
To me, Mayer looks like a rich man’s T.J. Hockenson, and is definitely one of the better TE prospects to come out in a number of years – probably behind only Kyle Pitts, Evan Engram, and Mark Andrews since at least 2014.
2. Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah Utes
Height: 6’4”, Weight: 246 lbs, 40-yard-dash: N/A
SPORQ: N/A, Former: 2-star, Age: 23.3
Projected Draft Capital: TE2, pick 26
Basketball was Kincaid’s main focus in high school, and he saw success in this sport, helping his team win an AAU Championship in his senior year. He only played one year of high school football, but earned all state honors on the back of 745 yards and 8 touchdowns. Without any scholarship offers, Kincaid decided to walk on for the University of San Diego.
Despite of his inexperience with the sport, Kincaid started in three of 12 games his freshman season, catching 24 passes for 374 yards and 11 touchdowns. And then, as a sophomore, Kincaid averaged 19.0 yards per reception with a productive 44-835-8 line in 12 games played.
Utah saw Kincaid’s potential and gave him a scholarship for the 2020 season. In this 5-game COVID-shortened season, Kincaid would record only 1 reception for 14 yards on 26 routes.
2021 was a far more productive year for Kincaid – he would lead the team in touchdowns (8) and rank behind only fellow TE Brant Kuithe in receiving YPG (39.2 vs. 43.6). Although he was the less productive TE on the team, he was the more efficient TE and actually one of the most efficient TEs in CFB that year.
Kincaid’s 11.3 YPT average not only dwarfed Kuithe’s (8.6), but ranks as the 10th-best Power 5 season since at least 2014 (min. 45 targets). He also earned his QBs a near-perfect 153.5 passer rating (2nd-best since 2014). Although his 2.09 YPRR average in 2021 failed to beat Kuithe’s 2.25, it did lead all Power 5 TEs invited to this year’s Combine.
So, maybe Kincaid’s senior year breakout was inevitable. But Kuithe’s season-ending Week 4 injury certainly helped – after all, Kuithe had more receiving yards than Kincaid prior to that game. Nonetheless, Kincaid broke out in a big way, recording what was arguably the most impressive season from any TE in this class.
Kincaid averaged 74.2 YPG in 2022, which was the best single-season mark in the class and the 4th-best mark by any Power 5 TE since at least 2014. And that number might look more impressive if we consider the fact that he played through multiple injuries (a shoulder injury which caused him to leave one game early and then miss the following week, plus a small fracture in his back which caused him to miss the Combine). In the two games Kincaid missed, Utah saw their passing YPG average fall from 272.4 to 176.0 (a 55% decline).
Kincaid also averaged 2.42 YPRR, the 2nd-best single-season mark by any Power 5 TE in the class (just barely behind Mayer’s 2.44 in 2022) and the 8th-best mark by any Power 5 TE since at least 2014 (min. 250 routes, 221 qualifying seasons).
On 138 targets over his last two seasons, Kincaid dropped only 2 passes (in contrast to Mayer’s 7 drops on 196 targets) and earned his QBs a historically great 134.9 passer rating when targeted. (Since at least 2014, no TE has ever left school with a better career mark coming from the Power 5. And the next closest TE is Kyle Pitts with 131.0.) Kincaid also leads the class in career depth-adjusted YPT over expectation (+26.3%).
Unfortunately, there are a few warts within Kincaid’s profile:
1) He was unable to participate at the Combine and then at his school’s Pro Day due to injury. So his athleticism is a bit of a question mark.
2) He’s old for a prospect — he’s 1.6 years older than Michael Mayer and 0.9 years older than Kyle Pitts — and he spent 5 years in college. But this doesn’t really bother me for a few reasons. A) One of those seasons was the COVID-shortened year following his decision to transfer. B) Sure, he’s a lot older than Mayer, but he was also uniquely inexperienced for the position – he only played one year of high school football and played an entirely different position (WR) in that lone season. C) Age-adjusted production doesn’t really matter at the TE position – or at least nowhere near as much as it does for WRs.
3) More damning, I wonder what Kincaid’s projected draft capital might look like had Kuithe played out the full year. And then how highly might we think of Kuithe (who will be returning to school for his 6th season in 2023)? Especially given that Kuithe’s career YPRR average (2.27) is actually better than the 2.22 YPRR Kincaid averaged with the Utes. Is there something inherent to the Utah scheme (or perhaps it’s the lack of surrounding talent) that makes TEs look a lot better than they are? Or is Kuithe a strong TE prospect in his own right? (My model does like him.)
