College News & Analysis

2023 NFL Draft: Ranking the top 10 tight end prospects

Paradise, Nevada, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish tight end Michael Mayer (87) reacts after scoring a touchdown against the Brigham Young Cougars during the first half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

• Class features multiple potential first-rounders: Oregon State's Luke Musgrave and Notre Dame's Michael Mayer both have a shot to land in Round 1.

• Notre Dame's Michael Mayer takes top spot: Even without blazing speed, Mayer still led the draft class with 20 receptions on targets 10-plus yards downfield.

• Minnesota's Brevyn Spann-Ford is the premier run-blocking TE prospect: His 82.8 run-blocking grade ranked third in the FBS this season and his 13 big-time blocks led the nation. 

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Tight end is arguably the strongest position group in the 2023 NFL Draft. There’s a real possibility we see seven-plus tight ends come off the board by the end of Day 2, which hasn't happened since 2019 — and then 2014 before that. Not only does the class feature depth, but it also includes multiple potential first-rounders for the first time since 2019, as well.

10. Will Mallory, Miami (FL) (RS Senior | 6-5, 245)

  • 2022 Grade: 60.7
  • Play Style: Seam Threat
  • Initial Round Projection: Day 3

Mallory boasts impressive straight-line speed at tight end, helping him average a healthy 13.5 yards per reception on 115 career catches. He can be a weapon on seams, drags and overs, as the leggy tight end’s top speed is difficult for most linebackers to match. 

The worry is that Mallory is a tight end in name only. You can’t put him on an NFL field and ask him to block inline without him getting his teeth kicked in at the moment. If he’s not up to the requisite physicality after five years in a college weight room, it’s worth wondering if he’ll ever get there.


9. Davis Allen, Clemson (Senior | 6-6, 250)

  • 2022 Grade: 70.9
  • Play Style: Security Blanket
  • Initial Round Projection: Early Day 3

Allen is the kind of tight end who turns 50-50 balls into 80-20 balls. He attacks targets in the air like his life depends on him coming down with it. It’s why he’s gone an absurd 16-of-19 in contested situations over the past two seasons. Allen has also dropped only three of his 87 career catchable passes.

Why he’s so low on this list despite all the above is his athletic profile. Outside of routes where he can get into defenders’ bodies to separate, Allen is not the kind of athlete an NFL offense can rely on to separate in one-on-one situations. He can start around the league, but it’s hard to see him being a true difference-maker. 


8. Brevyn Spann-Ford, Minnesota (RS Senior | 6-7, 270)

  • 2022 Grade: 90.6
  • Play Style: Inline People Mover
  • Initial Round Projection: Early Day 3

You want a run-blocker in this class? Spann-Ford is your man. He’s nearly an offensive tackle, and with how well he moves at his size, it may be in his best financial interest to consider a move to the position. That’s because he’s never going to be a dynamic threat with the ball in his hands to warrant a big-money deal. But what he can do is erase smaller edge defenders in the run game. His 82.8 run-blocking grade ranked third in the FBS this season and his 13 big-time blocks led the nation. 


7. Tucker Kraft, South Dakota State (RS Junior | 6-5, 255)

  • 2022 Grade: 75.1
  • Play Style: Athletic Project
  • Initial Round Projection: Late Day 2

Kraft faced high expectations heading into 2022 after he racked up 770 yards on 65 catches last season, but he suffered an ankle injury on his first touch of the season and managed only 122 receiving snaps on the year. That means evaluators are going to have to lean heavily on his 2021 tape, which shows him going to town on lesser competition. He’s a plus athlete for a well-built tight end, and that showed after the catch, as he broke 27 tackles on 86 catches over the past two years.

But Kraft didn’t have to do much more than be big and fast against that lesser competition. His route-running isn’t particularly refined, and he struggled with drops over the course of his career (12 drops on 105 catchable).


6. Cade Stover, Ohio State (RS Junior | 6-4, 255)

  • 2022 Grade: 69.4
  • Play Style: Bruiser
  • Initial Round Projection: Late Day 2

One thing is evident after watching Stover’s first full season as a starter: The man doesn’t shy away from contact. He broke 10 tackles on only 35 catches this season — an insanely high rate for a tight end. His ability to turn a simple stick or flat route into a first down will be coveted at the NFL level, as will his run-blocking prowess, where he’s been well-versed inline and on the move at Ohio State.

He comes with a draft projection similar to his predecessor Jeremy Ruckert, though, because both lack the high-end athletic tools to be difference-makers. Stover may never be the focal point of a passing attack, but he can still be a value add.


5. Sam LaPorta, Iowa (Senior | 6-4, 249)

  • 2022 Grade: 78.3
  • Play Style: YAC Weapon
  • Initial Round Projection: Day 2

LaPorta is one of the best tight ends in the class with the ball in his hands. The Hawkeyes obviously knew this, as they fed him 10 screens on the year — a bit of a rarity for a tight end. He broke 14 tackles on 53 catches for 592 yards with a low 7.3-yard average depth of target. Don’t let that fool you into thinking he can’t be a vertical threat, though. LaPorta has enough speed to stride past the linebacker level and create big plays in the passing game.

