Valentine’s Day is upon us and football fans are looking for a young prospect to fall head over heels with. Mock drafts are popping up left and right and speculative journalism is ramping up as we all try to sift through the throngs of eligible draftees to find the next great star. This series will be an intro for those looking to get a grasp of some of the better options that will be available for the Eagles during the 2019 draft. As always, draft projections are never perfect, and even the most thorough analyses can let future Pro-Bowlers slip through the cracks. So, if you feel that I’ve missed someone, gotten it wrong, or would just like to know my opinion on your favorite under-the-radar prospect, let me know in the comments below!
Heading into the 2019 NFL Draft, Philadelphia holds six selections not including compensatory picks which have yet to be calculated. According to the most recent compensatory projections list by Over The Cap, the Eagles are set to receive three compensatory picks: a 4th-round pick for Trey Burton, and two sixth-rounders for Beau Allen and Patrick Robinson. The Birds were able to replace Beau Allen with the Haloti Ngata signing, and may lose one of their two 6th-round compensatory picks because of it. There is also some speculation they will try to add a third round pick through off-season trades. As of now, their draft positioning is as follows:
|First Round||Pick 25 (25)|
|Second Round||Pick 21 (53)|
|Pick 25 (57)|
|Fourth Round||Pick 25 (121)|
|Fifth Round||Pick 25 (153)|
|Sixth Round||Pick 25 (185)|
Will the Eagles add a tight end in the 2019 draft? Probably not. Nevertheless, after I eschewed the quarterback edition, it seemed wrong to throw the whole tight end class by the wayside as well. The truth is, it’s not out of the imaginable realms that Philadelphia uses a selection on a tight end. It probably won’t be a high selection after using their first available pick in the 2018 draft on tight end Dallas Goedert, who was very promising in his first season.
However, the 3rd tight end position behind Zach Ertz and Goedert, one that the Eagles use more than most teams, is wide open. The Birds will probably look to free agency to fill that void. Nonetheless, since the retirement of Brent Celek, the team has lacked a solid in-line blocking tight end — although Ertz has improved and Dallas looked the part so far in his career. There’s also the case to be made that the Eagles rarely carry a fullback on the roster, and could use a guy to function as one in short yardage situations.
Therefore, I have thrown together this shorter-than-usual tight end edition with one trait in mind: the ability to block. This class is similar to last in terms of NFL-level talent. I don’t mean the pre-draft hype of last year, but the actual on-field result. There are definitely some Chris Herndon or Dallas Goedert’s in the bunch, but the rest will need some time to acclimate. Without spoiling my conclusion, and thus, rendering this article useless, I think Howie and I agree that the Eagles draft picks will be better used on other positions this year. Still, who doesn’t want to know more about the blocking tight end class of 2019? Prep the confetti and party hats, boys.
T.J. Hockenson – Iowa
Walter Football Rank: 1
CBS Rank: 3
DraftTek Rank: 5
Draft Wire Rank: 2
The Draft Network Rank: 2
Range: First to Second Round
Size: 6’5″, 243 lbs
Breakdown: A do-it-all talent, Hockenson is the premier prospect of this tight end group. He’s as well rounded as you can get, and has very few negative aspects about his game, if any. His teammate Noah Fant will give him a run for his money as first tight end off the board, but my bet is with T.J..
Pros: Smooth route runner with a wide range of routes in his arsenal. Soft, natural hands. Strong with the ball in the air and has a large catch radius. Will create for himself after the catch by dropping a shoulder and fighting for extra yards. Has a nose for the end zone. Very good, physical blocker, both as an in-line run blocker and in pass protection. Will stick with his assignments and loves to drive defenders into the ground.
Cons: Won’t fly by defenders, but still has a great top end speed for a man his size. Could be more consistent when high-pointing the football.
How he fits: In terms of draft plans? He doesn’t, but it’s fun to imagine he, Ertz and Goedert in a 13 personnel set. What a nightmare that would be to game plan against. Run or pass, the offense would get plenty of favorable matchups. I’m getting all sweaty just thinking about the possibilities. He’ll do great things as a member of the Patriots. There’s just no chance the Eagles spend a first round pick on a tight end, and that’s almost definitely what Hockenson will cost.
