NFL Draft TE breakdown: Iowa duo stands out above rest
The NFL Draft is April 25-27 in Nashville, Tenn. Each day leading up to the first round, the Tribune-Review is compiling a positional preview of the top draft prospects.
Today: Tight ends
1. T.J. Hockenson
Iowa, 6-5 251
Iowa churns out tight ends the way some schools produce quarterbacks or running backs. Hockenson is one of two potential Iowa first-rounders who hope to follow in the footsteps of Dallas Clark and George Kittle. Hockenson won the Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end in 2018 when he led the Hawkeyes with 49 catches for 760 yards. He scored six touchdowns.
2. Noah Fant
Iowa, 6-4, 249
Fant could be the second Iowa tight end to be selected on the first day. He ran a 4.5 40 at the NFL Combine and had a 391/2-inch vertical leap. Both exceeded Hockenson’s testing numbers. He declared for the draft after producing 39 catches for 519 yards and seven scores as a junior.
3. Irv Smith Jr.
Alabama, 6-2, 242
If his name sounds familiar, it’s because he is the son of the former Notre Dame tight end who was a first-round pick of the New Orleans Saints. Irv Jr. emerged in his junior season when he caught 44 passes for 710 yards and seven touchdowns. He averaged 16.1 yards per catch.
4. Jace Sternberger
Texas A&M, 6-4, 251
Sternberger started at Kansas, transferred to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M and ended up at Texas A&M, where he became the team’s offensive MVP in 2018. Sternberger caught 48 passes for 832 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Aggies.
5. Josh Oliver
San Jose State, 6-5, 249
One of several tight ends to visit with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the predraft process, Oliver started nine games as a sophomore and then moved into the lineup full time as a junior and senior. In his final year at San Jose State, Oliver caught 56 passes for 709 yards and four touchdowns.
6. Kahale Warring
San Diego State, 6-5, 252
Warring didn’t play football until his senior year of high school and was a walk-on at San Diego State.
Two seasons later, he received a scholarship. Although he started just two games in 2018, he had 31 catches for 372 yards and three touchdowns.
7. Dawson Knox
Mississippi, 6-4, 254
Knox played in only 18 games in three years at Ole Miss, and he didn’t have a single touchdown reception in his college career. Knox, however, averaged 18.9 yards on his 15 receptions as a redshirt junior, and scouts like his ability to stretch the field. He had 24 catches as a junior and averaged 13.4 yards per catch.
8. Kaden Smith
Stanford, 6-5, 255
Five Stanford tight ends have been picked in the top four rounds since 2012. Smith is hoping to become the sixth. Despite missing the final three games of his junior year with a foot injury, Smith caught 47 passes for 635 yards and two touchdowns. He was a two-year starter for the Cardinal.
9. Foster Moreau
LSU, 6-4, 253
Moreau started 24 games in his final two year at LSU, and he also was a contributor as a sophomore. Moreau visited with the Steelers in the predraft process. In 2018, he produced 22 catches for 272 yards and two touchdowns.
10. Alize Mack
Notre Dame, 6-4, 249
Another player who visited with the Steelers, Mack had 36 catches for 360 yards and three touchdowns in 2018 as a senior. Mack spent four years on campus, but he was academically ineligible for the 2016 season. He also started five games as a freshman and six as a junior.
Trevon Wesco, 6-3, 267 (West Virginia)
Wesco has the physique that makes him a capable blocker, and that trait served him well with the Mountaineers. As a senior, he emerged as a pass catcher with 26 receptions for 366 yards and a touchdown and earned first-team all-conference honors. In the two previous seasons, Wesco had a combined two catches.
Best fit for Steelers
Given their desire to take defensive playmakers, the Steelers might not address tight end until the third day. They figure to take one at some point; it’s a matter of which player on their draft board is available. Oliver, Smith and Mack would make sense, too.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .