3 Tight Ends With The Most To Prove At NFL Combine

Photo: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

There will be 21 tight ends in attendance for the 2019 NFL Combine. This year's collection of tight ends doesn't necessarily have the top-heavy star power of the 2017 class, which produced promising young stars like Evan Engram, O.J. Howard, David Njoku and George Kittle. But it's a deep group and there figures to be a number of tight ends out of the 2019 class that can make an impact right away. With that said, Combine performances will be big for this tightly contested group of prospects.

Who has the most to gain with a big performance next week? Here are my three top candidates:

Kaden Smith, Stanford

Smith was a player that flashed quite often for Stanford, especially in the heart of the season when he helped tear apart Utah, Washington State and Washington, his three 100+ yard performances on the season. Smith is big, has a large catch radius and the Cardinal used him to attack the seam.

But the more I watched, the more concerned I became with Smith's game. Smith's chunk plays were often against free releases and sloppy back seven play. When opposing defenses put a body on Smith and forced him to try and run his routes through contact, things didn't go nearly as well.

Add in a blocking skill set that needs a lot of work and Smith is going to need to test really well to prove to teams there's a ceiling here to get better. If Smith, with the incomplete portions of his game, tests to be a below average athlete, it will really whitewash any momentum he has going into the NFL Draft in April.

Isaac Nauta, Georgia

I like Nauta, a lot. He's got a chance to be one of my top-5 tight end prospects in this year's class. But Nauta, who put up 30 receptions for 430 yards and 3 touchdowns this season, isn't necessarily an elite athlete.

And as such, he's in a crowded group of prospects who could and up laying claim to that fifth slot in the positional rankings. So in order to help sort through the mess, I'd love for Nauta to come out and test well with some explosive numbers and separate himself from the likes of Dawson Knox, Dax Raymond and others.

The good news for Nauta is his technique and blocking are rock solid, so his foundation heading into the league is established. He should get reps. But he'll need to answer those questions to solidify his footing in the draft order.

Alize Mack, Notre Dame

Mack's path to the NFL will have to answer more than just on the field questions. Mack sat out his sophomore season on account of academics and was suspended for the Citrus Bowl as a junior on account of violating team rules.

So there is some red tape here that Mack is going to have teams vetting and sorting through. That's fine, provided someone feels comfortable they can keep him in line.

Mack is a pretty gifted player, athletically. Unfortunately, due to some self inflicted wounds and a poor passing offense in South Bend, he hasn't been able to translate a lot of that into production to this point.

Mack needs to crush the testing and crush the interviews if teams are going to take him seriously and covet him as a 2019 NFL Draft prospect.

Kendall BlantonTEMissouriSEC
Keenen BrownTETexas St.Sun Belt
C.J. ConradTEKentuckySEC
Noah FantTEIowaBig Ten
Zach GentryTEMichiganBig Ten
Daniel HelmTEDukeACC
T.J. HockensonTEIowaBig Ten
Dawson KnoxTEMississippiSEC
Alize MackTENotre DameIA Independents
Foster MoreauTELSUSEC
Isaac NautaTEGeorgiaSEC
Josh OliverTESan Jose St.Mountain West
Dax RaymondTEUtah St.Mountain West
Drew SampleTEWashingtonPac-12
Irv Smith Jr.TEAlabamaSEC
Kaden SmithTEStanfordPac-12
Jace SternbergerTETexas A&MSEC
Tommy SweeneyTEBoston CollegeACC
Kahale WarringTESan Diego St.Mountain West
Trevon WescoTEWest VirginiaBig 12
Caleb WilsonTEUCLAPac-12

Written By:

Kyle Crabbs

Director of Content

Director of Content & Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-host of the Draft Dudes podcast. Former NDT Scouting Overlord.