Unfortunately, I don’t really have a great counter to this point. Given Kincaid’s hyper-efficiency in 2021, his 2022 breakout did feel somewhat inevitable. And, ultimately, I think Kincaid was so good in 2022 – so much better than Kuithe was in any season (career-high of 43.6 YPG) – that I don’t believe he should be penalized too much.
I really like Kincaid. Although Mayer technically ranks above him, it’s close enough to call it a tie. And close enough for me to envision a scenario where I may draft Kincaid higher in my own rookie drafts.
Just about every film analyst and NFL Draft tout is saying Kincaid offers more upside as a receiver (and, thus, as a fantasy asset), and I’m very open to that being the case. Mayer has the better-projected draft capital, but only by 4 spots. And Mayer’s blocking prowess – especially relative to Kincaid – may be a driving factor. (NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah even has Kincaid ranking as one of his top-10 overall players; 12 spots ahead of Mayer.)
Of course, Kincaid probably isn’t touching Mayer’s floor. But remember, it’s “upside” and not “floor” that wins championships in fantasy.
Tier 2: Or, The “Sam LaPorta” Tier
3. Sam LaPorta, TE, Iowa Hawkeyes
Height: 6’3”, Weight: 245 lbs, 40-yard-dash: 4.59
SPORQ: 87.9, Former: 3-star, Age: 22.2
Projected Draft Capital: TE5, pick 57
LaPorta was a standout high school wide receiver, graduating with the 2nd-most career receiving touchdowns (50) and the 3rd-most career receiving yards (3,793) in Illinois state history. In spite of that, Iowa was his only Power-5 offer.
Iowa TE history:— Mike J.Y. (@MichaelinMI) April 1, 2023
'01, '02 - Dallas Clark
'04, '05, '06 - Scott Chandler
'05, '06, '07, '08, '09 - Tony Moeaki
'13, '14, '15, '16 - George Kittle
'16, '17, '18 - Noah Fant
'17, '18 - TJ Hockenson
'19, '20, '21, '22 - Sam LaPorta
LaPorta ended his freshman season with only 188 yards in 10 games, but he also led the team with 6 receptions in their 49-24 win against USC in the Holiday Bowl. This was the first time a true freshman TE has ever started a game under Kirk Ferentz (Iowa HC since 1999).
In his COVID-shortened sophomore season, LaPorta posted a 27-271-1 line in 8 games, finishing just 74 yards shy of future Round 5 WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette for the team-high.
As a junior, LaPorta broke out in a far more obvious way (53-670-3 in 14 games), finishing the season with nearly twice as many receiving yards as the next-closest Iowa receiver. He became the first TE to lead the team in receptions since Scott Chandler in 2005. And his 670 receiving yards were good for a 26.6% YMS average, which ranks 15th-best of any Power 5 TE in 20 years.
If that wasn’t impressive enough, LaPorta would see his YPG average jump from 47.9 to 54.8 in the following season (58-657-1 in 12 games). His YMS average would also jump to 34.4% – if excluding games he missed – which ranks 2nd-best by any Power 5 TE since at least 2008. And for further perspective, only four Power 5 WRs from this class were able to eclipse that mark in 2022.
Best Yardage Market Share Seasons by a Power 5 TE (Since 2008)— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) April 1, 2023
1. Caleb Wilson, 2018 (35.7%)
2. SAM LAPORTA, 2022 (34.4%)
3. MICHAEL MAYER, 2022 (33.7%)
4. Greg Dulcich, 2020 (32.9%)
5. Zach Ertz, 2014 (31.0%)
8. Jordan Reed, 2012 (29.4%)
9. Aaron Hernandez, 2009 (28.9%)
LaPorta would then leave Iowa with 1,786 career receiving yards, the most by any Iowa TE – and well ahead of noteworthy names like Dallas Clark (1,251), Noah Fant (1,083), T.J. Hockenson (1,080), and George Kittle (737).
LaPorta was certainly a yardage market share monster at Iowa. And although that doesn’t matter nearly as much to my model as YPRR, he wasn’t too far off Michael Mayer (1.95 vs. 1.88 career YPRR). And, perhaps LaPorta’s 1.88 is in some ways more impressive than Mayer’s 1.95. For one thing, those numbers would flip if excluding games against lesser competition. For another, LaPorta was tasked with running higher-level-of-difficulty routes.
