The 2022 NFL Combine is fast approaching, with workouts kicking off on Thursday, March 3. To prepare Atlanta Falcons fans and fellow draft enthusiasts for the “underwear olympics”, I’ll be breaking down the top players to watch at every position heading into the event. In case you missed any of my previous entries, you can find them all listed below:
Today, we finish our look at the offense with tight end. While many fans might think the Falcons are all set at the position after spending a top-5 pick on Kyle Pitts, the need for a quality TE2 is actually pretty significant considering Arthur Smith’s preference for 12 personnel (2-TE) sets. With Lee Smith retiring and Hayden Hurst hitting free agency, Atlanta has just Pitts and former UDFA Parker Hesse under contract for 2022.
This year’s draft features an exceptionally deep class at tight end, although it’s lacking star power at the top. This is a group with a lot of good prospects, particularly on Day 2, and the Falcons could get a high-level running mate for Pitts in the third round or perhaps even later.
Read on for some of the top tight ends to watch in Indianapolis.
Daniel Bellinger, SDSU
One of the best blocking tight ends in the class, San Diego State’s Daniel Bellinger wasn’t expected to be a standout at the Senior Bowl in the receiving department. But that’s exactly what happened, as Bellinger had one of the best weeks of any TE. He was peppered with targets from all the QBs and looked like a better athlete and more polished pass-catcher than his tape suggested. Bellinger is already an accomplished blocker—with the added upside as a receiver and a good day of testing at the Combine, it’s possible he could raise his stock significantly.
Greg Dulcich, UCLA
My biggest winner at tight end coming out of the Senior Bowl, I must admit I hadn’t watched Greg Dulcich at all prior to Mobile. Early on, he impressed with his athleticism, but also showed off excellent hands and ball-tracking abilities on some deep catches. He’s got room to grow as a blocker, but the receiving upside makes him a potential TE1 candidate in time. Dulcich could elevate himself into the Day 2 conversation with an impressive Combine performance.
Jake Ferguson, Wisconsin
Jake Ferguson is easily one of the most accomplished tight ends in the draft class, having proven himself as both a reliable blocker and pass catcher. He didn’t stand out at the Senior Bowl as much as expected, but I think he’s still a worthy early-Day 3 pick as a pro-ready TE2 who can help you in all phases. Here’s what I wrote about Ferguson in my Senior Bowl preview:
If the Falcons are inclined to wait a bit to add to the tight end position, Jake Ferguson offers a well-rounded skillset that would be a good complement to the more electric style of Kyle Pitts. Very much an old-school TE, Ferguson offers quality blocking chops and a reliable skillset as a receiver. He’s not a high-end athlete, but has good hands and carved out a consistent role as a short-yardage and red zone weapon for Wisconsin.
Charlie Kolar, Iowa State
Iowa State’s Charlie Kolar is a tough evaluation. On the one hand, you absolutely love his physicality, size, hands, and instincts as a receiver. On the other, it’s frustrating that he’s a fairly average blocker considering the strength and size he displays as a pass-catcher. Kolar’s athletic testing will be key: he’s not expected to test well, but coming in average would help his projection immensely. Here’s what I wrote about Kolar in a previous mock draft:
A big-bodied traditional tight end, Kolar is 6’6, 260 with excellent length. He’s an aggressive player who brings a nasty attitude to his work as a blocker and receiver. Kolar’s best attribute is his ability to catch the football. He’s got strong hands, a massive catch radius, and a very competitive demeanor at the catch point. Kolar is an expert at bodying smaller defenders and winning contested-catch situations, and is fearless over the middle. Which is good, because he’s nothing special as an athlete and doesn’t separate particularly well. He’s also fairly average as a blocker and absolutely must get stronger to make an impact there at the NFL level.
Isaiah Likely, Coastal Carolina
One of the best receiving tight ends in the class, Coastal Carolina’s Isaiah Likely had a slow start at the Senior Bowl. However, he ended the week strong, with several terrific catches that allowed him to show off his athleticism. That athletic ability will be key for his NFL projection, and Likely could see his stock rise with impressive athletic testing in Indianapolis. Here’s what I wrote about Likely in my Senior Bowl preview:
A receiving specialist with some positional versatility, Isaiah Likely showed consistent growth throughout his time at Coastal Carolina. That all culminated in a terrific 2021 season that saw Likely put up 59 receptions to 912 yards (15.5 YPR) and a whopping 12 TDs. Likely is a very good athlete who functioned as a deep threat for the offense, showing off long speed, very good hands, and elusiveness in the open field. He’s not the biggest TE (6’4, 240), but works hard as a blocker from multiple spots—including in-line and as a FB.
Trey McBride, Colorado State
Trey McBride may not be the biggest, fastest, or strongest tight end in the class, but he is the best all-around player. He remains my TE1 despite some quality performances from others at the Senior Bowl. McBride himself had a very good week in Mobile, and I expect that to carry over to the Combine. Here’s what I wrote about McBride in my Senior Bowl preview:
My TE1 in this draft class, Trey McBride is a legit do-it-all prospect. The engine of the Colorado State offense, McBride put up 90 receptions for 1121 yards (12.5 YPR) and a TD in 2021. He’s got great hands, is a good athlete, and has excellent size and length at 6’4, 260. McBride is also a quality blocker with experience lining up all over the formation, including in-line and in the backfield. Arthur Smith’s offense prefers 12 personnel groupings, and I wouldn’t be shocked if the Falcons strongly consider adding another high-end TE to bolster that group.
Cade Otton, Washington
Perhaps the best tight end that isn’t widely talked about, Washington’s Cade Otton is an accomplished dual-threat player who looks ready to contribute early in his NFL career. Otton is a very good run and pass blocker and pairs that with good size at 6’5, 250. He’s also a quality pass-catcher, with above-average athleticism and exceptional hands. Otton won’t ever be confused with Kyle Pitts as an athlete or receiver, but he’s a well-rounded player who can take on a versatile TE2 role in his rookie season with the potential for more down the road. An impressive day of athletic testing could lift him even higher in this class.
Jeremy Ruckert, Ohio State
We’ve already heard that Jeremy Ruckert will not be working out at the Combine due to an injury, which is a shame as he was expected to be one of the best athletes at the position. Still, Ruckert is a high-ceiling prospect who should be able to handle a much bigger role in the NFL than he did at Ohio State. Here’s what I wrote about Ruckert in a previous mock draft:
Ruckert is a classic example of a player who is likely to have a much better pro career than college career. He’s got an imposing frame at 6’5, 250 and has the versatility to be deployed all over the formation, including in-line or flexed out wide. Ruckert would be a perfect TE2 to pair with an elite talent in Kyle Pitts who can allow Arthur Smith to take full advantage of his preferred 12 personnel packages.
Cole Turner, Nevada
Cole Turner was thought to be one of the best receiving tight ends in the class, but a lackluster performance at the Senior Bowl has cooled down his stock significantly. I’m not willing to write him off for a bad week in Mobile, as Turner has consistently been one of the more productive receiving tight ends in college football over the past two seasons. Turner also has upside as a blocker and tremendous size at 6’6, 246. He could be a good value on Day 3 as a potential TE2 for the Falcons.
Jelani Woods, Virginia
One of the biggest risers and “sleepers” at the tight end position this season, Jelani Woods burst on to the scene at Virginia after three lackluster seasons at Oklahoma State. I haven’t watched much of his tape, but he’s rumored to have a massive frame at 6’7, 260 along with impressive deep speed. Woods is definitely a name to watch at the Combine, as his measurements and athletic testing could really put his name on the map.
Jalen Wydermyer, Texas A&M
If there’s a tight end in this class that most embodies the “big receiver” archetype, it’s Jalen Wydermyer. With three strong seasons of production out of Texas A&M, Wydermyer has the look of an instant-impact receiving tight end at the NFL level. He’s got a big frame with tremendous length at 6’5, 265, with tremendous hands to pluck the football out of the air. Wydermyer is a very good route-runner at TE and couples that with impressive overall athleticism. As a blocker, he’s physical and willing but needs to use his hands more effectively and improve his use of leverage to generate more push at the point of attack. Early on, he’s best used as a receiving specialist, but I like his long-term projection as a potential dual-threat TE1. Wydermyer could lift himself into the early-Day 2 conversation with a good day at the Combine.
I hope you enjoyed this NFL Combine prospect preview and our series as a whole. Check out our Combine recaps after every day of the event!