What LaPorta doesn’t quite have like some others on this list is natural separation ability. He lacks the kind of smooth hips to sink and explode at the breaks of his routes, meaning he’s not always the most effective chain-mover. He’d pair very nicely with stretch zone teams, as the route tree that tight ends run off that (overs, crossers, flats) fits perfectly with LaPorta’s skill set.


4. Darnell Washington, Georgia (Junior | 6-7, 269)

  • 2022 Grade: 86.4
  • Play Style: Sixth OL with Ball Skills
  • Initial Round Projection: Early Day 2

Every single time I flip on tape of Georgia’s offense, I’m awe-struck by the sheer size of Darnell Washington. Without fail. It’s reminiscent of when Chip Kelly used to split his tackles out wide regularly. That’s the rarity of Washington’s frame at the tight end position. Unsurprisingly, that gives the Georgia tight end a fairly massive catch radius and also plays well as a blocker. His 81.4 run-blocking grade ranks fifth among FBS tight ends this season.

That mismatch potential is precisely why you’re drafting him. A sixth offensive lineman who can really scoot out in space and catch anything in his general vicinity is a unicorn.


3. Dalton Kincaid, Utah (RS Senior | 6-4, 240)

  • 2022 Grade: 89.9
  • Play Style: WR in a TE Body
  • Initial Round Projection: Early Day 2

Kincaid may never be the blocker that others on this list are, but a quick glance at the highest-paid tight ends in the NFL shows precisely zero correlation to blocking prowess. It’s the game-changing receivers who get paid, and Kincaid has that ability. Kincaid led the entire FBS with 70 catches for 890 yards during the regular season. And he did so operating mainly from traditional receiver splits, with 55.1% of his snaps coming from the slot. He’s just so smooth and graceful along the full route tree with the way he can clear his hips on his cuts.

He comes with some obvious concerns regarding size and how he’ll fare as a blocker, but there are very few concerns about his receiving ability. If I had to describe his game in one word, it’s “reliable.” Kincaid will run crisp routes and haul in anything within reach. He’s shown the most consistent hands in the class, with only two career drops on 109 catchable targets at Utah. 


2. Luke Musgrave, Oregon State (RS Junior | 6-6, 250)

  • 2022 Grade: 73.1
  • Play Style: High-End Athlete
  • Initial Round Projection: 1-2

Musgrave has that all-around combination of size and athleticism everyone is looking for at tight end. You don’t have to wait for the NFL Combine for his physical tools to turn heads, though, as it shows up routinely on tape. He’s one of the only tight ends in the class who I saw striding away from defensive backs on tape.

The only worry is how little we got to see of it. Musgrave didn’t really blossom into a featured role until this past season, and then it got cut short only two games in due to an undisclosed injury. He racked up 11 catches for 169 yards and a score in those two outings, but it’s such a small sample to project forward. Musgrave would have easily been a slam-dunk first-rounder if he continued that pace all year.


1. Michael Mayer, Notre Dame (Junior | 6-4, 265)

  • 2022 Grade: 92.5
  • Play Style: Inline Chain Mover
  • Initial Round Projection: 1

If you’re drafting Mayer thinking you’ll get a Kyle Pitts or Travis Kelce or George Kittle, I’d temper expectations. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound Mayer is stylistically much closer to a Jason Witten than any of the tight ends listed above. Mayer, like Witten, lacks the long speed to be a consistent downfield separator. Despite Witten’s athletic limitations, though, he still had a six-year stretch where he averaged 92 catches and 1,018 yards a season. It’s very easy to see Mayer slotting into such a role because he was precisely that at Notre Dame. He went over 800 yards in each of the past two seasons with 138 catches and 16 scores over that span. Even without blazing speed, Mayer still led the draft class with 20 receptions on targets 10-plus yards downfield.

Unsurprisingly, Mayer is also one of the best blocking tight ends in the draft. His 82.1 run-blocking grade ranked fourth among the position in the FBS. That’s rare to see from only a third-year player. There aren’t many safer picks in the draft than Mayer. 

Safety worth way more than 2 points. Help protext your family with fast, affordable life insurance. You could be covered in 10 minutes! Get a Free Quote.
Sponsor

College Featured Tools

  • Power Rankings are PFF’s NCAA power ratings based on weekly player grades in each facet of play. These power rankings are adjusted based on coach, quarterback and the market each season.

    Available with

  • PFF's exclusive metrics provide matchup previews, position rankings, grades, and snap counts.

    Available with

  • Our exclusive database, featuring the most in-depth collection of NCAA player performance data.

    Available with

Subscriptions

Unlock all tools and content including Player Grades, Fantasy, NFL Draft, Premium Stats, Greenline and DFS.

$9.99 / mo
$79.99 / yr