NFL Draft News & Analysis

Early Top-Five 2023 NFL Draft Tight End Rankings: Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer takes the top spot

Stanford, California, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish tight end Michael Mayer (87) runs after a catch against Stanford Cardinal cornerback Ethan Bonner (13) during the second quarter at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

While the 2022 tight end class was heralded for its depth, the top end of the 2023 class is on another level, as there are several prospects who will generate legitimate first-round buzz in this class. All five prospects on this list have legitimate potential to be, at worst, second-rounders.

1. Michael Mayer, Notre Dame (Junior)

2021 Stats Targets Rec Yards TD DP MTF Rec Grade
Michael Mayer 95 71 840 7 3 8 82

The learning curve at tight end in college is very similar to that in the NFL, meaning it’s difficult to contribute early on, but don’t tell that to Notre Dame’s leading receiver over the past two seasons.

Mayer is the rare tight-end prospect who’s NFL-ready as a true sophomore. No, he may not run like Kyle Pitts and won’t go nearly as high, but he can play an inline role that Pitts will never be able to fill.

However, don't get it twisted, he’s not some stiff as a receiver. What he lacks in pure explosiveness, Mayer makes up for in physicality. He has a knack for creating contact on his routes before leaving defenders grasping at his jersey when he makes his breaks. If he looks covered, that won’t be the case for long.

It’s scary to think that he already carries himself like the baddest dude on the field at only 20-years old. What will he look like in a few years in the league?

2. Dalton Kincaid, Utah (RS Senior)

2021 Stats Targets Rec Yards TD DP MTF Rec Grade
Dalton Kincaid 45 36 510 8 0 1 83.2

If Mayer is No. 1 in terms of refined receiving ability in this class, then Kincaid is No. 1B. Kincaid’s background as a former receiver recruit is evident. He spent two seasons at the University of San Diego, where he was an FCS All-American as a sophomore after racking up 44 catches for 835 yards. He transferred to Utah during the COVID year, where he had a breakout 2021 season.

The way he gets off the line of scrimmage as well as the way he gets in and out of his breaks is precisely what evaluators want from a receiving weapon at the next level. He also has some darn good hands, too, as he hasn’t dropped a single pass on 37 opportunities at Utah while going 7-for-9 in contested opportunities last season. He is a little on the older side as a fifth-year player, but Kincaid likely returned to continue remaking his former wide receiver frame, as he’s still listed on the smallish side at 6-foot-4 and 242 pounds.

3. Arik Gilbert, Georgia (RS Sophomore)

2020 Stats* Targets Rec Yards TD DP MTF Rec Grade
Arik Gilbert 53 35 368 2 2 9 73

Gilbert really shouldn’t even be ranked on this list — there should just be his name at the bottom with an asterisk next to it — because, from a talent perspective, he should be No. 1. And from a “what's going on with him off the field” perspective, we don’t even know when he’ll play football again. 

Gilbert was a five-star and one of the highest-rated tight-end recruits ever in 2020. The 6-foot-5, 248-pound athletic marvel originally took his talents to Baton Rouge, where he put up 35 catches for 368 yards as a true freshman. 

That’s when things took a turn. After entering the transfer portal, Gilbert originally committed to Florida before backing out and joining Georgia. He never suited up for the national champions because he missed the entire 2021 season due to personal reasons. Reportedly, when Gilbert returned to the team in January of this year, he weighed over 300 pounds. While he looked trimmer by the time the Bulldogs' spring game rolled around, NFL teams will have to do their due diligence on where Gilbert is at off the field when he ultimately declares.

4. Jaheim Bell, South Carolina (Junior)

2021 Stats Targets Rec Yards TD DP MTF Rec Grade
Jaheim Bell 41 30 488 5 1 13 88.8

Bell is the best tight end in the country with the ball in his hands. So much so that South Carolina gave him seven handoffs last season! And that doesn’t even include this 65-yarder that was called back.

He’s not only elusive with 13 broken tackles from only 30 receptions, but he's also explosive. Of his five touchdown receptions in 2021, three came from 65-plus yards out. 

The only problem is he’s still built more like a running back than a true tight end at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds. If he can put 10-15 pounds of good weight on his frame, he’ll be a coveted moveable chess piece in the NFL.

5. Sam LaPorta, Iowa (Senior)

2021 Stats Targets Rec Yards TD DP MTF Rec Grade
Sam LaPorta 81 53 670 3 5 10 80

LaPorta would have easily been in the mix as a top-five tight end in last year’s class if he declared, but there are legitimate reasons to think he can push his stock considerably higher as a senior. LaPorta is such a smooth mover for a man his size, which we saw down the stretch when LaPorta racked up 245 yards over his final three games. 

With that kind of natural ability, LaPorta could rank much higher as a prospect if he cleans up a few things. The first issue he needs to clean up is his drops, as he's let eight of 88 catchable slip through his hands the past two seasons. The second is his route-running, where he still doesn’t look skilled enough to run a full route tree. With Kirk Ferentz’s history of developing tight ends, I’d bank on LaPorta looking much improved in 2022.

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