Which tight ends stand out from Patriots perspective at 2019 NFL combine

Ryan Hannable
March 02, 2019 - 9:30 am

INDIANAPOLIS — On Friday, the tight ends met with the media at the NFL combine and it is a strong group.

This is a good thing for the Patriots because it is a big need of theirs. Even if Rob Gronkowski returns, the team absolutely needs to start thinking of the future of the position. It seems pretty clear that they are, as many of the prospects said they have met with the Patriots this week, including everyone listed below besides T.J. Hockenson.

It wouldn’t even be a surprise to see them use their first selection on a tight end.

Here’s five that stood out as it relates to the Patriots.

T.J. Hockenson, Iowa — Hockenson truly is the best tight end in the draft, as he is both a dominant blocker and also a dynamic pass catcher. He was also extremely impressive when speaking Friday, showing a lot of maturity. He even got emotional when speaking about his coaches, Kirk and Brian Ferentz, and what they meant to him.

The Iowa product has the potential to be the first tight end selected, and may not be around when the Patriots pick at No. 32 overall. With that being said, he potentially could be a player the team swings a trade to move up a few spots to grab him.

Noah Fant, Iowa — Fant is the other tight end from Iowa, and is more known for his pass catching than blocking. He likely will climb the boards this weekend when he shows off his speed on the field. With Hockenson emerging this past season, his production wasn’t that much more than it was in 2017, as he caught 39 passes for 519 yards and seven touchdowns this past season.

With that being said, it sounds like he didn’t appear to handle sharing snaps as well as others might, even taking it to social media at one point. It also didn’t seem like he got along with the Ferentzes as well as Hockenson did, which could be something Bill Belichick and the Patriots look into.

Irv Smith Jr., Alabama — Besides the Iowa players, he’s likely the best tight end in the draft projected to go in the first two rounds. He only had 44 catches for 710 yards and seven touchdowns this fall, but a lot of that was because he played in a high-powered Alabama offense where there were plenty of talented players to go around.

It is worth noting he’s just 20 years old now, so he has plenty to learn, which could be a good thing for whatever NFL team gets him. He’s also improved a lot as a blocker, as he tries to make himself a well-rounded tight end.

Jace Sternberger, Texas A&M — While he’s not at the level of the previous three, Sternberger is still a very good tight end. More known for his pass-catching, he’s worked hard to improve as a blocker. He initially enrolled at Kansas, but didn’t like the way things were going with his useage, so after sitting out 2017 he transferred to Texas A&M.

Sternberger recorded 48 receptions for 832 yards and 10 touchdowns in his only season as as Aggie. He’s projected to go in the middle rounds, so if the Patriots don’t select a tight end right off the bat, he could be a good fallback option.

Caleb Wilson, UCLA — Wilson put together a solid career at UCLA, including this past season when he recorded 60 receptions for 965 yards and four touchdowns. He’s another tight end known for his receiving, but is working his way to becoming a solid blocker.

Projected to be an early-to-mid round pick, he could be another option if one isn’t selected in Rounds 1 or 2.

Related: Which wide receivers stand out from Patriots perspective at 2019 NFL combine

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