TJ Hockenson – “The Block”….my favorite highlight all season pic.twitter.com/ZxTQwTQXmY
— Hawkeye Football Fan (@HawkeyeFanHQ) October 14, 2018
Kaden Smith – Stanford
Walter Football Rank: 6
CBS Rank: 4
DraftTek Rank: 3
Draft Wire Rank: 4
The Draft Network Rank: 4
Range: Third to Fifth Round
Size: 6’5″, 253 lbs
Breakdown: A rangy receiver with limited athleticism, Smith is at his best when high-pointing the football down the seam. He’s got hands like glue and is dominant on back-shoulder and jump-ball throws. Admittedly, he’s not a dominant blocker but has the technique and size to suggest he could be one given some time to develop.
Pros: Great jump-ball receiver. Really a basketball player at the tight end position. Huge catch radius. Great in contested catch situations and willing to take hits to secure the football. Sticky hands and catches very well away from his body. May have the best natural hands in the class. Good hand placement when blocking and understands the scheme well. Will work to the second level and pass off assignments. Shows some burst off the line but will need to be more consistent.
Cons: Not a particularly special athlete. Not very fast, but not a lumberer. Very limited route tree. Struggles to create separation at all levels of his routes: stems, break at the top of the route and stretching the defense vertically. This also applies when the ball is in his hands. He won’t generate much YAC, especially if he has to create it for himself. More of a director of traffic when blocking than a mover.
How he fits: I may be neglecting my one rule headed into this assessment, because Smith is not the typical block-first tight end. However, he has NFL size and has a surprisingly sound technique when blocking. The issue is his play strength. He’s still typically seen as the fourth prospect in the class, behind the Iowa duo and Irv Smith Jr. out of Alabama. Still, with his physical tools as a route-runner coming into question, some say Smith is a candidate to fall; possibly until the third day. Seems a bit too pessimistic, but I’ll bite. It could become a real possibility with a sub-par combine. His ceiling will almost certainly be much higher than the other late day-two to day-three tight ends left on the board. If he has the chance to sit and learn behind another talented Stanford tight end, and hit the weight room to convert size into play strength, he could be a great third option late in his first year.
Signature play: A full minute of Smith “Mossing” defenders.
— 49er_Edits (@49er_edits) February 10, 2019
C.J. Conrad – Kentucky
Walter Football Rank: 7
CBS Rank: 6
DraftTek Rank: 15
Draft Wire Rank: 9
The Draft Network Rank: 17
Range: Fourth to Sixth Round
Size: 6’4″, 245 lbs
Breakdown: A below average athlete that fared well as a security blanket for Kentucky, Conrad doesn’t show as much upside as his fellow classmates. However, he’s a good all-around blocker and a high-effort, high-character guy that will fit well into a locker room. Missed most of the 2017 season due to injury, but bounced back nicely in 2018.
Pros: Runs detailed routes, especially at the short to the intermediate level. Understands underneath coverage and will find soft spots in the zone. Solid concentration with the ball in the air. Can really work the seam and finds himself wide-open in that area a lot — like a lot. Good, solid in-line blocker. Flips his hips quickly and smoothly to direct traffic, seals well.
Cons: Not a top athlete, lacks speed. Limited route runner due to athleticism. Can get handsy when trying to create separation on routes or in jump-ball scenarios — won’t fly in the big leagues. Not really a threat after the catch. Doesn’t fly off the line to drive defenders backwards, but does well for his size.
How he fits: C.J. Conrad is pretty much the prototype for the blocking tight end with some upside as a pass-catcher that I described earlier. While some scouts are higher on him than others, he should be priced fairly, and still, be available on day three. A savvy underneath option with good in-line blocking technique and a real grit would fit really well into a locker room without a third option. His size may limit him as a lead-blocker, but I’m sure he’d be willing to give it the ol’ college try.
Signature play: Hard to spot, but he’s at the bottom of your screen:
.@colecubelic was great in the booth. Here he explains UK run game and TE reliance which was not present in spring game. Notice CJ Conrad in this play, Cubelic described Conrad as SEC’s top TE. pic.twitter.com/TeJDJ4SJ4g
— Freddie Maggard (@FredMaggard606) April 15, 2018
Also had to share this insane catch:
This needed to be on the internet so here ya go …
CJ Conrad — Level 100 catch. 😼 pic.twitter.com/ReLKMmpg8p
— Jamie McCracken (@jamieamccracken) September 23, 2018
Kendall Blanton – Missouri
Walter Football Rank: 12
CBS Rank: –
DraftTek Rank: 16
Draft Wire Rank: –
The Draft Network Rank: 20
Range: Fifth to Seventh Round
Size: 6’6″, 250 lbs
Breakdown: I cheated a bit, because Blanton is not really a blocking tight end. What he is is a very raw prospect that flashes ability in a lot of areas. Teams will be more taken by the glimpses he shows as a pass catcher, but he also shows some promise in his blocking technique. He definitely has the size to compete with NFL defensive ends if he can translate that to the field.