Here’s what Sharp Football Analysis’ Rich Hribar had to say:
“LaPorta was Iowa’s passing game. So much so that he led this draft class in routes run as an isolation receiver (35.5% of his routes) while he ran a class-high 20.2% of his routes lined up out wide. LaPorta led this crop of tight ends in targets against man coverage (38) while his 2.72 yards per route run against man coverage were the highest in this class among tight ends that ran more than 33 routes against man coverage (he ran 115).”
Without having access to Hribar’s data, I can’t tell you how much of a disadvantage it was for LaPorta to line up in isolation or out wide (as opposed to in the slot or in line). But I can tell you that – per PFF – NCAA TEs are typically far more efficient against zone (1.24) rather than against man coverage (0.94), naturally putting LaPorta at a relative disadvantage.
I only see one wart in LaPorta’s analytical profile — 5 career touchdowns in 44 career games. But that’s mostly on Iowa’s QBs — they totaled only 7 passing touchdowns all of last year, and their starter ranked as PFF’s 4th-worst graded passer of 47 qualifiers — but still, his lack of raw touchdowns is something that does matter and does factor into my model.
Beyond that, I couldn’t find anything. The NFL Draft Cognoscenti has questioned his elusiveness after the catch and overall athleticism throughout the offseason. But he bested both Mayer and Kincaid in career missed tackles forced per reception, career yards after the catch per reception, and career yards after contact per reception. He also measured out as an elite athlete according to my model, with a 87.9 SPORQ Score (would have ranked top-3 in any of the prior four draft classes).
Analytically speaking — speaking of the prospect profile in its totality — LaPorta looks a lot to me like Greg Dulcich. They were both yardage market share (YMS) monsters, and their other ancillary metrics looked incredible in comparison to the metrics that matter most to my model, although those were still quite good. My Production Model did like Dulcich a little more, although that was somewhat offset by their disparity in athleticism (LaPorta’s 87.9 SPORQ Score vs. Dulcich’s 59.6).
Ultimately, LaPorta feels like a slight tier behind the top two names and more than a full tier ahead of the next three names we’ll discuss.
Tier 3: Or, The “Deferring to projected draft capital?” Tier
4. Darnell Washington, TE, Georgia Bulldogs
Height: 6’7”, Weight: 264 lbs, 40-yard-dash: 4.64
SPORQ: 91.7, Former: 5-star, Age: 21.5
Projected Draft Capital: TE3, pick 33
Washington was a highly-regarded prospect coming out of high school (5-star rating, top-25 recruit nationally), but a fairly unproductive one in college. In three career seasons with the Bulldogs, he saw his YPG average jump from 16.6 to 17.1 to 30.3. And he scored only 3 touchdowns in 36 career games. As such, my model didn’t really love him.
In his defense, Brock Bowers has spent the past two seasons ahead of him on the target totem pole as Georgia’s No. 1 receiver and primary receiving TE. And, because Bowers is either the best or 2nd-best TE prospect in at least 15 years, it feels a little unfair to penalize Washington too harshly for that fact. Because truthfully, I’m not sure any TE from this class could out-produce such a legendary talent while competing for targets alongside him.
As a bonus strictly for NFL teams, Washington is an elite blocker. Among 86 qualifying Power 5 TEs in 2022, Washington ranked 2nd-best in PFF pass block grade (78.4) and 3rd-best in PFF run block grade (81.3). Although NFL teams will love that (and it will surely help his draft capital), that’s probably going to be a negative for fantasy. If you’re pass-blocking, you’re not running routes. If you’re not running routes, you’re not earning targets. If you’re not earning targets, you’re not scoring fantasy points.
And so, this probably means Washington isn’t of the “WR masquerading as a TE -archetype that we love so much. Instead, he’s of the “spends most of his time in line” archetype, which — minus two all-time freaks in Rob Gronkowski and George Kittle — hasn’t been nearly as valuable for fantasy. I should also mention that it’s no coincidence that every TE I’ve mentioned thus far (ranking above him) was rarely asked to pass block and wasn’t very good at it when asked.
Travis Kelce (Last 4 seasons)— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) April 3, 2023
George Kittle (Last 4 seasons)
For fantasy, that Routes/G differential equates Kittle playing 3 quarters per game to Kelce's 4, or Kelce playing an extra 5.7 games per season.
All of this being said, there’s still a lot to get excited about when it comes to Washington — a lot more than I initially expected.
