The tight end position is constantly evolving. Gone are the days of the big in-line TEs who were a surprise every time they caught a ball once or twice a game.
Now offenses can build everything around how much of a mismatch their tight end and slot positions are and with that, we have seen some unique skillsets over the last few years.
With a nice group of quarterbacks under center this year in Mobile, Alabama, the tight end class with have some good arms throwing the rock their way. Here’s who to look out for during Senior Bowl.
Most Talented: Brycen Hopkins, Purdue
Entering the season, Brycen Hopkins was regarded as a potential TE1. His above-average athleticism paired with his run after the catch threat made him a premium candidate to take the next step and be one of the more coveted offensive weapons in the 2020 draft. At his best, he has some Evan Engram in his game. He can run routes as explosively and crisply as many wide receivers — except Hopkins does it at 6-foot-5. You can put him anywhere as a flex/slot receiver off the line of scrimmage and have a good chance at it being a mismatch in your favor.
From an athletic standpoint, Hopkins should be able to stand out in Mobile when it comes to both scrimmages and one-on-ones.
Most Potential: Jared Pinkney, Vanderbilt
Like Hopkins, there were high hopes for Jared Pinkney coming into the 2019 season. After recording 77 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in 2018 (both career highs), Pinkney was one of the top tight ends mentioned in summer scouting profiles and discussions. But the 2019 season wasn't that "next step" many were hoping it would be for the 6-foot-4, 260-pound tight end. Vanderbilt’s offense just was not what it needed to be, at many levels, and Pinkney's output suffered because of it.
But the potential of what he can be at the next level still exists. Pinkney has the size and general athleticism to be used as an in-line TE or even as a slot player close to the line of scrimmage. The big test of Pinkney this week will be how he fares against man coverage in one-on-one situations. He can find soft spots in the zone, but against man coverage he has a difficult time creating throwing windows and separating. There’s a lot of potential, but we didn't see it a lot in 2019. Perhaps we can in the early parts of 2020 at the Senior Bowl.
Biggest Sleeper: Harrison Bryant, FAU
With the game evolving every year, no position has been shaped more to fit the modern NFL than tight end. We're seeing TEs come in all different shapes and sizes, and Harrison Bryant is a case of a unique size and skillset utilized as a tight end in today's game.
Bryant has a long frame at 6-foot-5 with a long wingspan to pair. He's also very useful after the catch. This isn't a player who you have to manufacture space for; he is a natural at picking yards up after receptions and has good speed when he gets going in a straight line. Bryant is an ideal seam and sideline player. Look to see how much coaches notice that from him this week. Anytime you find a 6-foot-5 player who can get vertical, coaches will pay attention.
Most To Prove: Brycen Hopkins, Vanderbilt
Normally we don't do the same player for two categories when we write these previews, but Hopkins is the obvious choice for both the most talented and the most to prove.
Though Hopkins does have the highest ceiling due to how athletic he is, his drops have been a problem. It doesn't matter how well you can get to a spot or beat your man in coverage, if you can't haul it in when the pass comes your way, you're not going to earn the trust of the quarterback or the coaching staff. Hopkins has the most to prove this week in his hands. Make them like glue and he'll cash a check soon.