Pros: Has the ability to high-point the football, although not thrown to a whole bunch to show just how good he can be. Good catch radius, high and low. Won’t make many defenders miss post-catch, but has some speed and will pick up extra yards. Smooth in and out of breaks. Really comes back to the football well on stops. Works well to the second level and can open gaps on wham blocks. Fares well as a pass protector the few times he was asked.
Cons: Doesn’t really translate his athletic ability to route running, maybe that will change. Hands aren’t terrible but not as steady as you’d like from someone banking on their upside as a pass-catcher. Blocking technique is super inconsistent. Bordering on dreadful some plays and fantastic on others. Gets downright pushed around by bigger defenders, will need to grow his lower body and work on play strength.
How he fits: Blanton’s ability to block as a move TE is much better than when in-line, which doesn’t carry a negative in Philly as much as it would for other organizations. I think teams will be willing to bet on his upside and he’ll get drafted much higher than many mocks expect, but that’s just a hunch. Some scouts even prefer him to his teammate Albert Okwuegbunam. Limited opportunity has stunted Blanton’s growth as a potential prospect, but he should get the chance to showcase his athleticism at the combine. If he performs as well as he should, he could rise up draft boards in a hurry. I don’t really think he’ll be an Eagles draft pick, but if he doesn’t hear his name called, or the Eagles come by a seventh-round pick, why not? Hot take: in two or three years, there will be some draft rooms kicking themselves for not taking a chance on Blanton.
— Joe (@JDec89) October 4, 2018
Also, a nice one-handed grab:
— Mark Kim (@MarkJKim_) October 23, 2016
Dax Raymond – Utah State
Walter Football Rank: 11
CBS Rank: –
DraftTek Rank: 24
Draft Wire Rank: 7
The Draft Network Rank: 8
Range: Fifth to Sixth Round
Size: 6’5″, 250 lbs
Breakdown: A competitive son-of-a-gun, Raymond is an intriguing prospect with a lot of upside as an all-around H-back/ tight end option. Sort of like a less polished Hockenson, he’s pretty solid in all areas. He moves well, with great speed and is a more-than willing blocker.
Pros: Good top end speed and quick feet. Soft hands, can track well over the shoulder. Stays with the football when it’s in the air and will fight for catches. Pretty good at high pointing the football, although there’s limited tape on that. Really good instincts against zone coverage. Has fluid hips and will confuse defenders with underneath coverage by leaning or dipping opposite his route. Physical after the catch, looked good on the few screens he was given. Works very well to the second level in the run game. Big frame and can really drive backers and safeties.
Cons: Doesn’t run very crisp routes, can round at the top of his stem. Not enough burst to suggest he’ll torch NFL defenders. Can be slow out of a 3-point stance. A bit hesitant when making first contact. Not as much “pop” as his frame would suggest, but drives with a purpose. Susceptible to be driven back by bigger defenders. Really just needs to be more consistent, because the highlights are there. Wasn’t asked to pass protect.
How he fits: He boosted his stock running one-on-one routes at the Senior Bowl, but didn’t leap of the screen in other areas. Raymond will carry an upside in the passing game into the draft with him. In terms of a blocking tight end, he’s a work in progress. He definitely seems willing, and that is becoming harder to find. Right now he’s more of a turn and direct blocker than a driver. I don’t know that you’d ever want him man-on-man with a dominant defensive end, but the same could be said for almost all modern tight ends. Film suggests that with coaching he could develop into a very serviceable blocker in time. Immediately he’ll fit really well in a scheme that allows him to wham or block across the formation, instead of asking him to create gaps from an in-line position. The Eagles use both of these concepts frequently.