He’s an all-time great athlete for the position. He recorded a 4.08 short shuttle time at the Combine, which ranked 3rd-best among all players from this year’s class. For perspective, Washington is 264 pounds, and the two players (a WR and a CB) with better times were both under 200 pounds. The short shuttle isn’t a very predictive event for the position, but Washington also recorded the 2nd-best Speed Score in the class (the most predictive athletic variable for TEs). Everything added up for a 91.7 SPORQ Score, which ranked 3rd-best in the class and 8th-best over the last six draft classes.
And here’s where things get really interesting. Although Washington was lacking in raw production, he really wasn’t terrible on a per-route basis — his 1.60 career YPRR average was better than that of Luke Musgrave (1.38). And on a per-reception or per-target basis, his numbers were legitimately elite. Washington leads the class in career yards per target average (11.1), career raw depth-adjusted yards per target over expectation (+2.29), career yards per reception average (17.2), career missed tackles forced per reception (0.31), career yards after the catch per reception (7.58), and explosive play rate (34% of career targets leading to gains of 15 or more yards). We’re definitely working with a small sample here, and the lack of raw production and volume definitely matters more — remember, volume is efficiency — but still, this is important and impressive.
So again, there’s a very real possibility Brock Bowers’ presence was masking the talents of a legitimately great pass-catching TE.
Although there’s a better bull-case narrative with Washington than I initially expected — and although his analytical profile is somewhat reminiscent of George Kittle — there really wasn’t enough production to get me too excited about him. TE4, and a tier behind everyone else, feels about right for me.
5. Luke Musgrave, TE, Oregon State Beavers
Height: 6’6”, Weight: 253 lbs, 40-yard-dash: 4.61
SPORQ: 93.5, Former: 3-star, Age: 22.5
Projected Draft Capital: TE4, pick 48
Musgrave didn’t really do anything as a freshman (18 yards in 12 games), didn’t really do anything as a sophomore (142 yards in seven games), and then had his most productive season in 2021. In 10 games, he caught 22 passes for 304 yards (3rd-best on the team) and a touchdown. So, again, nothing really to write home about — the bar was low, and he barely raised it in his age 21 season.
Musgrave played only two games in 2022, but was impressive in those games, turning 15 targets into 11 catches, 169 yards (11.3 YPT), and 1 touchdown. He hit 80 yards in each game, while commanding a 33% YMS. And, for perspective, there were only four other instances of an Oregon State receiver clearing 80 yards all year.
How high should Luke Musgrave be taken in the NFL Draft?🦫 pic.twitter.com/fLamdZNlhN— PFF College (@PFF_College) February 4, 2023
Unfortunately, I’m not really sure what to do with this. If we give full weight to Musgrave’s 2022 season and simply say he averaged 84.5 YPG and 3.78 adjusted YPRR then he’d rank as my model’s TE1 from this class. But of course, that would be pretty dumb. Without getting too deep into the weeds on the dangers of small sample bias, I’ll just say that Michael Mayer had 15 more career games with at least 60 yards (18 vs. 3). And because otherwise, his 2022 season would have fallen 100 routes short of qualifying for my model, and would have placed him somewhere around a mid-to-late Day 3 prospect grade.
To pour some more cold water on the Oregon State Beaver, he ranked either worst or 2nd-worst among all Combine-invite TEs in the class by career drop rate (1 drop every 8.9 targets), career yards after the catch per reception (3.8), and career missed tackles forced per reception (0.04).
Top TE prospects with career drop rates over 10%— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) March 8, 2023
Luke Musgrave (16.1%)
Will Mallory (11.5%)
Cameron Latu (11.1%)
Tucker Kraft (10.8%)
Darnell Washington (10.0%)
To make an argument in his defense, he is at least an absolute freak athlete. He recorded a 93.4 SPORQ Score at the Combine, good for 2nd-best in the class and 6th-best over the last six draft classes. And remember, athleticism matters a great deal more for TEs than it does RBs or WRs.
Yeah, truthfully, I have no idea what to do with Musgrave. Outside of otherworldly athleticism (which still isn’t as important as everything else), Musgrave’s analytical profile is pretty terrible — his career efficiency levels are in some cases worst or nearly worst in the class, and he’s really only had three productive games in his 30-game career (two career games with a touchdown, three career games with at least 60 yards). That being said, NFL.com’s Lance Zerlein has him as his top-rated TE in the class, he’s a Round 1 player for PFF’s Mike Renner, and he’s currently the consensus TE4 by projected draft capital. So, maybe it’s a cop-out, but that’s also where I’m going to rank him — almost perfectly in line with projected draft capital — because I just don’t have a great read on Musgrave and don’t want to unfairly penalize him for injury.
