With Rob Gronkowski retiring and Dwayne Allen departing for Miami, tight end has become a serious position of need for the New England Patriots. Luckily enough for them, there are a number of extremely solid tight end prospects in the 2019 NFL draft class. Here are some options that the Patriots could consider going with at the end of April:
– TJ Hockenson, Iowa: Unfortunately for the Patriots, the best possible replacement for Gronk will likely be off the board long before their current first pick comes around. Hockenson is arguably the best tight end prospect in the draft, with elite talent as both a pass catcher and a blocker. He is fantastic as an inline blocker and at the second level. He also has impressive athleticism that has made him a potent target. Hockenson had 49 receptions for 760 yards and six touchdowns last season and could become even better in the NFL. The Iowa standout would be a fantastic option for their team in 2019. However, they are unlikely to get a shot at Hockenson, as most analysts have him going in the first half of round one.
– Noah Fant, Iowa: The other Iowa standout is more likely to fall to the Patriots at the end of the first round. Fant is an elite athlete who can create major mismatches against linebackers and safeties. His speed and acceleration will make teams drool imagining the Jimmy Graham-esque weapon that they can bring in. Fant’s biggest issue comes with blocking. He seems to lack the strength and toughness to be an elite blocker in the NFL. For most teams, this may not be a huge deal. For the Patriots, it could potentially be a turn-off. While he was known for his pass catching, Gronk was a brilliant run and pass blocker. While Fant’s pass-catching will certainly intrigue New England, he will need to show potential to improve as a blocker.
– Irv Smith Jr, Alabama: Maybe the most likely option for New England is the Alabama product. Smith is an athletic prospect who isn’t afraid to get involved as a blocker. He will certainly need to improve his strength if he wants to be an effective blocker at the next level. However, his technique is at a good level. As a pass catcher, Smith could be a great option for a team like New England. In just his second season he recorded 44 catches for 710 yards and seven touchdowns. His most glaring issue right now is a lack of experience. However, he has a lot of talent and could develop into a high-level NFL tight end. The Patriots could potentially sit and find Smith Jr. in the middle of the second round.
– Kahale Warring, San Diego St.: Warring may be one of the quietest but most exciting prospects in this year’s tight end class. He came late to football but has made leaps and bounds in just a few years. His size, speed, and athleticism jump off the charts and make him an ideal candidate to be an NFL pass catcher. Warring also has the potential to be a high-level blocker. He has shown the toughness and desire to contribute to the run game. His issue so far has been issues with his technique that have come from a lack of experience. If he can learn and develop as a blocker at the NFL level, he could quickly turn into the best tight end of this draft class.
– Kaden Smith, Stanford: Kaden Smith could be a decent option for New England if they have non-tight end prospects that they want to pursue in the early rounds. A later round prospect, Smith lacks the athleticism and strength to become an elite tight end at the next level. He is an aggressive and willing blocker but will need to improve his play strength if he wants to be consistently effective. He shows decent hands that will make him a reliable receiver, but he does not possess the speed or agility to be a dynamic weapon. Smith could be a solid option if New England waits till Day 3 to find their next tight end.