The work never seems to end in the NFL player evaluation world, which means front offices have already turned their attention toward the upcoming college football season in advance of the 2024 NFL Draft. With that in mind, let's continue our CBS Sports summer prospect series. We've covered , and , and wrap up with one of the more versatile positions: tight end.
The tight end position may have more variance along its spectrum of usage across the NFL than any other position. There are tight ends like George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers, who are one of their team's best blockers while also playing a role in the passing game (86 targets, third most on team). Then you have players like Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs or Darren Waller of the New York Giants, guys who are their team's top receiving options without as much of an impact in the blocking game. The NFL as a whole values the position like never before in recent memory as nine tight ends were picked in the first three rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft, the most in the first three rounds of a draft in the 21st century.
TEs selected in first three rounds of 2023 NFL Draft
Dalton Kincaid (Utah)
Sam LaPorta (Iowa)
Michael Mayer (Notre Dame)
Luke Musgrave (Oregon State)
Luke Schoonmaker (Michigan)
Brenton Strange (Penn State)
Green Bay Packers
Tucker Kraft (South Dakota State)
Darnell Washington (Georgia)
San Francisco 49ers
Cameron Latu (Alabama)
* Most tight ends selected in first three rounds of a single draft in 21st century (since 2000)
In the 2024 bunch, one stands above them all: the two-time defending CFP national champion and 2022 John Mackey Award winner (best tight end in college football), Georgia's Brock Bowers. That resumes speaks for itself.
This summer series will examine where things stand entering the upcoming 2023 college season, but the order could look a little different come next April, with the exception of Bowers being a surefire lock to be the first tight end selected as a top 15 pick. Here's an in-depth look at the current top five tight ends with some pro comparisons from former longtime Minnesota Vikings general manager and current CBS Sports HQ NFL analyst Rick Spielman and CBS Sports NFL Draft analyst Ryan Wilson from their July 20 conversation on the "With The First Pick Podcast." Plus, a look at some names who could rise through the ranks in the season to come. The tight ends are ranked by their readiness for the NFL entering the 2023 college football season.
5. Jalin Conyers (Arizona State)
- Height: 6-foot-4 | Weight: 265 pounds
- Accolades/notable statistics: 21 tackles avoided (second most by any FBS TE in 2022), only FBS TE to have three touchdown catches in a game in 2022, 82.6% catch percentage in 2022 (most by FBS TE, minimum 40 targets)
Rick Spielman's comp: Tucker Kraft
"He didn't have too many targets the first half of the 2022 season, but when you look at what he did in the second half of the season against UCLA [seven catches for 66 yards] and Arizona [10 catches for 76 yards and a touchdown], you're saying 'Who the heck is this guy?' He has excellent size, and it's surprising how athletic he is for his size. He's not a burner, but he's fast enough. Good play strength. With his size, I thought he gave great effort as a run-blocker. He may be the best run-blocking tight end in this class besides [Ohio State's Cade] Stover because of his size. If a team is looking for a combination guy who can play on the line of scrimmage as a true Y tight end who can be efficient as a run-blocker, I think a lot of people are going to look at him that way. He extends for the catch, and he has great concentration in extended-catch situations. He has surprising run-after-the-catch ability and balance. He's not polished yet, but I think he can come on this year. He could shoot up the draft charts. Late Day 2 as of now."
Ryan Wilson's comp: Albert Okwuegbunam
"He has nice ability to catch the ball because of his body and has soft hands. He has yards-after-catch potential. He moves well laterally, and he doesn't show much stiffness, which is nice for a player of his size. He's more of a long strider than a burner. He showed some open field elusiveness. I have him as an early Day 3 guy right now."
- Games to circle: vs. USC (Sep. 23)
- Draft range: Third or fourth round
Jalin Conyers may have the biggest stature of any tight end prospect in the upcoming class, and that size helps win plenty of jump-ball situations. No one is going to confuse Conyers of having Brock Bowers-like speed, but he moves as fluidly as one can at his size. He is one of the more raw prospects in this class since he transferred to Arizona State from Oklahoma after his freshman year as he just began to receive legit playtime and targets in the back half of the 2022 season. In the right offense, Conyers could be a red zone monster at the NFL level if he continues to grow his game at the rate he did at the end of 2022.