6. Tucker Kraft, TE, South Dakota State Jackrabbits
Height: 6’5”, Weight: 254 lbs, 40-yard-dash: 4.69
SPORQ: 78.4, Former: 0-star, Age: 22.3
Projected Draft Capital: TE6, pick 69
Much like with Musgrave, I’m not really sure what to do here. If throwing out Kraft’s injury-plagued 2022 season, he ranked as my Production Model’s TE4 in this class. But that’s not quite as impressive as it sounds – there was a massive tier break in between my TE3 (LaPorta) and Kraft; so much so that it didn’t really think he was anything special (a boilerplate Round 4 pick in rookie drafts).
Like with Musgrave, I feel like there are enough excuses I could make to justify his projected draft capital — Dane Brugler had him as high as No. 33 overall in November. But then again, I’m sure that’s true of many prospects. Ultimately, the arguments for both feel largely theoretical (although that’s a little less true of Kraft) outside of their projected draft capital and athleticism.
Kraft went under-recruited coming out of high school, which feels somewhat understandable given that he was coming from the small town of Timber Lake, SD (population: 513) and only played 9-man football in high school.
Kraft redshirted his true freshman season, before catching 7 passes for 90 yards in 7 games the following year. (An injury suffered in the first game of the season may have limited his production.) Kraft then broke out in 2021, turning 84 targets into 65 catches for 770 yards (22.4% YMS) and 6 touchdowns (in 15 games). He averaged 2.38 YPRR, which led all Combine-invite TEs from this class.
Heading into 2022, Kraft turned down six-figure NIL offers from Power 5 programs to remain with the Jackrabbits. Unfortunately — like with Musgrave — his 2022 season was derailed by injury. He hurt his ankle on the opening drive of the team’s season opener, but would play 8 more games despite two partial lower-leg/ankle tears (syndesmosis and deltoid), which later had to be surgically repaired.
Among all TEs in this class, Kraft ranks best in career YPRR (2.33), 2nd-best in career missed tackles forced per reception (0.26), and 3rd-best in career yards after the catch per reception (6.7). Granted, this came on a fairly small sample, and all of it against lesser competition in the FCS. That definitely matters, but at least it’s not nearly as crucial for RBs and WRs. And at least in this case, South Dakota state is also probably the best program in the FCS, having won the FCS Championship last year.
Kraft is definitely a high-level athlete (78.4 SPORQ Score), but he also has among the worst hands in the class, dropping one out of every 11.0 career targets. For perspective, Kincaid averaged one drop every 69.0 targets the last two seasons.
I can definitely see why NFL teams (supposedly) like Kraft so much. But, at least, analytically, the argument is a lot harder to make.
On that point, please refrain from all Dallas Goedert comparisons. Sure, both TEs are 6’5”, 255 pounds (give or take exactly one pound), and both TEs played at South Dakota State. But, consider this: Kraft averaged 51.3 YPG and 2.38 YPRR in his best season (2021), which pales in comparison to Goedert’s 99.5 YPG average in 2016 and then his 3.00 YPRR in 2017.
Kraft’s analytical profile isn’t quite up to par with Washington (who was a large tier-gap behind LaPorta), but does have a better profile than Musgrave. Unfortunately, projected draft capital is doing much of the heavy lifting for both, and Musgrave’s projected draft capital is about 20 picks better as things currently stand.
Tier 4: Or, The “Nothing To Write Home About” Tier
7. Will Mallory, TE, Miami Hurricanes
Mallory is a former 4-star recruit and another freak athlete (89.4 SPORQ), posting the 4th-best 40-yard-dash time of any Combine TE in 6 years.
Last season – Year 5 with the Miami Hurricanes – he led the team in receptions (42) and receiving yards (538), with 171 more receiving yards than the next-closest receiver. He ranks 2nd-best in the class by career yards after the catch per reception (6.7), and ranked behind only Brock Bowers in that category last season (min. 40 receptions).
Mallory also averaged 9.2 YPT in 2022 (bested by only Dalton Kincaid from within this year’s draft class), which appears even more impressive when we remind ourselves how totally inept this offense really was – when targeting any Miami receiver not-named Will Mallory, his QBs averaged just 6.6 YPA (a 39% decrease).
