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2019 NFL Combine: TE prospects to watch for the Falcons

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With Eric Saubert still not producing and Logan Paulsen potentially signing elsewhere this offseason, the Falcons could wind up with a need at TE. We take a closer look at some of the top options for the Falcons at the 2019 NFL Combine.

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Alabama vs Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL Combine is fast approaching, which means that draft analysts like myself are hard at work preparing ourselves for who to watch closely during the “Underwear Olympics”. Not all of us have time to watch tape on dozens of players, however, which is why I’m providing Falcons fans with my 2019 prospect previews: short scouting blurbs on some of the most interesting prospects in each position group for Atlanta.

After tackling the offensive line and running back, today’s synopsis covers tight ends. While the Falcons aren’t in the market for a top TE—and you can argue whether or not it’s even a need at all, particularly if they wind up re-signing Logan Paulsen—adding depth or more competition is always an option. With two Day 3 compensatory picks, Atlanta has an opportunity to add depth at positions that might not be the biggest needs.

If you missed my previous prospect previews, you can find them below:

Offense

Defense

The 2019 TE class is outstanding at all levels, which could end up working out nicely for the Falcons. Several quality players should still be available on Day 3, which is almost certainly the soonest that Atlanta would consider drafting someone. Let’s take a closer look at some of the top options for the Falcons at the 2019 NFL Combine.

Zach Gentry, Michigan

Listed Size: 6’7, 260

2018 Production: 32 receptions, 514 yards, 16.1 YPR, 2 TD

As a Day 3 option at TE that could provide an upgrade over Eric Saubert, Michigan’s Zach Gentry is an intriguing player. Gentry has great size and quality blocking chops, but he’s actually better on the move and as a receiver than as a pure in-line option. He’s a very good athlete for his size and features surprising speed, and he looks the part of an ideal blocker in a zone scheme.

However, Gentry’s drops and inconsistency in both phases are the reason he’s likely to still be around on mid-Day 3. Even at his size, he needs to add more mass to become a more trustworthy and powerful blocker. He’s still very raw as a receiver, and you can tell that he’s not a natural pass-catcher. Still, for something like a fifth round pick, Gentry could eventually return good value as a dual-threat TE2.

Dawson Knox, Mississippi

Listed Size: 6’4, 257

2018 Production: 15 receptions, 284 yards, 18.9 YPR

I didn’t include the top names in this preview—players like T.J. Hockenson, Noah Fant, or Irv Smith Jr.—because the Falcons almost certainly aren’t going to address TE any earlier than Day 3. But this is a great TE class, and the fact that there are so many good options could lead to quality players like Dawson Knox falling further than they should in a vacuum.

To be clear, Knox is a Day 2 talent, with an NFL-ready frame and incredible athletic traits. I’d expect Knox to be one of the best testers in the class, right up there with the “big three”. Knox is a strong run blocker and an excellent, natural pass catcher—but there’s still a lot of growth needed for him to reach his potential. He’s still raw as a technician and Knox has never really produced to the level you’d expect in college. If he somehow falls into Day 3, he’d be a tempting target for Atlanta.

Foster Moreau, LSU

Listed Size: 6’4, 253

2018 Production: 22 receptions, 272 yards, 12.4 YPR, 2 TD

If the Falcons are looking to save a little money at the TE position, they could decide to go after a very good blocking TE later in the draft. LSU’s Foster Moreau is one of the best in the class, with a physical, tenacious streak to his game and enough athleticism to thrive as a blocker in a zone scheme. He’s technically refined as both a run and pass blocker and should be able to contribute there as a rookie.

However, with Moreau you’re getting a below-average receiver at best. He’s got some quickness to him, but he’s an unrefined pass catcher and he’s simply never going to be a threat in that area. Still, with Austin Hooper the starter and Eric Saubert serving as a secondary receiving option, Moreau can take over Logan Paulsen’s role as the blocker—saving Atlanta about $1.5M/yr or so while he’s on his rookie contract. It’s not a ton of savings, but it could be enough to make a difference.

Isaac Nauta, Georgia

Listed Size: 6’4, 246

2018 Production: 30 receptions, 430 yards, 14.3 YPR, 3 TD

A player that I’m sure many fans know well, Georgia’s Isaac Nauta has been one of the fastest rising TEs in this year’s class. I have mocked him to the Falcons late on Day 3, but that’s unlikely to be the case by the time the draft rolls around—particularly if he ends up testing well. Here’s what I wrote about Nauta in one of my mock drafts:

Georgia’s Isaac Nauta looks the part of a TE2—he’s a very good blocker with great size and upside as a receiver. He’s not an elite athlete in the realm of Eric Saubert, but he’s plenty fast enough to get open against LBs in the middle of the field. I love his aggressive demeanor both as a blocker and receiver as well. In a class with so many good TEs, some are bound to fall—and the Falcons could certainly benefit from adding a quality dual-threat TE like Nauta to the roster.

Josh Oliver, San Jose State

Listed Size: 6’5, 253

2018 Production: 56 receptions, 709 yards, 12.7 YPR, 4 TD

A small school standout that has improved every year since transitioning from EDGE to TE in his freshman year, San Jose State’s Josh Oliver looks the part of a future dual-threat option in the NFL. He’s got a great frame and is a natural receiver, despite his history on the defensive line. Oliver essentially functioned as SJSU’s primary receiver in 2018, showcasing a deep route tree and technical refinement that make him a dangerous weapon in the passing game.

