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NFL Draft top tight end prospects: Best talents for a decade up for grabs

The 2023 draft class for the tight end position is being spoken of as about the best in a decade with so much depth beyond the most highly-prized prospects.

NFL teams seeking that rich blend of pass-catching and run-blocking will not be disappointed at the possibilities this year when as many as four or five college TEs could be taken in the first two rounds.

Michael Mayer - Notre Dame

The general consensus among draftniks is that Mayer, +140 to be the first TE drafted, will hear his name called in the first round later this month. 

An exceptional athlete with great hands, an ideal size, and innate instincts, Mayer earned the nickname "Baby Gronk" in South Bend and while some NFL teams may hope he is the next version of Gronkowski, he is probably more comparable to Mark Andrews or Jason Witten. 

The 6-4, 265-pound prospect earned Freshman All-American honors in 2020, leading the Fighting Irish with 42 receptions for 450 yards and two scores. 

He then went over 800 yards in his final two college seasons with 138 catches and 16 scores, showing the sort of consistency that ought to make him a menace in the league right from the get-go. 

Despite Mayer's NFL Combine results indicating smaller-than-desirable hands, he has a strong track record of rarely dropping the ball and ranks among the top blockers in his class. 

He would be an ideal fit for a West Coast-style offense that favors underneath throws and utilizes tight ends often.

Darnell Washington - Georgia 

At 6-7 and 269 pounds, +300 Washington is almost in a category of his own and would create the sort of mismatches that NFL offensive coordinators drool over if he makes a solid transition from college football to the pros. 

This punishing blocker seemingly relishes bullying opponents and is almost a throwback to the days when tight ends were primarily extra linemen who only occasionally caught the ball - and even then, only for short yardage. 

His production in Athens was sporadic and, although he has some untapped potential as a redzone target, a couple of question marks hang over Washington that might make some general managers think twice about spending a first-day pick. 

With below-average speed and agility for the position, he would be too much of a gamble for some teams who would be looking for a rookie who can be an instant all-down contributor. 

A sluggish route-runner who relies on his size to get open, some of his film showed a hesitant and unnatural pass-catcher on the rare occasions the ball was thrown in his direction.

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Dalton Kincaid - Utah 

Of this year's prospects, -110 Kincaid possesses a skillset that most closely resembles Travis Kelce coming out of college. 

At 6-4 and 240 pounds, he is a prototype big-bodied wide receiver that produces plenty of yards after the catch and should thrive in a pass-heavy league. 

His ball skills are as good as any tight end in the draft class. The redshirt senior was charged with only drop in his five-year college career while NFL scouts will have noted his impressive 60.6 contested catch rate. 

He led the FBS with 70 catches for 890 yards in the 2022 regular season, but all that playmaking ability does not come without some drawbacks. 

His blocking skills are deficient almost to the point of being negligible, which he will have to work on to avoid being preyed upon by some of the fast-twitch defensive ends in the NFL. 

The discovery of a reported "tiny fracture in his back" during the NFL Combine could also damage his draft stock, although he fought through multiple injuries in 2022, including a shoulder issue, and played through the back issue in the Utes' Pac-12 Championship game win over USC.

Tucker Kraft - South Dakota State 

A highly promising tight end prospect who amply demonstrated his physical attributes during the NFL Combine drills, Kraft could be a great addition to a team looking for a solid all-rounder. 

At 6-5 and 254 pounds, he is a solid blocker with decent hands, but has tended to get by thanks to his athletic prowess and unrefined technique. 

In 2021, Kraft emerged as a standout performer, ranking among the most productive tight ends across all levels of college football with with 65 catches for 773 yards and six scores for the FCS semi-finalists. 

His final year with the Jackrabbits was not as stellar, in part due to an ankle injury, although he helped the team win the FCS title.

Sam LaPorta - Iowa 

Coming out of a place that has been dubbed "Tight End U" in recent years after molding such talents as George Kittle, Noah Fant, and T.J. Hockenson, LaPorta has garnered a lot of attention in the pre-draft process. 

His measurements stack up, but his on-field production also speaks volumes as he ended his Iowa career with 153 receptions, 1,786 yards, and five receiving touchdowns. 

That meant LaPorta, +400 to be the first TE drafted, surpassed the achievements of those that have already beaten successful paths to NFL starting roles by becoming the Hawkeyes' all-time leader in tight end receptions.

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