News & Analysis

Pro similarities for some of the draft's top fantasy TE names based on the combine

By Scott Spratt
Mar 15, 2018

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Mar 3, 2018; Indianapolis, IN, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks tight end Hayden Hurst goes through work out drills during the 2018 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

It’s pretty rare for even the best tight ends to make an immediate fantasy impact. Eric Ebron and O.J. Howard are the only two players at the position drafted in the first 20 picks of the last four years, and neither reached 30 catches in his freshman season. That extended timetable lessens the value of tight end prospects in fantasy, but it also creates opportunities for some late-round gems in rookie drafts when other owners may not have the patience to wait for a chance at a future star and may not realize that draft order does not perfectly coincide with fantasy potential at the position.

What follows is a breakdown of the major tight end prospects with their most comparable fantasy-relevant players based on my similarity scoring model and sorted by a category that should help give you a sense of their possible fantasy future.

For an explanation of the similarity scoring model and to see 2018 rookie running back comps, click here.

To see 2018 rookie wide receiver comps, click here.

Looks like a specialized player

Player Optimistic Comps
Durham Smythe, Notre Dame Rhett Ellison (0.60), Mychal Rivera (0.66), Maxx Williams (0.75)

Durham Smythe topped out at 15 receptions in his best season in four years at Notre Dame and looks more likely to be a blocking tight end than a pass-catching one at the next level. He has good size at 6-5 and 253 pounds but had the worst 40-time (4.81 seconds) and vertical leap (31 inches) in the class. The slowest impact fantasy tight end from recent seasons was Zach Ertz who ran a 4.76-second 40.

Looks like a possession receiver

Player Optimistic Comps
Hayden Hurst, South Carolina Dennis Pitta (0.59), Zach Ertz (0.69), Jason Witten (0.70)
Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin Ladarius Green (0.60), Maxx Williams (0.69), Tyler Higbee (0.69)

At 6-4 and 250 pounds, Hayden Hurst is just as big as the other top tight end prospects, but he scored just three times in exactly 100 catches in three seasons at South Carolina. That’s easily the lowest rate in the class and likely results from his poor 31.5-inch vertical leap. Already 24 years old, Hurst likely won’t become more explosive at the next level, but he is pretty fast with a 4.67-second 40-time and could catch a lot of passes in the right offense.

Troy Fumagalli was a productive pass-catcher in his four seasons at Wisconsin, but he may not have the athleticism for that to translate to the next level. He skipped the 40-yard dash and vertical jump drills which would have helped confirm, and so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt as a potential possession receiver. But it seems pretty unlikely that he’ll be a consistent red-zone target. Despite being 6-5 and 247 pounds, Fumagalli scored on just 5.2 percent of his college catches and had just 14 bench reps, three fewer than the next-worst featured prospect at the position.

Looks like a red-zone target

Player Optimistic Comps
Tyler Conklin, Central Michigan Jordan Reed (0.78), Anthony Fasano (0.80), Austin Seferian-Jenkins (0.82)

Tyler Conklin is one of the two top tight end prospects with a 40-time over 4.80 seconds, and those prospects tend to become touchdown specialists like Anthony Fasano (4.86) and Marcedes Lewis (4.84) if they develop a fantasy-relevant role, at all. Conklin does seem like a good bet to score some NFL touchdowns. A foot injury limited his production at Central Michigan, but he is a former basketball player whose 38-inch vertical helps him play up from his 6-3 height.

Looks like a does-everything receiver

Player Optimistic Comps
Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State Tyler Eifert (0.49), Gary Barnidge (0.71), George Kittle (0.71)
Mike Gesicki, Penn State Jared Cook (0.63), Jimmy Graham (0.86), Greg Olsen (0.92)
Mark Andrews, Oklahoma Austin Hooper (0.70), Julius Thomas (0.74), Rob Gronkowski (0.80)
Ian Thomas, Indiana Austin Hooper (0.90), Rob Gronkowski (0.92), Dion Sims (0.97)
Chris Herndon, Miami Ed Dickson (0.45), Charles Clay (0.63), Ricky Seals-Jones (0.65)

Coming off back-to-back 70-plus catch and 1,100-plus yard seasons at South Dakota State, Dallas Goedert didn’t have much left to prove at the combine, and he unsurprisingly skipped the 40-yard dash and vertical jump because of it. However, he measured big for a tight end with his receiving skills at 6-5 and 256 pounds and led the class with 23 bench reps. That’s nowhere near historical leaders at the position like Ben Watson (34) and Vernon Davis (33), but it’s plenty strong to improve upon his 10.6 percent touchdown rate from college. The combination of his 15.1 yards per reception and volume of receptions in college is really unusual for the position and makes him a candidate to outplay even his most successfully fantasy comps like Eifert and Barnidge.

Mike Gesicki may not be as touted as Goedert, but he is an athletic freak and likely has greater upside. He easily led the class with a 4.54-second 40-time and 41.5-inch vertical leap and finished second with 22 bench reps. The majority of volume pass-catchers at the position come from players who best 4.60 seconds, including fantasy staples like Vernon Davis (4.39 seconds), Evan Engram (4.42), O.J. Howard (4.51), Ben Watson (4.52), Coby Fleener (4.52), Jimmy Graham (4.53), and Eric Ebron (4.60). Gesicki can do that and is plenty big at 6-5 and 247 pounds to score touchdowns.

Mark Andrews may fit better as a possession receiver. His best-in-class 15.8 yards per reception seems more sustainable with his solid 4.67-second 40-time than his 19.8 percent touchdown rate does with his poor 31-inch vertical leap. But Andrews may continue to score at a decent clip if he spends most of his time working the middle of the field rather than blocking.

Ian Thomas caught just 28 passes in his career at Indiana thanks to a late commitment to the game — he was a multi-sport athlete — and some injuries in his 2017 season. However, Thomas seems to possess the tools he would need to catch a lot of passes as well as touchdowns in the NFL. In particular, he is big at 6-4 and 259 pounds and has massive 11.5-inch hands that are an inch bigger than the other prospects at his position. He scored at a high rate of 17.9 percent of his receptions in school and has the 36-inch vertical leap to maintain than red-zone production at the next level. He likely won’t help fantasy owners in 2018 but remains an intriguing dynasty stash.

Chris Herndon is a receiver-turned-tight end similar to one of his comps Ricky Seals-Jones, and that gives me some faith in his ability to catch passes at the next level without a ton of other evidence to support it. He had limited opportunities playing behind David Njoku in 2015 and 2016, and he skipped the 40-yard dash and vertical jump at the combine. He did, however, bench 21 reps, which was third-best in the class. He’s another deeper-league dynasty stash who has a small chance at a very productive fantasy future.

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