Potential Patriots: 5 tight ends to keep an eye on in NFL draft

Ryan Hannable
April 11, 2019 - 11:55 am

The NFL draft is quickly approaching and the Patriots have 12 overall picks, including six in the top 101. Given their lack of moves during free agency, the team should be very active. This will be a series broken down by position of players who could be of interest to the team. Today, we look at the tight ends. Here’s earlier editions of the series.

Tight end is one of the biggest needs in the entire draft for the Patriots, as it will be searching for Rob Gronkowski’s replacement. In addition, the depth chart isn’t exactly loaded at the moment, so a Day 1 contributor needs to be had. To that point, don’t be surprised to see the team use one of its first two picks on a tight end, which is why we’ll focus on the top tier players.

Here are five names to keep an eye on.

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. There’s virtually no chance of him being around when the Patriots select at No. 32, but he’s the type of player we could potentially see Bill Belichick trading up to get. If he falls to the late-teens, don’t be surprise to see the Patriots get on the phone.

Noah Fant, Iowa- Fant is the other tight end from Iowa, and is more known for his pass catching than blocking. There was some tension this past season when Hockenson got more involved in the passing game taking away some of Fant’s targets, which he didn’t like. Personality-wise, Hockenson appears to be the better fit for New England. If he for some reason falls to No. 32, the Patriots likely would select him, but we don’t see them trading up for him.

Irv Smith Jr., Alabama- Smith Jr. only had 44 catches for 710 yards and seven touchdowns last 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. With the Iowa tight ends expected to go high, Smith Jr. has been mocked to the Patriots a ton.

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 usage, 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.

Caleb Wilson, UCLA- He’s more of a mid-round selection, but 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.

Related: Bill Belichick excited to see what 2018 draft class can do after injury-plagued rookie seasons

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