Yooo Dax Raymond can play pic.twitter.com/6oPHvfsAxW
— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) January 11, 2019
Foster Moreau – LSU
Walter Football Rank: 13
CBS Rank: –
DraftTek Rank: 11
Draft Wire Rank: 6
The Draft Network Rank: 14
Range: Fifth to Seventh Round
Size: 6’6″, 256 lbs
Breakdown: A functional receiver, Moreau will hear his name called on draft day on the basis of his ability to block. Solid in both pass and run blocking, he’s a tenacious football player that will seek out contact and will use his huge frame to overpower defenders.
Pros: Length provides pretty good catch radius. Has good natural hands. Willing to catch in traffic, to varied results. Phenomenal in pass protection, although kick-slide could use some polish. Can really uproot defenders and take them on bus rides down the field. Chases the play and gets involved in pursuit. Nasty, nasty in-line blocker when asked to drive the man in front of him.
Cons: Won’t be a game-changer in the pass game. Routes are stiff, has heavy feet and creates little separation. Pad level is high. Will have to work on his hand placement and punch. Tight hips may limit him in zone blocking and can cause him to miss some blocks. Needs to work on ability to flow to the second level.
How he fits: Made a few nice catches at the Senior Bowl, but his name was mentioned most for congratulating the kicker — so there’s that. Another prototypical block-first tight end, but with less ability as a pass-catcher than Conrad. He’s a massive man, but could still get more imposing in an NFL weight room and improved blocking technique. He could slide in nicely and develop on the practice squad, or be a situational blocker if he earns a roster spot. The Eagles may not even have to spend a draft pick on him.
LSU TE Foster Moreau taking everybody out…. pic.twitter.com/ul4ZU0BDxt
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) October 2, 2018
Drew Sample – Washington
Walter Football Rank: 15
CBS Rank: –
DraftTek Rank: 10
Draft Wire Rank: 15
The Draft Network Rank: 13
Range: Sixth to UDFA
Size: 6’4″, 251 lbs
Breakdown: Sample is a versatile blocker with a large frame, but has below average athletic ability and wasn’t really a factor as a receiver. His ability to block in space will set him apart from other in-line options, but might not be enough to hear his name called on draft day.
Pros: Reliable hands, has the ability to catch in traffic. Can adjust to the football, and has some upside in that area. Will find openings in the zone with his QB on the move, although his initial recognition isn’t great. Has shown the willingness to be physical with the ball in his hands. Did a great job in one-on-one pass protection drills at the Senior Bowl. Pad level is good, hand placement is pretty consistent and he moves his feet well.
Cons: Speed, burst and play strength are all average or below. Not a very nuanced route runner, nor athletic enough to create separation. Lack of play strength necessitates an explosion off the ball when tasked with in-line blocking, leaving him open to swims and rips — will whiff on occasion. More of a technical blocker than a powerful one.
How he fits: Sample is a blue-collar prospect that is technically sound in a lot of areas, if not spectacular. He performed admirably at the Senior Bowl as one of the better blocking tight ends of the week. I see a bit more upside than most scouts do in his ability as a pass catcher. Not that he’ll be a star in that regard. If he can learn the intricacies of the position, he could be very functional in the role Brent Celek occupied in his last year as an Eagle. He doesn’t have to make flashy plays for this offense, just take care of his assignment and catch the ball when it’s thrown to him. He started over Seattle’s Will Dissly at Washington, who proved to be a very underrated pick up by the Seahawks. He blocks really well in space and has good pass pro, so could be a candidate to take reps at fullback. When it’s all said and done, he may get his pick of where to go as an undrafted rookie free agent and I can’t see why the Eagles wouldn’t pick up the phone and give him a ring.
Drew Sample looked the best of the North TE's in blitz pickup drill. pic.twitter.com/fn01v7iV43
— Jared Stanger (@JaredStanger) January 25, 2019
Will the Eagles Draft a Tight End? Unlikely.
What Round? I could see the team taking a chance on a project tight end that will eventually take on the third tight end and future tight end two role, but without a seventh-round pick I think Howie will be more cautious with how he uses his sixth rounders. Having possibly three selections in that round may open up the possibilities, but we’ll have to wait and see if Philadelphia retains both compensatory picks. If the team drafts a tight end — see above, they probably won’t — it would be in the late rounds and the key(s) would be the ability to block and upside in the pass-catching department. I think it’s more likely they look to add a veteran in free agency and bring on a UDFA to sit and learn on the practice squad.
Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports