With the Super Bowl in the rear-view mirror, the offseason is in full swing for all 32 teams as we rocket towards free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft. The next event on the Draft Season calendar is the NFL Combine: a week-long convention in Indianapolis that gives NFL teams an opportunity to evaluate a huge group of prospects up close and personal. While fans are most familiar with the on-field workouts—sometimes dubbed the “underwear olympics”—the medical checks and player interviews are just as important for teams.
Just like for the Senior Bowl, we’ll be breaking down the top players to watch for the Atlanta Falcons at every position group. We’ll start on the defensive side of the ball and work our way through the offense as we approach the start of the Combine on-field workouts on March 2. Speaking of, here’s the schedule for those workouts if you’re interested.
NFL Combine 2023 On-field Workouts Schedule
THURSDAY, March 2 at 3 PM ET: EDGE, IDL, LB
FRIDAY, March 3 at 3 PM ET: CB, S
SATURDAY, March 4 at 1 PM ET: QB, WR, TE
SUNDAY, March 5 at 1 PM ET: RB, OT, IOL
Workouts will be televised live on NFL Network and can also be watched on NFL+, if you have that subscription.
Next up is a position group that has added importance in Arthur Smith’s offense: tight end. Despite the presence of budding star Kyle Pitts, the depth in this group could potentially use an upgrade—especially if MyCole Pruitt departs in free agency.
This tight end group has been lauded as one of the best in recent memory, and it’s hard to disagree. There’s a potential star at the top in Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer and a number of early-round receiving specialists in Dalton Kincaid and Luke Musgrave. The Draft Network’s consensus rankings feature three TEs in the top-32 and five in the top-50, making this an exceptionally top-heavy group.
Davis Allen, Clemson
Davis Allen had a relatively quiet Senior Bowl week, but he’s still a rock solid TE2 prospect who will be able to stick on a roster thanks to his blocking chops and hands. That being said, a better-than-expected day of testing at the Combine could lift his stock. Here’s my snippet on Allen from the Senior Bowl preview:
A versatile tight end prospect who can provide value to an NFL offense from a number of alignments, Clemson’s Davis Allen has a lot of appeal to an offense like Atlanta’s. Allen has an NFL-ready frame at 6’6, 250 and has taken snaps out wide, as a big slot, in-line, and in the backfield as an H-back. He’s got strong hands and a big catch radius, and Allen is at his best in contested-catch situations. His overall athletic profile is fairly average, as is his blocking ability, but he doesn’t have any significant holes in his game either. Allen looks the part of a long-term depth TE in the NFL that can give an offense a little of everything, but probably doesn’t offer enough receiving ability to make the jump to a featured role.
Payne Durham, Purdue
Arguably the biggest winner at tight end in Mobile—especially relative to expectations—Purdue’s Payne Durham showed off an ability to win deep down the field thanks to his massive catch radius and quality ball-tracking skills. Durham possesses a prototypical frame at 6’5, 258 and stands out as a physical blocking presence in both the run and pass game. His hands are good and he knows how to win the ball in contested catch situations. Durham is a modest athlete at best, with long lumbering strides and limited change-of-direction ability. He’s an easy projection as a quality TE2 who can provide high-level blocking and serviceable receiving ability early in his NFL career.
Dalton Kincaid, Utah
Utah’s Dalton Kincaid (6’4, 242) is the most productive, and arguably highest-upside, receiving tight end in the class. His 2022 season featured 890 yards (12.7 YPR) and 8 TDs, and it’s easy to see why he has so many fans in the draft community. Kincaid is a smooth mover with very good overall athleticism and a well-developed route tree that will rival most receivers. His hands are outstanding and he’s more than capable of making highlight reel catches on a regular basis. While Kincaid is a willing blocker and doesn’t lack for physicality, he lacks strength and length. These issues will only be magnified in the NFL and likely limit him to a receiving specialist role. I expect Kincaid to turn in one of the most impressive tight end workouts at the Combine.
Tucker Kraft, South Dakota State
Continuing the South Dakota State tight end pipeline (Dallas Goedert was also a Jackrabbit), Tucker Kraft is another athletic prospect with sky-high potential. Kraft has the size (6’5, 255) and the athleticism that will check all the boxes for NFL teams. He’s a very good receiver with soft hands and a competitive streak at the catch point. Kraft also possesses a well-rounded skillset as a blocker, with a particularly nasty temperament in the run game. He’s rough around the edges in terms of his route running and the finer points of his blocking technique, but the upside is high. Kraft is also coming off a season-ending ankle injury, so it’s unclear how much he’ll do at the Combine.