Oliver is a willing blocker, with plenty of size to make that a bigger part of his game in the NFL. He still needs a lot of work before he’s able to consistently block NFL-caliber defenders, but nothing I’ve seen makes me question that he can take that next step in time. I’m not sure if Oliver is dynamic enough to really be a matchup piece—which could push his stock into the mid-Day 3 range—but he’d be perfect as a reliable and versatile TE2 next to Hooper.

Dax Raymond, Utah State

Listed Size: 6’5, 250

2018 Production: 27 receptions, 345 yards, 12.8 YPR, 2 TD

An early Day 3 option that has the potential to grow into a dual-threat TE—particularly in a more mobile zone blocking scheme—Utah State’s Dax Raymond is one of the more impressive receivers in the class. Raymond pairs prototypical size with very good athletic traits and a nasty, physical streak to his run blocking. While he’s not quite elite in any one area, the complete package is very enticing for a team looking for a high-level TE2 that can do it all.

Raymond is a smooth mover is space and is an expert at separating in the middle of the field. He’s a natural receiver with a big catch radius, and could develop into a strong red zone option in the NFL. As a blocker, Raymond is feisty and powerful, and has considerable upside. He’s still raw as a route runner and there are questions about how well he can handle NFL size as an in-line blocker, but Raymond is an intriguing early Day 3 pick.

Drew Sample, Washington

Listed Size: 6’5, 259

2018 Production: 25 receptions, 252 yards, 10.1 YPR, 3 TD

A late round option if the Falcons are looking to get cheaper and younger with their TE3, Washington’s Drew Sample is one of the best pure blockers in the class. Coaches rave about Sample’s toughness, competitive fire, and football IQ, which sounds like the type of player that Dan Quinn loves. He’s a refined blocker in both the run and pass game, with physicality and plenty of power to go along with his NFL-ready frame. Sample can easily contribute early in his career as a blocking specialist.

Despite his limited experience as a receiver, Sample seems to have enough athletic ability to be more than just a pure blocker. As his 2018 production attests, Sample is capable of making plays in the passing game. He’s got some untapped potential in that area—he looks comfortable catching the ball. Perhaps, with some development, Sample could turn into a more well-rounded TE2 option. Late on Day 3, he could turn out to be a bargain.

Kaden Smith, Stanford

Listed Size: 6’5, 253

2018 Production: 47 receptions, 635 yards, 13.5 YPR, 2 TD

The latest TE prospect to come to the NFL out of Stanford, Kaden Smith isn’t quite the dynamic playmaker that we’re used to seeing. Still, Smith is a quality blocker and receiver with an NFL-ready frame that should be able to make his way onto the field early in his career. Players coming out of Stanford always have a leg-up due to their experience in a pro-style offense, and Smith is no different—he’s comfortable playing in-line and was a reliable target for his QB.

Smith doesn’t have many holes in his game, but he’s not exactly a flashy athlete and he’s more technically raw as a blocker than I’d like to see from a player who’s getting Day 2 hype. Still, Smith has a lot of potential as a “safety valve” player and red zone target, and he’ll be able to contribute early on with his blocking. To me, that’s worth an early Day 3 selection, but we’ll see if the Stanford label pushes him up draft boards.

Jace Sternberger, Texas A&M

Listed Size: 6’4, 250

2018 Production: 48 receptions, 832 yards, 17.3 YPR, 10 TD

One of the “wild cards” of the 2019 draft class, Texas A&M’s Jace Sternberger is an exciting, dynamic TE prospect who quite literally came out of nowhere. He started his career at Kansas but struggled to get on the field, before heading to JUCO for a year. Then, at Texas A&M in 2018, Sternberger burst onto the scene with an incredible season that has earned him a considerable amount of hype.

In a weaker TE class, we might be talking about Sternberger as a fringe first rounder because of his potential. With three great TEs already at the top and a glut of quality players behind them, Sternberger is likely to stick around later than a player of his talent should. With only one year of starting experience, he’s a bit of a risky proposition. But he has the look of a very good athlete at the position with a quality frame, and you simply can’t teach that. His blocking and technical ability as a pass catcher are still pretty raw, but his ceiling is a top-10 NFL receiving TE. If he manages to slide into the fourth round, he’s a very tempting choice to pair with Austin Hooper long-term.

Kahale Warring, San Diego State

Listed Size: 6’6, 250

2018 Production: 31 receptions, 372 yards, 12.0 YPR, 3 TD

If you haven’t heard of Kahale Warring, I don’t blame you. He’s a small school prospect with modest production over his career, but he’s starting to gain a lot of steam heading into the Combine. As a multi-sport athlete that began his college football career as a walk-on at San Diego State, Warring had to work to earn every snap. Even in 2018, Warring only started a handful of games—but what he put on tape is mighty impressive.

Warring’s 6’6, 250 frame is perfect for the position, and he combines it with fantastic athletic ability and long speed. Quite simply, Warring looks like a natural on the football field despite very limited experience. He’s got incredible upside as a receiver, and enough physicality and size to succeed as a blocker. Sure, he’s still pretty raw in most respects, but those respects are teachable. His natural size and athletic gifts are not, and any walk-on player that worked their way up to a scholarship has proven that they have the work ethic to succeed in the NFL. If Warring tests well at the Combine, don’t be surprised if he sneaks into Day 2. I’m hoping he’ll make it to Day 3, where the Falcons have a chance to get a potential steal.


How highly do you value adding another TE for the Falcons? Who are some of your favorite TE prospects in this year’s class? Anyone that you’ll be watching closely during Friday’s workouts?