2018 NFL Draft rankings: Separating skill, blocking and everything to know about TEs

The 2018 draft class of tight ends isn't great. There, I said it. However, there are a few players who can thrive in the right roles at the next level. 

Dallas Goedert, Mark Andrews, and Mike Gesicki headline the class, and unsurprisingly, they excel the most as pass-catchers.

Below I've ranked each of the consensus top six tight ends in the qualities I deem most necessary to be successful at the position in the pros (listed in order of importance). I've also added one player who should be available a bit later in the draft that excels at each particular trait.

Other installments in this series: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers

High-Pointing/Contested-Catch Ability

  1. Mike Gesicki
  2. Dallas Goedert
  3. Mark Andrews
  4. Ian Thomas
  5. Hayden Hurst
  6. Troy Fumagalli

Gesicki looks like the superb basketball player he was in high school when he's on the football field, ranging well outside his frame a few times each game to make acrobatic catches. Goedert is more solidly built than Gesicki, can undoubtedly box out smaller defenders and has large hands that make the ball look minuscule. Thomas has a flair for the dramatic grab -- check his Ohio State game -- and Hurst is capable of making catches with high degree of difficulty, especially near the sideline. 

Sleeper: Tyler Conklin

During his reliable career at Central Michigan, Conklin made a variety of tough grabs in traffic and with defenders closing to make contact while he caught the football. 

Separating Skill

  1. Thomas
  2. Gesicki
  3. Hurst
  4. Goedert
  5. Andrews
  6. Fumagalli

Thomas is the most fluid athlete in this tight end class. He glides in an out of his breaks without losing much speed. He'll be a productive player on option routes over the middle. Gesicki doesn't have top-notch change-of-direction ability, but once he gets his legs moving, he easily creates separation. The same goes for Hurst. Goedert chugs along a bit in his routes yet the explosiveness he showcases after planting his foot in the ground will give his quarterback room to fit in the football often. Andrews and Fumagalli are big-bodied, slower-movement types. 

Sleeper: Jordan Atkins

Unfortunately, Atkins didn't work out at the combine, but at 6-foot-3 and 249 pounds, he has the ideal build to quickly move through the second level to create space for his quarterback. He averaged a solid 14.2 yards per catch during his career at UCF, which culminated with a 16.1 yards-per-grab campaign as a senior in 2017.

Yards After The Catch

  1. Thomas
  2. Goedert
  3. Hurst
  4. Gesicki
  5. Andrews 
  6. Fumagalli

For many of the same reasons he was atop the Separating Skill category leads Thomas to the No. 1 spot here. His loose hips and flexible lower half allow him to almost float across the field before the ball is in his hands and after he catches it. He's a natural runner who with impressive vision and burst when he's accumulating extra yardage. Goedert's simply hard to bring to the turf because of his muscular frame, and Hurst and Gesicki create YAC with their speed in the open field. 

Sleeper: Chris Herndon IV

Herndon is deceptively fast as a classic long-strider. Despite his angular frame, he has some wiggle in the open field and impressive balance for a tight end close to 6-4 and 250-plus pounds. He's the type of pass-catcher you want to get the ball on a shallow cross against man or a seam pattern against zone.

Downfield Speed

  1. Gesicki
  2. Goedert
  3. Hurst
  4. Thomas
  5. Andrews
  6. Fumagalli

As we saw at the combine, Gesicki is in a class by himself in the speed department among the top tight ends in this class. He's an explosive linear player who will be able to run by some of the league's slower safeties. The rest of the tight ends on this list are build-up speed runners with Goedert being the fastest when he's in top gear. There's a rather large space between Andrews and Fumagalli in this category. 

Sleeper: Atkins

Atkins can stretch the field with his plus athleticism and aggressive ball skills. He's the type of split tight end teams are using more today than they did a decade ago. 

Blocking

  1. Goedert
  2. Fumagalli
  3. Thomas
  4. Andrews
  5. Hurst 
  6. Gesicki

For his reputation as a mismatch pass-catcher, Goedert has a fair amount of experience blocking and really gets after it. Like the vast majority of tight ends, there are times he's overwhelmed by bigger, strong edge-rushers, but on blocks that ask him to get to the second level, he wins often. He's typically balanced and delivers a strong initial pop. As a Wisconsin guy, Fumagalli blocked frequently, yet I expected more out of him in that area. Thomas played on the line on occasion at Indiana and is similar to Goedert in his strengths and weaknesses as a blocker, he's just not as powerful as the South Dakota State alum. You do not want the last three with important edge-blocking responsibilities on a crucial run play.

Sleeper: Durham Smythe

Smythe was a glorified offensive tackle for much of his Notre Dame career, and his time spent in the trenches shows. His role expanded into the Fighting Irish pass game more in 2017 than it ever had before, and he moved people with more regularity as a junior. However, at over 6-5 and 250-plus pounds, Smythe blocks with proper fundamentals -- low pad level, strong grip, constantly moving feet, and a deceptive amount of strength. 

Position Fits 

Flex 

  1. Gesicki
  2. Goedert
  3. Hurst
  4. Andrews 
  5. Thomas
  6. Fumagalli

Gesicki is essentially a big wide receiver. I said on the Pick Six Podcast, he's kind of like Vincent Jackson. Similar size, similar athleticism. Goedert isn't Travis Kelce, but close. Hurst's game is reminiscent of Hunter Henry's. Andrews flashed crazy slipperiness early in the season and got downfield often but didn't show the reliable hands you'd want from your pass-catching tight end and lacks a bit in the athleticism department. At best, he's a Julius Thomas type. 

Sleeper: Deon Yelder

The Western Kentucky tight end was featured in a wide-open, pass-happy attack and made the most of it as a senior, as he snagged 52 passes for 688 yards with seven touchdowns. He's not a tight end you want running intricate routes, yet he showed a knack to get open in simple, high-percentage throws in the 7-10 yard range in college.

In-Line

  1. Goedert
  2. Thomas
  3. Fumagalli
  4. Andrews
  5. Hurst
  6. Gesicki

Because of his reasonable blocking ability and definite threat as a receiver, Goedert would be ideal in-line, where his pre-snap alignment wouldn't give the defense any hint about whether the forthcoming play was a run or pass. Thomas and Fumagalli at least have experience against edge-setters. 

Sleeper: Jordan Thomas

The big, former Mississippi State tight end -- nearly 6-6 and 265 pounds at the combine -- was kept in to block a portion of his snaps each game and clearly won due to his mass alone on an assortment of plays close to the line of scrimmage.

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