JACKSONVILLE – Tight ends are tough.
Finding them is tricky – and not just for the Jaguars. NFL teams with good ones typically draft and develop them, and they're not easy to find in the draft.
That makes the 2020 NFL Draft's tight end class sort of … well, typical.
"It's not great," CBSSports.com analyst Ryan Wilson told jaguars.com recently. "There are guys who can be difference makers, but none are guys you're going to draft high."
The top three tight ends in this draft, according to NFL Media draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah: Cole Kmet of Notre Dame, Harrison Bryant of Florida Atlantic and Adam Trautman of Dayton.
"I think all those guys are in position to potentially be the first tight end picked, but I don't think any of them are first-round guys," Jeremiah said, with NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks adding: "After that, you're just trying to find guys who are athletic. There's no one that you pencil in and say, 'Hey, this is my guy that I know can be a game-changer at the position.'"
This isn't unusual. While tight end has become a coveted position, it hasn't peppered the first round in recent drafts at the same rate as other so-called "premium" positions. Nine tight ends have been selected in the Top 20 since 2000, with Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson to the Detroit Lions at No. 8 overall in 2019 the earliest.
"The thing about the tight end position is they're hybrids," Brooks said. "It's hard to find someone who can do everything. When you look at that position, they're part offensive linemen and part wide receiver."
The position often requires scouting a college player with one skill – either a solid blocker, or a good receiver with athleticism – and projecting if he will be able to develop the other skills needed to be really good in the NFL.
That makes elite ones difficult to project. Witness current elite tight ends such as George Kittle of San Francisco and Travis Kelce of Kansas City, who were selected in the fifth and third rounds of their respective drafts.
"How many guys can you find 6-feet-4, 6-feet-5, 255 pounds who like to put their hand in the dirt and do the dirty work in the run game while also being agile and athletic enough to be a credible threat in the passing game?" Brooks said. "That's hard to find.
"You have a 'Y' who is a traditional tight end who can do everything and an 'H,' or a move tight end. A move tight end is easier to find."
Players fitting the mold of move tight end in this draft include Bryant of FAU.
"He's a scrapper when it comes to blocking, but he's not necessarily a guy you expect to move the masses at the point of attack," Brooks.
The consensus top-rated "Y" tight end: Kmet of Notre Dame, projected by many analysts as perhaps a late-first-round selection.
"He's big and physical," Brooks said. "He's a solid blocker who kinds of leaves you wanting a little more with his size and catch radius is absolutely what you want."
Jeremiah called Trautman a polished tight end who knows how to set up defenders.
"He can separate," Jeremiah said. "He's got wiggle. He wins a lot of 50-50 balls. He had a great Senior Bowl week. I thought he was outstanding there. I thought he was the best tight end down there, which it was a good group."
POSSIBLE FIRST-ROUND TIGHT ENDS
Cole Kmet, Notre Dame; Harrison Bryant of Florida Atlantic; Adam Trautman, Dayton
CHANCES JAGUARS TAKE AN TIGHT END IN ROUND 1
Minimal, at best.
JAGUARS AT TIGHT END
Tyler Eifert, James O'Shaughnessy, Josh Oliver, Charles Jones.
The Jaguars seem likely to draft a tight end somewhere, but maybe not early. The team addressed what by any measure was a major need by signing Eifert from the Cincinnati Bengals as an unrestricted free agent; he has had injury issues but is a major upgrade if healthy. They also need Oliver to make a significant jump after an injury-shortened rookie season, and O'Shaughnessy was making a significant contribution in the passing game before a torn anterior cruciate ligament ended his 2019 season. Bottom line: there may not be enough at the top of the draft to immediately improve the Jaguars' tight end position, but there's probably room on the roster for a developmental player at the spot.
Eifert and Oliver give the Jaguars enough of a cushion that they needn't reach for a position that hasn't made a significant contribution since Marcedes Lewis left. There are a number of options at the spot, with Kmet from Notre Dame the most complete prospect in the draft. Behind him are enough guys like Trautman Bryant, who should be on the board late into Day 2 and maybe Day 3. The Jaguars should find another young guy because the position has become like free safety on defense – crucial in the middle of the field – and also because Eifert has a history of injuries and Oliver is still an unknown prospect regardless of his obvious potential.