Sam LaPorta, Iowa
I’ve felt like Sam LaPorta would end up in Atlanta for multiple years now, as he considered entering the 2022 NFL Draft before returning for his senior year. It’s easy to see why: LaPorta is a well-rounded prospect with good size (6’4, 250), good overall athleticism, and quality blocking chops. He’s a polished receiving prospect with soft hands and a well-developed route tree. As a blocker, LaPorta is exceptionally competitive and physical, and is more than capable of playing in-line. LaPorta is an easy, high-floor TE2 projection—he just lacks the high-end athleticism of an early-round pick. He’d make a ton of sense for Atlanta if the team is looking to bolster the position without spending a premium pick.
Cameron Latu, Alabama
Another Senior Bowl participant, Cameron Latu had a solid week of practice. I don’t think he stood out in a good or bad way, just quietly did whatever was asked of him. Latu is likely a Day 3 pick at this point, but good Combine testing could push him higher up the board. Here’s my blurb on Latu from the Senior Bowl preview:
A player whose development reminds me a bit of Parker Hesse (both were originally recruited as defensive linemen), Cameron Latu has enjoyed a slow but steady climb up the depth chart at Alabama. Latu’s calling card is his versatility, with the ability to line up and play anywhere. His blocking is very good overall, and he’s got a good frame for the position at 6’5, 245. Latu appears to be an average athlete, but he finds ways to mitigate his lack of plus speed and agility by being a savvy route runner. He’s got very good hands and is good at finding the hole in the zone and making himself available for the QB.
Michael Mayer, Notre Dame
The top tight end prospect on most boards, Michael Mayer has been a highly productive and accomplished receiver over his career at Notre Dame. With back to back seasons of 800+ yards and 7+ TDs, Mayer is a model of consistency at a position which typically lacks it. Mayer is a true dual-threat tight end who checks all the size (6’4, 250) and athleticism boxes to be a first-round pick. He’s a polished receiver with a full route tree and exceptional hands, and an experienced and willing blocker. I don’t really have any concerns with Mayer and see him as one of the highest floor prospects in the 2023 draft class.
Luke Musgrave, Oregon State
Luke Musgrave is one of the highest variance players you’ll see on draft boards. Some have him comfortably in the first round, while others have him falling into the latter portion of Day 2. What we can all agree on is Musgrave’s athleticism, particularly his long speed: it was on full display at the Senior Bowl, where Musgrave routinely burned everyone he went up against. Here’s my writeup on Musgrave from the Senior Bowl preview:
With a prototypical NFL frame (6’6, 250) and standout athleticism, Musgrave’s potential has the attention of the scouting community. The problem is that it’s pretty much all projection with Musgrave, as he’s started just 13 games due to injury issues. Musgrave has excellent long speed and good movement skills to go along with strong hands and a massive catch radius. While Musgrave is a willing blocker, he’s not overly physical and his play strength appears below average overall.
Darnell Washington, Georgia
A player who has recently been a bit of a hot topic for Falcons fans, Georgia’s Darnell Washington is a unique tight end prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft class. A physical marvel at 6’7, 265 with outstanding relative athleticism, Washington’s ability as a blocker is the first thing you’ll notice. He operates as a quasi-offensive lineman when attached in-line, providing elite run and pass blocking for a tight end. While he’s never been a featured target in the passing game, Washington has exceptional upside in this area. His frame makes him a capable red-zone target, and he’s got soft hands when the ball does come his way. Washington isn’t a high-level separator and shouldn’t be the focal point of a passing game, but his value as a “sixth offensive lineman” along with his specialized receiving upside make him a terrific fit for a 12/13 heavy offense like Atlanta’s.
Josh Whyle, Cincinnati
I was hoping to see more from Josh Whyle at the Senior Bowl, but he sort of got lost in the shuffle in a talented group. Still, I’m a fan of the Falcons throwing a late-round pick at Whyle if he’s around on the latter half of Day 3 due to his connection with Desmond Ridder and well-rounded skillset as a blocker. Here’s my blurb on Whyle from the Senior Bowl preview:
Whyle has a good NFL frame at 6’6, 245 and has continued to add good weight every year. Obviously, he’s got three years of experience with Desmond Ridder, and that’s a big boost to his potential future in Atlanta. Whyle was a better player than I expected overall, considering his mid-to-late Day 3 projection. He’s got good hands, above-average overall athleticism, and his blocking improved significantly in 2022.
Other players to watch:
Brenton Strange, Penn State
Will Mallory, Miami
Noah Grindorff, North Dakota State
Luke Schoonmaker, Michigan
Zack Kuntz, Old Dominion
I hope you enjoyed this entry in The Falcoholic’s NFL Combine preview series. Stay tuned for our next position preview: offensive tackle.