NFL Draft 2019 tight end rankings: Breaking down skills of top tight ends, from blocking to speed

Another accolade for tight end university of the midwest: Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson are bound to become the first teammates at the same position to go in the first round. 

As for the rest of the tight end class though ... the more I watched, I didn't like it as much. The collective combine performances weren't great after Hockenson and especially Fant, and I see a lot of high-end No. 3 tight ends and low-end tight end No. 2s here, despite early draft season hype for the position group as a whole.

As for the actual draft, you'll be able to stream our live coverage right here on CBS Sports HQ (or download the CBS Sports app for free on any mobile or connected TV device) breaking down all the picks and everything you need to know during draft weekend. 

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. T.J. Hockenson
  2. Kahale Warring
  3. Caleb Wilson
  4. Irv Smith
  5. Noah Fant
  6. Jace Sternberger

Hockenson is "natural" catching the football. As long as its in his vicinity, he'll typically come down with the football. High-point grabs are no problem. Tracking the ball downfield. Easy. Warring is a little bigger than most tight ends in this class, and despite not being very experienced, he's a smooth pass catcher. Wilson is decently reliable coming down with catches in traffic. Same goes for Smith. Fant and Sternberger leave a little to be desired in this area although they're solid receiving tight ends. 

Sleeper: Kaden Smith

Smith was a high-point/contested-catch monster at Stanford. He has the length, athleticism, awareness, and strong hands to make difficult grabs with coverage draped on him over the middle. 

Separating Skill

  1. Fant
  2. Hockenson
  3. Sternberger
  4. Warring
  5. Smith 
  6. Wilson

As Fant demonstrated at the combine, he's the far and away the most athletic tight end in this draft class. His combination of speed, twitch, and sustained explosiveness allows him to consistently create separation at any level of the field. Hockenson isn't too far behind him, and Sternberger's fluidity as a route runner gets him free often. Warring is adequately flexible for his size. Smith is more laterally capable on the field than his combine showed. Wilson is linearly impressive. He's not impressive when he has to break off his stem. 

Sleeper: Dax Raymond

Raymond is athletically capable out of the slot and somewhat frequently found himself with space around him down the field at Utah State.

Yards After The Catch

  1. Sternberger
  2. Smith 
  3. Fant
  4. Hockenson
  5. Wilson
  6. Warring

It didn't show at the combine, but Sternberger consistently surprises after the catch with exceptional balance, vision, and cutting capabilities. Smith, as an H-back of sorts, excels after the catch. Fant is more of an efficient, linear yards-after-the-catch tight end. Hockenson too will flip on the afterburners instantly once the ball is in his hands and has excellent vision. 

Sleeper: Keenen Brown

Brown's film is unreal at times with the way he utilizes his insanely loose hips and flexible ankles in space. He's a running back in space.

Downfield Speed

  1. Fant
  2. Wilson
  3. Hockenson
  4. Warring
  5. Smith
  6. Sternberger

Fant is a classic "seam-stretcher." His first step and explosiveness will repeatedly strain the middle of any defense. Wilson too will run by a lot of linebackers and some safeties. Hockenson is dynamic down the seam. Warring ran 4.76 at the combine, which placed him in the 76th percentile at the position at a sizable 252 pounds. 

Sleeper: Josh Oliver

Oliver clocked a relatively fast time of 4.63 at the combine, and that speed shows up on film. He's significantly more capable in a straight line than he is when needing to change directions. 

Blocking

  1. Hockenson
  2. Fant
  3. Warring
  4. Smith
  5. Sternberger
  6. Wilson

Hockenson's high-end blocks are ridiculous. With a little more weight and strength, he can be one of the best blocking tight ends in football in a couple of seasons. He's already very good finding second-level defenders in space and punishing them. Fant gets after it too but isn't as effective. Warring spent a lot of his time in San Diego State's power running scheme in-line needing to make critical blocks on the outside. 

Sleeper: Drew Sample

Sample is not only a fundamentally sound blocker with his hands and balanced base, he can really move people in the run game. 

Position Fits 

Flex 

  1. Fant
  2. Hockenson
  3. Wilson
  4. Sternberger
  5. Smith
  6. Warring

If Fant is essentially a wide receiver with solid blocking skills. Get him in the slot. Hockenson's blocking highlights are jaw-dropping. So are his receiving abilities. Wilson is much more comfortable split out than in the trenches. Sternberger's similar in that regard. Smith should be used as an H-back, and Warring is best on the line of scrimmage.  

Sleeper: Dawson Knox

Knox was, at times, the fourth option in Ole Miss' offense yet flashed as a slot receiver in 2018.

In-Line

  1. Hockenson
  2. Fant
  3. Warring
  4. Smith
  5. Sternberger
  6. Wilson

Hockenson and Fant spent plenty of time on the line at Iowa, a staple of the tight ends from that program. Warring got his hands dirty against defensive ends and linebackers in college on running plays. Smith is an adequate blocker and has experience plugged into the line of scrimmage. Get Sternberger and Wilson off the line. 

Sleeper: Foster Moreau

Moreau is one of the most well-rounded tight ends in this class not being talked about enough. He isn't a devastating blocker but often got the job done in an non-flashy way at LSU and proved to have plus athleticism at the combine. 

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