Jeff Blake/USA Today Sports

Ranking the tight ends: Plenty of good targets for Patriots

Pete Davidson
April 25, 2018 - 11:54 am


Last year’s tight end class really set a new standard for the position. I doubt we’ll see another group like that for a long while. It’s probably natural to expect a bit of a down year in the wake of such a deeply packed class, but that is not at all the case. The 2018 class is a strong group overall—with plenty of NFL talent and more than a handful of prospects with legit fantasy appeal. This is the final installment in my four part series leading up to tomorrow’s draft. I hope you’ve been enjoying them so far.

My storyline as of yesterday was built around all the Rob Gronkowski drama, but, of course, those flames were pretty much doused with Gronk announcing that he and coach Belichick had spoken and that his career would continue in 2018. Great news for the Patriots and great news for their draft board because there’s no need to force a tight end pick now. On the flip side, this is the Patriots, and we know they love their tight ends. So who knows? We could still see them grab a guy if they really like him. When I look at this year’s class, there are four prospects who really stand out as potential Patriots, and they are all in the top two tiers of my rankings. More on that soon.

As I said, this is the final rankings article in a four part series. If you missed my takes on the quarterbacks, wide receivers or running backs, you can access them via the links below.

Quarterback Rankings

Wide Receivers Rankings

Running Back Rankings

Tier One (1-3)

1 - Hayden Hurst, South Carolina, 6’4”, 250
2 - Dallas Goedert, South Dakota St., 6’5”, 256
3 - Mike Gesicki, Penn State, 6’5”, 247

Alright, partner, name your poison! The top tier is very strong, and the player you choose as an NFL evaluator will probably have a lot to do with your team’s situation. Seriously, rank these three however you want. On my board it’s a three way tie for first. If you want to win now, the guy is Hurst, whose game is already next level in terms of 
fundamentals and production. Hurst would make a fine Patriot and is most definitely one of my four fits for them. The problem is cost. Unless there is a Gronkowski deal, which I sort of doubt, I don’t see them using a first rounder on a tight end. Still, Hurst is exceedingly diverse. He can block inline or in space and he’s a competitor. As a receiver he is game-ready. The routes are very good and so are the hands. His after the catch ability is good enough where he was getting some carries in South Carolina’s offense and that included some looks at the goal line. Yes, he’s a classic chess piece and I’m sure Belichick and his staff would love having him around. Hurst’s problem is his age. He’ll be a 25-year old rookie.

Goedert is a real gem for those of us who are fantasy inclined. He’s an offense first tight end with medium blocking performance. I don’t see a fit for the Patriots as a Gronk compliment because he can’t do much heavy lifting, but man oh man, can this guy make catches! Goedert’s ball skills are next level and they remind me of Travis Kelce. Heck, 
they might be even better, but Hurst does not have Kelce’s explosiveness as a route runner. His speed is of the build up variety. Still, a guy with this kind of offensive talent will not be on the board long. I see him being taken early in round two and maybe even late in round one.

If there is a tight end in this class who the Patriots will spend heavy on, Gesicki is probably the guy. First of all, he crushed the three cone drill in Indianapolis, and we all know how much Belichick loves those three cones guys. And Gesicki’s combine was scary good overall. He ran a 4.54 forty and he was exceedingly explosive in both jumping drills. This guy is a monster when it comes to measurables and he’s good enough on film to buy into the great athlete narrative. The concern with Gesicki is that he’s raw—particularly as a blocker, so his landing spot will matter in terms of projected role and usage. As a receiver, I think his route work, while satisfactory, can get much better. His hands are very good—probably the best in this class along with Hurst and Ian Thomas, who we’ll get to in a second. If we are talking about long term production for fantasy, only Goedert compares to Gesicki in this class. If your dynasty league uses premium tight end scoring, Gesicki is a first rounder in my view.

Tier Two

4 - Ian Thomas, Indiana, 6’4”, 259
5 - Jaylen Samuels, NC State, 5’11”, 225
6 - Mark Andrews, Oklahoma, 6’5”, 256

Thomas isn’t that far off of tier one in my mind and he could end up being a big value in rookie drafts next month. Thomas sort of reminds me of Charles Barkley in that he’s stronger and far more difficult to handle than his body type lets on. Not to say that he’s soft like Barkley was early in his career. He’s not. It’s just that he’s got a lot of natural strength. Thomas is a solid two-way tight end, but he’s definitely most exciting in terms of what he can do as a receiver. This guy has soft hands and he tracks the ball really, really well. He’s also adept at using his big frame to shield defenders. I’d be surprised if this guy didn’t have a good career. I see TE1 fantasy value by 2020 and perhaps sooner if he gets a sweet landing spot. Would he make a good Patriot? Definitely. He’s a perfect guy to groom for the day when Gronk really does walk away, because he can help you in all phases of your offense. If he can be stolen in round three, maybe he ends up in New England.

Jaylen Samuels isn’t really a tight end, but that’s the beauty of him for fantasy football purposes. This guy will probably see some carries and he’ll be lined up just about everywhere save for inline as a traditional tight end. I mean, let’s get real, he’s only 225 pounds! As Jim Hackett and I have discussed a few times over the last three months, Samuels is just a pure football player. I think he has the ability to be a lead back in the right offense so keep that in mind. It’s still possible that some team decides to make him a running back. No matter what container he gets poured into, this is a player to take very seriously. As far as fantasy value is concerned, I hope he hangs onto that tight end label, but again, he can do it all. He’s most definitely one of my Patriots’ fits. He could handle big back duties while also filling in at the old Aaron Hernandez role. That’s a compelling array of capabilities for the Patriots ever-changing offense. To land him, they’ll have to use their third round pick and there is no guaranty that he’ll last that long.

