Here’s the third story of our position-by-position NFL draft series. Today, we’ll look at the top tight ends.
Former Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer is from Kentucky and wanted to play basketball. He was convinced to give football, nearly a foreign sport in the Bluegrass State, a shot.
He went on to star at Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky, and attracted the attention of Notre Dame.
Mayer now is considered the top tight end prospect heading into the NFL draft, which is set for April 27-29 in Kansas City, Missouri.
“I don’t think of it like pressure,” Mayer said.
He is considered a strong blocker who can provide some help in the passing game.
“I can block anybody you need me to block, but I feel like my red zone, my third down, I can really go up and get that ball,” Mayer said. “I can make contested catches. I can really route people up.”
Mayer caught 180 passes and scored 18 touchdowns at Notre Dame.
“I can have that connection with that quarterback, also,” Mayer said. “He knows where I’m going to be. He knows how I’m going to run my route. I know where that quarterback is going to put the ball.”
Utah’s Dalton Kincaid, Georgia’s Darnell Washington and Oregon State’s Luke Musgrave also are considered top prospects among tight ends.
“It’s not just the guys at the top in Michael Mayer and Dalton Kincaid,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. “It’s the depth that you have at tight end. With Mayer, he’s not going to run away from you. (He makes) a lot of contested catches. But he’s got the best ball skills. … He knows how to box out defenders.”
“If you’re looking for an in-line guy who can still be in the short and intermediate (passing attack), he can be very productive,” McShay said. “He’s a bulldozer running after the catch. If you’re looking for a receiver who’s not going to be very helpful in the run game, then it’s Dalton Kincaid.”
NFL teams like Washington’s size and blocking ability.
“Then you’ve got an absolute Adonis coming out of Georgia in Darnell Washington. He can run block in-line and block on the move,” McShay said. “He’s never going to be a great receiver, but he can be productive. He’s got good traits to contribute.”
Washington believes he can increase his production in the NFL.
“I feel like I got lots of untouched talent when it comes to that area,” Washington said. “In high school I was getting the ball like 60 times a season. So, going from there to coming to college, not so much in that area. So I feel like when I tap into that potential, I feel like it’s going to be crazy to see.”
Washington improved his blocking at Georgia. “I didn’t really block in high school,” Washington said. “So, I wasn’t as physical as I am now.”
Teams are not overly concerned that Washington caught only 45 passes at Georgia. Most know that sophomore tight end Brock Bowers was the main target last season.
“The way he runs, that’s a matchup nightmare,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said of Washington. “I can see him going in the first round. I have him going in the early second. He’s a dynamic talent.”
Bowers will be eligible for the NFL draft in 2024.
“He will be a high pick,” Kiper said. “I thought (Georgia quarterback) Stetson Bennett did a good job distributing the football, but you’ve got to get Brock Bowers six to eight to 10 catches a game, so that kind of limits things for Darnell. He’s certainly shown that he can do that. You don’t find many tight ends with his size, athleticism and his speed.”
Musgrave sustained a knee injury that held him to two games in 2022.
“He had the injury last year, but was really productive when healthy,” McShay said. “He knows how to run routes, and he continued to get better. He’s an athlete that you can flex out in the slot and get a lot out of him. Not a great blocker, but again a pass-catching weapon.”
Kiper said: “Musgrave is a guy you can move around. He’s a move tight end. He’s a Mike Gesicki-type. He could be really good at 6-5 and some change and runs like he does.”
The tight end position is deep this year.
“You’ve got some sleepers at this (position),” Kiper said. “The tight end (group) goes a little bit deeper than just the top five or six. Tucker Kraft at South Dakota State came back from an injury. The offense couldn’t get him the ball that much. He’s got talent. Sam Laporta at Iowa, you can move him outside as well. ... Payne Durham didn’t run great, but had a great year at Purdue. You can get 14, 15 deep of guys who could get drafted at tight end.”
D. Orlando Ledbetter, Esq is the award-winning Atlanta Falcons beat writer for the newspaper, has been on the staff since 2003. Every day D. Orlando strives to provide inside in the Falcons and the NFL. He finds the most joy in providing insight into the team, the coaching moves, the offseason business moves, the draft and the games.