4. Jaheim Bell (Florida State)
- Height: 6-foot-3 | Weight: 239 pounds
- Accolades/notable statistics: 25 tackles avoided (most by FBS TE in 2022), holds two highest tight end single-game receiving yards totals in South Carolina history (career-high 159 receiving yards in win vs. North Carolina in 2021 Duke's May Bowl, 136 receiving yards in win vs. Vanderbilt in 2021)
Rick Spielman's comp: Chigoziem Okonkwo/Brayden Willis
"He can do multiple things, and when you can do multiple things, that makes me think he can translate as a good special teams player. He reminded of Brayden Willis out of Oklahoma [drafted in the seventh round of the 2023 NFL Draft]. They [Oklahoma] did a lot of things with Willis besides having him line up as just a traditional tight end. You see the same thing in Bell, he's a really good player."
Ryan Wilson's comp: Chigoziem Okonkwo athleticism with Jaylen Samuels' versatility
"He's a lot of fun to watch. He's a Swiss Army knife because he lines up everywhere. He transferred from South Carolina. He can do everything at a pretty high level. He looks like a running back carrying the football. Okonkwo tested incredibly well athletically coming out of Maryland, drafted by the Titans. I also bring up Jaylen Samuels because of his versatility coming out of NC State. He was listed as a tight end coming out, but he's played mainly running back in the NFL. That made him draftable in the fifth round.
- Games to circle: at Clemson (Sep. 23), vs. Miami (Nov. 11)
- Draft range: Third round
Jaheim Bell is a unique player evaluation because of his athleticism and non-traditional utilization. Last season, according to Pro Football Focus, Bell lined up in the backfield on 134 snaps (46.7% of his snaps), in the slot on 82 snaps (28.6% of his snaps, in-line as a traditional tight end on 44 snaps (15.3% of his snaps) and out wide on 27 snaps (9.4% of his snaps). He is strong both going up to make the catch and after the catch, possessing great explosion and balance. Bell could use a season at Florida State of lining up more frequently in-line, so that he can show what he would look like in a more traditional tight end role at the next level.
3. Cade Stover (Ohio State)
- Height: 6-foot-4 | Weight: 251 pounds
- Accolades/notable statistics: 2022 Third-Team All-Big Ten; 36 catches for 406 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns (most catches and yards by an Ohio State TE since 1995; most receiving touchdowns by an Ohio State TE since 2011)
Rick Spielman's comp: Tyler Conklin
Note: Spielman drafted Conklin 157th overall (fifth round) in the 2018 NFL Draft as the Vikings general manager.
"This guy may be the best run-blocker or well-rounded tight end in the 2024 class. He needs some route refinement. I don't know if he's going to be a total mismatch in the passing game. I gave him credit for his upside since he's new to the position [played at defensive end for the Buckeyes in 2019, moved to tight end in 2020 and 2021 seasons]. He can catch the ball despite his drops in the Michigan game. He's talented enough to develop into a No. 2, on-the-line Y tight end. I think he's going to contribute on special teams.
Ryan Wilson's comp: Foster Moreau
"He's still a work in progress. There weren't a lot of targets for him to go around in the Ohio State offense, which is understandable, so you're projecting with him. He felt like if you build a tight end in central casting like a Foster Moreau, who is a faceless 6-5, 250-pound, tight end-looking guy. That's who Cade Stover is for me right now."
- Games to circle: vs. Penn State (Oct. 21), at Michigan (Nov. 25)
- Draft range: Second or third round
Cade Stover is one of the most raw tight end prospects in the upcoming class. He started his college career as linebacker and defensive end. Stover is definitely the best blocking tight end in this class, a valuable skill in both the run and pass game. He doesn't have as much wiggle as a receiver as some other tight end prospects. However, Stover is an asset running routes over the middle because a quarterback can just toss the football up knowing he is likely to be the one coming down with the football.