Andrews is highly rated in a lot of circles. I get it. He’s big, he runs fast and he catches the ball well. I don’t doubt his ability as an offensive weapon. My issue is that he’s ONLY an offensive weapon, and, quite frankly, there are better versions of him available who actually make an impact as a blocker. Heck, most big wide receivers offer more in terms of blocking. Landing spot is crucial here. If a good team makes a big investment, that’s a tell, because no way is any team going to watch this kid and say “we can turn him into a good blocker.” No way, no day. So, if he does go early, he’s being groomed for a pass-catching role. My concern is that there are four or five guys in this class alone, whom I like more as receivers, and they all dust this guy when it comes to blocking. Is Andrews a fit for the Patriots? From where I sit, not even a little.

Tier Three (7-8)

7 - Tyler Conklin, C. Michigan, 6’3”, 254
8 - Chris Herndon, Miami, 6’4”, 253

Conklin had a Jones fracture going into 2017 so 2016 game tape could be a better indicator as far as his movement skills go. I thought he showed off good routes and good ball skills which makes some sense given his basketball background. Conklin shows a willingness to block but is a project in that area. If his foot gets back to 100 percent, he has a 
chance to be a nice “move” tight end in time. He’s definitely worth a look in deeper dynasty drafts. Herndon is tricky because I see him as a developmental guy but I also see him as a high-ceiling player for fantasy purposes. He moves like a receiver because he used to be one but he also shows off plenty of strength as a blocker. Landing spot is big because I want to know what role his new team is projecting him into. In the right offense, he could become a weapon because you don’t see many big tight ends who have such a quick and springy release off the line. He’s definitely a player to know about, but he’s a long term play from where I sit.

Tier Four (9-11)

9 - Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin, 6’5”, 247
10 - Will Dissly, Washington, 6’4”, 262
11 - Dalton Schultz, Stanford, 6’5”, 244

He may not be pretty to watch, but Fumagalli seems to find a way to get the job done. He’s a worker and he fights hard as a blocker. As a receiver he wins with good hands and solid fundamentals. He isn’t fast at all, but he gets out of his breaks surprisingly well and finds the football early, which is key. He also works back to the ball which often helps him at the catch point, and also makes him a quarterback’s friend. He may not be much of a fantasy asset unless he finds a favorable landing spot, but I think he has a long career as a starter or as a very solid backup.

Dissly is an ex defensive lineman and there’s not much film on him that I could uncover. He’s a high-motor guy who should get taken late and who could develop into a solid player. For fantasy owners, he’s a long shot to return much value, especially early on. He’s more of a player you want to monitor versus a guy you want to use a rookie pick on—even in tight end premium scoring. Of course the NFL could like him more than I do. They have more film for sure, so I am ready to adjust Dissly post draft if he goes sooner than I expect.

Schulz is a good athlete with nice length and I really like the way he blocks despite his lean frame. He looks like he has some potential as a receiver. He catches it well and gets off the line very well, but his routes fail to develop too often and he fails to shake the defender in any meaningful way. There’s potential there, but he needs work as a receiver. Still, he’s a good overall player who should stick in the league long enough to develop. If there is a dynasty league payoff, it isn’t likely to happen any time soon. I’d be avoiding him unless you play in a large format.

Tier Five (12-15)

12 - Ryan Izzo, Florida State, 6’5”, 256
13 - Jordan Akins, Central Florida, 6’3”, 249
14 - Durham Smythe, Notre Dame, 6’5”, 253
15 - Blake Mack, Arkansas St., 6’2”, 235

This is the honorable mention tier. I do not have much fantasy hope for this group, but they are certainly names to know about. Izzo is a tough tenacious blocker who always finds somebody to go after. He’s mostly going to make plays as a receiver when he’s popped free or schemed open, but he should play in the league for a long while because he’s fundamentally sound, and again, he really gets after it as a blocker. I definitely like this kid, but for fantasy purposes, he’s not a likely asset unless he happens to be “drafting” behind a great offense.

Atkins’ film shows a raw but talented player who profiles more as a receiver than as a blocker. We like that for fantasy purposes, but he’s very old and the fact that he’s raw means that he’ll be about 28 years old by the time he develops—if he develops. That’s a rough time window for those in dynasty leagues. In my view, in dynasty drafts, he’s a 
late round consideration only.

Smythe has an NFL future, but I’d be surprised if he has a future as a fantasy football asset. Still, this is a tough customer who can help any NFL team in the trenches while making some plays here and there as a receiver. He’d be a nice pickup for a team like the Giants, who need a tough inline guy to pair with Evan Engram. Perhaps he could have 
similar appeal for the Patriots, though I think they have the newly acquired Troy Niklas in mind for that role.

Mack is a receiver who will have a TE label, so he’s worth knowing about for fantasy GMs, but he’s probably not getting drafted so you’ll need to follow him and see if he lands on a favorable depth chart. He just turned 22 so he has some appeal as a developmental player in deeper dynasty leagues that use TE premium scoring.

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