Like with Kraft, Mallory’s hands are a major red flag (a red flag which he would surely drop if football talents carried over to color guard), dropping one out of every 11.7 career targets. And this checked out from my time spent at the Senior Bowl. When looking at everything that comes prior to the catch point, Mallory stood out to me as the most impressive athlete on offense (ahead of Musgrave), but everything that came after that was hard to watch. My comparison for him coming out of the Senior Bowl was “bad draft capital Mike Gesicki” (a player I was never too fond of).
8. Zack Kuntz, TE, Old Dominion Monarchs
Kuntz is not only the most athletic TE in the class, but he’s also the 7th-most athletic TE to participate at the Combine since at least 2000. (He’s also a near-perfect Jimmy Graham-clone.)
Top TEs by SPORQ Score [Since 2000]— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) March 5, 2023
1 Vernon Davis (100.0)
2 Kyle Pitts (99.7)
3 Rob Housler (99.4)
4 James Hanna (99.2)
5 Jimmy Graham (98.9)
6 Ben Watson (98.7)
7 ZACK KUNTZ (98.4) pic.twitter.com/W2TXKscDHb
Kuntz gained only 26 yards through three seasons at Penn State — Pat Freiermuth’s presence may have played a role in his limited opportunities — before transferring to Old Dominion. In his first season with the Monarchs (2021), Kuntz was fairly impressive by the metrics that matter most to my model, averaging 53.2 YPG (0.1 more than LaPorta) and 1.97 YPRR (ahead of Michael Mayer and Sam LaPorta). And his 24.8% YMS was up there with many of the best WRs from this class. Of course, these numbers need to be discounted, coming against lesser competition in the Sun Belt Conference (he gained only 19 yards in his one game against a Power 5 opponent).
And — digging deeper — he was actually incredibly inefficient relative to his volume. He gained only 692 yards on a whopping 1,131 air yards. Unlike Mallory, his passing game was more efficient when targeting anyone else (6.8) rather than when targeting Kuntz (6.2). Better yet, his career -24.2% depth-adjusted YPT over expectation ranks 39th-worst of 4,509 qualifiers since 2014. No player from within the bottom-80 was ever drafted by an NFL team.
Like with Musgrave, Kuntz’s 2022 season was derailed by injury. So, we really only have the 2021 season to go off of. Sure, he’s hyper-athletic, but he’s always been hyper-athletic — he won the Pennsylvania State Class AA Championship in the 110-meter hurdles in 2017 — and in spite of that, he was never really dominant against lesser competition. To me, he’s probably just Jameson Konz 2.0. But I suppose there is something like a 4% chance he’s the next Jimmy Graham.
9. Luke Schoonmaker, TE, Michigan Wolverines
Schoonmaker wasn’t very productive at Michigan, and he spent a lot more time blocking and playing in-line than any of the names we’ve already mentioned. But that’s going to be the case with every Michigan TE, and so, it doesn’t personally offend me as much as it might another TE prospect.
Schoonmaker ranked 2nd on the team in receptions (35) and receiving YPG (34.8) in 2022. He’s earned his QBs a 131.7 career passer rating when targeted (2nd-best in the class), and he ranks 3rd-best by career depth-adjusted YPT over expectation (+20.8%). But he also ranked worst in the class by career missed tackles forced per reception (2 missed tackles on 54 career receptions).
Analytically speaking, he’s “just a guy,” but I suppose — given his freakish athleticism (91.2 SPORQ Score) — there’s a small chance he’s the next George Kittle (94.9), Dawson Knox (9.26 RAS), or Daniel Bellinger (90.9), all players my Athleticism Model liked a lot more than my Production Model.
10. Kemari Averett, TE, Bethune-Cookman Wildcats
Averett is 25 years old, wasn’t invited to this year’s Combine, and is M.I.A. from any top-500 Big Board you’re going to read. Still, that’s not going to stop me from hyping him up here, or from drafting him in the final round of my next TE Premium Dynasty startup draft. The argument against him is easy — there’s probably a reason why you’ve never heard his name. The argument for him is also easy — his numbers in 2021 were better than that of any other TE in this class (okay, granted, against very small school competition in the FCS).
In 2021, Averett turned 97 targets into 51 catches for 879 yards and 10 touchdowns (in 11 games). He averaged 79.9 YPG (6th-best since 2014) and 0.91 touchdowns per game (9th-best since 2014). His 2.93 YPRR ranks 6th-best of 547 qualifiers since at least 2014. And if touchdown-adjusting that number, he improves to 3.60 (4th-best), behind only seasons from Kyle Pitts in 2020 (4.28), Brock Bowers in 2021 (3.90), and Isaiah Likely in 2021 (3.78).