2019 Draft Snapshot: Tight Ends

The 2019 NFL Draft is less than two weeks from today.

The first round of the annual event will begin at 7 p.m. (CT) on April 25 in Nashville.

The Miller Lite Vikings Draft Party will coincide with the opening night. It is scheduled from 6 to 11 p.m. on April 25 at U.S. Bank Stadium and will feature live coverage of the draft by “Voice of the Vikings” Paul Allen and KFAN. Tickets are available for purchase here.

The second and third rounds will be held on April 26, with festivities beginning at 6 p.m. (CT).

The fourth round will start at 11 a.m. (CT) on April 27 and be followed by Rounds 5-7.

The Vikings currently have eight selections in the draft, beginning with the 18th overall pick.

Vikings.com is taking a glance at the top prospects at each position leading up to the draft.

Schedule

April 11: Running backs

April 12: Tight ends

April 15: Quarterbacks

April 16: Wide receivers

April 17: Offensive tackles

April 18: Centers and guards

April 19: Defensive tackles

April 22: Defensive ends/edge rushers

April 23: Linebackers

April 24: Cornerbacks

April 25: Safeties

Where the Vikings Stand

The Vikings have four tight ends — Kyle Rudolph, David Morgan, Tyler Conklin and Cole Hikutini — on the roster.

Rudolph’s 65 consecutive starts are the most by any active tight end. He has totaled 253 receptions, 2,501 yards and 24 touchdowns in those contests. Although Morgan is best-known for his blocking, he’s been able to hang his hat on several nice receptions. Injuries sideline Morgan for five games in 2018, and the offense seemed to miss him. Conklin caught five passes for 77 yards on just seven targets in his rookie campaign. Hikutini spent 2018 on the Vikings practice squad after playing in four games with the 49ers in 2017.

Recent NFL Draft History (past five years)

Total number of tight ends taken: 67

Round 1: 5 (1 in 2018, 3 in 2017, 0 in 2016, 0 in 2015, 1 in 2014)

Round 2: 8 (2 in 2018, 1 in 2017, 1 in 2016, 1 in 2015, 3 in 2014)

Round 3: 11 (2 in 2018, 1 in 2017, 2 in 2016, 3 in 2015, 3 in 2014)

Round 4: 9 (5 in 2018, 1 in 2017, 2 in 2016, 1 in 2015, 0 in 2014)

Round 5: 14 (3 in 2018, 5 in 2017, 0 in 2016, 5 in 2015, 1 in 2014)

Round 6: 11 (1 in 2018, 1 in 2017, 4 in 2016, 5 in 2015, 0 in 2014)

Round 7: 9 (1 in 2018, 1 in 2017, 2 in 2016, 4 in 2015, 1 in 2014)

The Prospects (based on rankings by Dane Brugler of The Athletic)

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1. T.J. Hockenson

Iowa, Redshirt Junior, 6-foot-5, 251 pounds

2018 stats: 760 yards and six touchdowns on 49 receptions (15.5 yards per catch) in 13 games

Quotable: “My decision was very thought out. It was very methodical. I talked to the coaching staff, not just after the season. It was very thought out. I took something to write with into every meeting, and tried to take away (advice) from those meetings. I think it was with Coach [Kirk] Ferentz, to get his blessing, and for him to tell me that I’m ready for the next level as a person and as a player, was really meaningful and special.” — Hockenson on deciding to enter the draft with a year of eligibility remaining

Initial impression: Way back in February, NFL Media draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah dubbed Hockenson “the safest player in the draft.”

“I saw this kid with the same temperament and nastiness in the running game and controlling the run game,” Jeremiah said during a conference call before the combine. “On top of that, he does nothing but get open and catch everything they throw to him. He’s going to be a very valuable player with a high floor as well as a high ceiling.”

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2. Noah Fant

Iowa, Junior, 6-foot-4, 249

2018 stats: 519 yards and seven touchdowns on 39 receptions (13.3 yards per catch) in 12 games

Quotable: “I think they’re so good with tight ends because they develop them. It’s not just a program where you run routes or you just catch balls. You have to do both. You have to put your hand in the dirt and you have to split out, that’s kind of where I pride myself on and where I fit into the offense. I was able to be inline, I was able to be flexed out, I was able to be an isolated receiver.” — Fant on why the Hawkeyes have had such successful tight ends

Comparison game: Jeremiah also expressed what he likes about Fant during that conference call.

“Fant is more athletic and more explosive. He’s functional in the run game, he’s OK … you can get by with him there no problem, he’s sufficient,” Jeremiah said. “But he’s not the killer that Hockenson is, and that would be the difference there.”

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3. Irv Smith, Jr.

Alabama, Junior, 6-foot-2, 242

2018 stats: 710 yards and seven touchdowns on 44 receptions (16.1 yards per catch) in 15 games

Quotable: “Most tight ends, they can either block or run routes, but I feel like I bring a combination that’s going to change the position for the future of the tight end.” — Smith on his versatility

Co-leader of the pack: According to analytics site Pro Football Focus, Smith tied for the lead among tight ends in 2018 with 2.56 yards per route run.

