Detroit Lions: This is the year to draft a top tight end
Irv Smith is someone that has just emerged this year for the Crimson Tide. After only catching 14 passes all of last year, Smith has exploded with 26 receptions this year through only nine games amounting to 448 yards and six touchdowns.
Smith is a smart tight end that has good speed and good hands with the ability to catch the ball in tight spaces (a recent example would be his touchdown catch against LSU). The Draft Network’s John Ledyard wrote many good things about Smith:
"“Athletic pass-catcher with big slot potential. Finds holes in zone coverage and will adapt his routes to work to space. Hands appear solid, albeit in limited targets. Has the speed to threaten the seam… Glimpses of an effective zone blocker… Upside could be on par with the top tight ends in the class”."
When you watch Smith you can really see the potential that Ledyard is talking about. I would be excited to have Smith as an addition to the team.
Another Iowa tight end is showing he has what it takes to succeed in the NFL this year. His name is T.J. Hockenson. Hockenson has not received the amount of attention he should because he plays with teammate Noah Fant.
But don’t let the lack of attention fool you. Hockenson should succeed in the NFL. He isn’t the fastest guy on the field but he is tough and is a good pass catcher.
He can also contribute a lot to the run blocking game (a real strength for him). He’s not quite as athletic and versatile as his teammate Fant in the passing game, but he’s still a great tight end with untapped potential.
Hockenson has 32 receptions for 526 yards and four touchdowns. He has done all this as the number two tight end of his own team.
Hockenson has not finished developing his game, but could follow fellow Iowa alumni George Kittle’s path: overlooked at the position because of depth in the draft class, but goes on the majorly outperform his draft spot.
Hockenson seems to be the complete package; an elite run blocker and a good receiver as well. That sounds like someone I would be excited for the Lions to draft in the second or third round.
Another tight end I am intrigued by is University of Missouri’s tight end Albert Okwuegbunam. Okwuegbunam is a bigger tight end, coming in at six foot, five inches and 255 lbs.
Don’t let his size fool you though. He can still move pretty fast. This year he has 43 receptions for 466 yards and six touchdowns.
While he doesn’t seem to have the same potential as some of the other top tight ends, he would still be a great vertical and middle of the field threat for Stafford. As a red-zone threat, his height and ability to high-point the ball would make him a huge target in the red-zone.
All of these tight ends are intriguing options come draft day, and each provides a different strength and/or weakness.
My preference, when considering talent and draft value, is T.J. Hockenson. He provides an already elite run blocker and is an improving pass catcher with some after the catch abilities. Factor in that he will probably be available in the late second round to late third round of the draft, and he could be a steal in the 2019 NFL Draft.