Take Five: 2019 Tight Ends

The “Take Five” series aims to preview prospects for the 2019 NFL Draft.

These names will appear in a one-through-five order and “ranked”, but given the publish date, thoughts and opinions are far from finalized. Rather, it is best to use this list as a starting point of sorts, in order to get familiar with some of the top names in the class and how they might satisfy a need and fit on the Raiders’ roster.

Currently, the Raiders’ depth chart reads as follows:

Jared Cook — One of the few (only?) “promises” Jon Gruden has made good on, the Raiders spent all offseason talking up Cook’s ability and role in this offense. Through five weeks, it’s been the tight end that’s been Derek Carr’s go-to target. Turns 32 in April, so it’s probably wise to begin succession planning.

Lee Smith — Blocker only, really, but obviously found his way to the head coach’s heart. Leader, awesome teammate, and just a great human.

Derek Carrier — 28-years old and a solid athlete. Talent-wise, he’s a depth piece at best.

Looking ahead:

As long as Chucky is at the helm, we’ll continue to hear him wax poetic about tight ends (and fullbacks too, of course). In a sad and frustrating turn of events, Jared Cook has become the focal point of the Raiders passing attack, having shipped Amari Cooper to Dallas for a first-round selection. While he’s on the wrong side of 30, I could see Gruden stringing this thing out with Cook for another couple of seasons and ignoring what appears to be a loaded tight end class (much like the 2017 offering). Let’s hope his infatuation for the position leads to an early-round investment.

Early “top 5” prospects: 

Noah Fant, Iowa, Junior — We often joke about prospects jumping out of the gym, given their raw athletic talent. All clichés aside, I fully expect Fant to bounce right out the building in Indianapolis at the annual Combine. Reportedly hit a 42-inch vertical (he’s 6-4, 241 per NFL Draft Scout), which is kinda bananas. He snagged 11 tuddies in 2017 and is up to 6 scores this season, all while logging a 135.2 passer rating when targeted per PFF.

Kaden Smith, Stanford, Junior — His hands and the ability at the catch-point are serious. I think he’s a first-round talent as of this writing. His head coach has dubbed him the “next Zach Ertz”, if you’re wondering where his potential and ceiling lie:

Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri, Redshirt Sophomore — Not nearly as athletic as some of the other prospects in this class, which isn’t necessarily a knock, but just a reality (the bar should be set high once more). 6-4, 255, so he’s got the prerequisite build, along with the strength and ball-skills; might have the best hands in the group upon early viewing. Only 29 receptions in 2017, but 11 of them went for scores.

Dawson Knox, Mississippi, Junior — Body control is really good, and he should be one of the better testers. Former quarterback who could leap up boards assuming he’s simply utilized more (and he should be):

Irv Smith Jr., Alabama, Junior — Arguably the most complete tight end in the class, Smith won’t “wow” at the catch-point or in contested situations (we just don’t have much to go off of here), but he should be right up there athletically. There are plenty of mouths to feed in Tuscaloosa, so the box score won’t jump out at you either, but don’t sleep. More importantly, analysts like Mr. Waldman have highlighted his blocking ability early:

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