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4. Kaden Smith

Stanford, Junior, 6-5, 255

2018 stats: 635 yards and two touchdowns on 47 receptions (13.5 yards per catch) in 10 games

Quotable: “I’d say it’s evolving. There’s a lot more receiving tight ends in the NFL right now. I want to be one of the guys that can do both — run block, run routes, catch the ball. I want to be versatile, and I want to be one of those tight ends that you can’t take off the field. That you kind of have to put on the field every down.” — Smith on what he’s seen of tight ends at the professional level

Big-play threat: Smith tied for the lead among draft-eligible tight ends assessed by PFF with seven receptions of 20-plus yards, despite missing some time, in 2018. He also ranked first in the number of receptions when lining up in the slot (27).

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5. Jace Sternberger

Texas A&M, Redshirt Junior, 6-4, 251

2018 stats: 832 yards and 10 touchdowns on 48 receptions in 13 games; ranked 21st in FBS in receiving touchdowns and 36th in yards per catch (17.3)

Quotable: “Very ready. Like I said, I dreamed about it since I was a kid. I’ve always been the type to accept challenges, and I got a lot of criticism for leaving early, and it was one of things it was like, not necessarily proving everybody wrong, but I just got to prove myself right in the aspect of I feel like I know myself better than anybody.” — Sternberger on deciding to leave with a year of eligibility

Landing and taking off: After catching one pass for five yards during his lone target as a redshirt freshman at Kansas in 2016, Sternberger transferred to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M for a season before landing at Texas A&M and taking off into another statistical stratosphere. He tied Kaden Smith for the most receptions of 20-plus yards by tight end with seven in 2018.

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6. Dawson Knox

Mississippi, Redshirt Junior, 6-4, 254

2018 stats: 284 yards on 15 receptions (18.9 yards per catch) in 12 games

Quotable: “I think that’s one of my biggest advantages for sure. A lot of guys don’t have to go into college knowing they have to earn every single thing. I just had to go into it with the mindset of: ‘I have to outwork everybody, because nobody is going to give me anything.’ No one expected me to be a good player off the bat. I was able to turn some heads that way. I kept grinding and said, ‘Don’t let anyone get in the way of my goals.’ It worked out pretty well for me.” — Knox, a former high school quarterback on opting to walk-on as a tight end

School of hard Knox: Knox played receiver as a junior in high school before gaining 50 pounds and shifting to quarterback for his senior season. That plan, however, was halted because he suffered an ankle injury in the opening game that cost him the rest of the fall.

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7. Drew Sample

Washington, Redshirt Senior, 6-5, 255

2018 stats: 252 yards and three touchdowns on 25 receptions (10.1 yards per catch) in 14 games

Quotable: “I think one of my biggest things is my versatility. I was able to do a lot of different things at UW – blocking, pass-catching, pass protection. They ask us to do a lot of different things. That’s definitely something I can use to separate myself from other guys.” — Sample on what he thinks will impress NFL personnel departments

Sure-handed: According to PFF, Sample was one of five tight ends to not drop a pass in 2018.

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8. Isaac Nauta

Georgia, Junior, 6-3, 244

2018 stats: 430 yards and three touchdowns on 30 receptions (14.3 yards per catch) in 14 games; recovered a fumble and ran for a 31-yard touchdown

Quotable: “I think the biggest thing I want them to know is I love the game of football. This is something I’ve been doing my whole life. It’s what I eat, sleep and breathe. So I want them to know that for sure, football’s super important to me, and they’re just gonna get a guy that’s gonna constantly fight and work hard. And I’m gonna help them win football games.” — Nauta on what he wanted to relay to NFL personnel departments

Up and down: PFF issued a receiving grade of 73.0 in 2018 that was nearly 21 points higher than Nauta’s junior campaign. His pass blocking score, however, went the other direction, dropping from 75.9 in 2017 to 60.2 last fall.

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9. Josh Oliver

San Jose State, Senior, 6-5, 249

2018 stats: 709 yards and four touchdowns on 56 receptions (12.7 yards per catch) in 12 games; ranked 84th in FBS with 4.7 receptions per game

Quotable: “All season long I prided myself on being the guy that guys can talk to. Guys can lean on me. Just being there as a genuine teammate. Guys could lean on me if they needed advice on anything. I’d been there for four years, I faced different things throughout my time.” — Oliver, a captain, on his leadership of teammates

Going for it all: Oliver led draft-eligible tight ends with 357 yards out of the slot and with 195 yards on deep passes in 2018, according to PFF.

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10. Dax Raymond

Utah State, Redshirt Senior, 6-5, 255

2018 stats: 345 yards and two touchdowns on 27 receptions (12.8 yards per catch) in 11 games

Quotable: “Living in Russia is not like living in America. I was not prepared for it, I had to learn Russian, not only the language but also the culture, and through that and working every day for two years, it just matured me and molded me into the person I am today.” — Raymond when asked about his LDS mission

Expert take: “An older prospect due to a religious mission, Dax Raymond is an athletic pass catcher with sweet feet and body control to slip defenders in coverage.” — Brugler

An image from September 9, 2018 regular season home game against the San Francisco 49ers. The Vikings won 24-16.

Vikings Draft Party

April 25 at U.S. Bank Stadium

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