The on-field testing portion of the NFL Scouting Combine continued with the tight ends as they kicked off an eventful day filled with skilled position players. A position that’s considered to be historically deep, T.J. Hockenson, Irv Smith, Jr., and Noah Fant were among the headliners of the tight end class. All left their marks during their final opportunity to add to their résumés in Indianapolis. There were some prospects included in the second and third tiers of the crop that also flashed.
Noah Fant, TE, Iowa
Fant stole the show from the beginning, as he quickly paced his way to a 4.50 forty time and put a bow on the uber-athletic reputation that he had coming into the event. Fant finished with the best scores in the vertical (39.5″), broad jump (10’7″), 3-cone (6.81) and 60-yard shuttle (11.49). When it came to the on-field drills, he continued to distinguish himself from the pack and showed off his catch radius on the “in cut” drill. He had no problems with extending and catching the ball that was placed far out in front of his body.
"In the mix to be the first TE [taken in the draft]."@HawkeyeFootball TE Noah Fant runs a lightning fast 4.51u 40-yard dash!
— NFL (@NFL) March 2, 2019
His ability to stay low and sink in his routes, while still being able to explode out of his route breaks, was evident. During the “toe tap” drill, he was one of the few that looked comfortable with the sequence of movements that involved getting two feet in-bounds while still being able to haul in the catch prior to turning and exploding up the field. Fant showed to be comfortable with all of the drills and stamped his status as a surefire first-round selection. Teams with a creative offensive coordinator that understands how to incorporate a versatile chess piece like Fant should have him very high on their board because of his size and ability to be a mismatch anywhere on the field.
Irv Smith Jr., TE, Alabama
After measuring a bit shorter than expected (6-2 3/8, 242), Smith quickly made critics forget that aspect with his performance on Saturday. Standing alone during the on-field drill session, he shined. Showing explosiveness from his three-point stance and delivering a nice pop to the hand shield, while also having active feet, was a positive step for him. Labeled as an inconsistent blocker, it was good to see that there’s technique within him to build upon in the future.
Irv Smith Jr. going through the gauntlet drill with ease 👏 @AlabamaFTBL
— NFL (@NFL) March 2, 2019
His best moment of the day came during the “gauntlet” drill, holding the line as he moved laterally, snatching the ball out of the air, and then squeezing it. His ability to consistently catch matched his tape when running routes. There wasn’t a glimpse of cradling or double catching the ball. On every catch attempt, the ball came to a complete stop, showing that he has strong hands. Not turning 21 years old until August, Smith’s upside is a trait to be very excited about.
Jace Sternberger, TE, Texas A&M
One of the more unique stories of the draft is Sternberger’s path to Texas A&M. Starting off his career at Kansas, where he went on to only record one catch for five yards, he opted to transfer and attend Northeastern Oklahoma A&M Community College. After having a standout season there with 21 catches for 336 yards and six touchdowns, he signed with Texas A&M.
-Last 10 years, one of only 2 TE’s with 17.3 YPC AND 10 TD’s
-Last 15 years, only TE in SEC with 45+ catches AND more than 15.5 YPC
-Last 15 years, most YPC (17.3) in Nation with 45+ catches
— Mike McCartney (@MikeMcCartney7) February 16, 2019
In his only year as a tarter, Sternberger went on to have one of the best seasons for a tight end in not only school history, but SEC history, as well. The former Aggie was able to show off his receiving ability during the receiving drills. The “in cut” session was his best performance, showing that he’s mostly a receiving tight end, and that’s where most of his value lies.
T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa
The comparisons to another former Hawkeye tight end in George Kittle always seemed to be way off base to me, but Hockenson still went out and put together a very nice showing. He finished second behind his former teammate, Noah Fant, in the short shuttle (4.23), 3-cone (7.02), vertical (37.5″), and broad jump (10’3″). His hands during the gauntlet drill proved to be reliable, and his best trait as a blocker shined. Consistent footwork and hand placement, combined with keeping his hands firmly inside, allowed him to show off his dominance as a blocker.
Foster Moreau, TE, LSU
After being underutilized as pass catcher — his primary role came as a run blocker for the Tigers — Moreau finally got his chance to show off his abilities as a pass catcher. Showing patient and poised routes, he left evaluators with a sense of needing to go back and watch his tape to find some of his pass catching reps within the LSU offense.
Dax Raymond, TE, Utah State
Raymond is starting to see his stock take a steady uptick. After being able to show off nice hands and above average route, he’s left scouts intrigued as a viable early day 3 option that could prove to be a versatile threat in the running and passing game.
Keenen Brown, TE, Texas State
A graduate transfer from Oklahoma State, Brown quietly put together a steady showing. Building off of the momentum that he created during the week of practices at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, he could be a later round option for teams that are looking for strictly a receiving option.
For more NFL Draft news and analysis, follow Jordan on Twitter @JReidNFL.