2. Ja'Tavion Sanders (Texas)
- Height: 6-foot-4 | Weight: 243 pounds
- Accolades/notable statistics: 2022 First-Team All-Big 12, 2022 John Mackey Award semifinalist; 54 catches, 613 receiving yards, five receiving touchdowns in 2022 (most catches in a single season by a TE in program history)
Rick Spielman's comp: Trey McBride
"I didn't think he was a great athlete. I thought he was good enough as an athlete with his speed. He's more of an absorber as a blocker than a deliverer on contact. His route tree is limited, and he's not a vertical deep threat. His best asset were his hands. I thought he did extend and won with his hands in contested catch situations. He is an average athlete after the catch, not overly elusive. I was disappointed he usually went down on first contact out in space. Mid-round talent. Trey McBride might've been a little bit better blocker, but Sanders and McBride both had very good hands in contested-catch situations.
Ryan Wilson's comp: Evan Engram
"The athleticism is what got my attention. He played half and half in-line and in the slot. He was asked to contribute in the run game as blocker, and he was willing. He's a surprisingly good blocker. He's a long strider in the passing game going through his routes and a middle-of-the-field threat. He needs to do a better job catching the football away from his body. He shows an ability to lock up defensive ends as a blocker, but he needs to get better sustaining blocks. He's good at finding the holes in zone coverage on short and intermediate routes. He's not a precision route-runner, but I like the athleticism a lot.
- Games to circle: at Alabama (Sep. 9), at TCU (Nov. 11)
- Draft range: Second or third round
Ja'Tavion Sanders has some of the better burst off the line of scrimmage while beginning his route out of any tight end in the 2024 draft class. His hands are strong as he's a winner on contested catches, hauling in 53.3% of them, according to PFF. Sanders is best utilized knifing through the middle of the field through zone coverage because he can easily box out a defender with his lengthy catch radius. Should Sanders become more well-rounded with growth in the blocking game and more precise route-running, he could easily soar up draft boards around the NFL.
1. Brock Bowers (Georgia)
- Height: 6-foot-4 | Weight: 230 pounds
- Accolades/notable statistics: Two-time CFP National Champion, 2022 John Mackey Award winner (nation's best TE), 2022 First-Team All-SEC, 2022 Second-Team AP All-American; 63 catches, 942 receiving yards, seven receiving touchdowns in 2022 (all led Georgia in 2022); nine carries for 109 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns in 2022 (had 75-yard rushing touchdown against Kent State), 76.8% catch percentage in 2022 (fifth most among 117 FBS players with 80+ targets)
Rick Spielman's comp: Travis Kelce/George Kittle
"He needs to add some pounds to his frame because you would like him at 240, 245 at least if you can. He's a mismatch in the passing game, they move him all over the field. The only concern is the lack of size as a blocker, that's the one area where you would like to see him improve upon for run-blocking. He has very unique run-after-catch skills for a tight end. Bowers is a Kelce/Kittle type. That's where I believe his skill set as a receiver is going to be at the NFL level. Bowers is a more well-rounded tight end and better after the catch than [Atlanta Falcons tight end] Kyle Pitts."
Note: Atlanta Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts, the fourth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, is the highest-drafted tight end in the Common Draft Era (since 1967)
Ryan Wilson's comp: T.J. Hockenson/Noah Fant
"I thought that he was a legit problem in the middle of the field when they lined him up there. They didn't do it a lot. When he got to the second level of the defense, he was outrunning safeties to the end zone. His quickness and ability to move laterally is impressive. He's a receiving threat to all three levels. I went with [Vikings tight end] T.J. Hockenson in terms of technical skills with Noah Fant-level athleticism. Brock Bowers is a super tight end."
- Games to circle: College Football Playoffs
- Draft range: Top 15 picks
Brock Bowers' rare blend of top-tier lateral coordination plus blazing afterburners at his size makes him a generational tight end prospect. Bowers' acceleration after the catch appears to be higher than when running a route to simply get open. He can line up anywhere in the formation and make all defenders -- linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties -- look like small children by climbing the ladder for a contested catch and then stiff arm or trucking them into the ground before breaking away for a touchdown.
Bowers is also just as adept at making defenders grasp at air after pulling a juke move out in the open field. He's not a traditional in-line tight end, but with his receiving skills, he doesn't need to be. Bowers is also underrated blocker, something that could easily improve after filling out his body in an NFL strength and conditioning program given that he doesn't turn 21 until December.
Bowers can be an NFL offense's top pass-catcher if utilized well by a coaching staff that moves him all over the formation.