Now more than ever the NFL is showing increased innovation and creativity on both sides of the ball, but especially on the offensive end. Points are being scored at a historic rate, and the motto that defense wins championships is now more a footnote for a consistent offense than it is a battle strategy on its own.
A big reason for this is because of the idea of creative heavily favored towards mismatches on offense. This can be found in a multitude of areas. Sometimes it's with a size advantage; other times it might be speed; even footwork and separation has its niche. However, no place on offense is mismatch potential more emphasized than it is with tight ends. Players like Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham back in the day or even Travis Kelce now have taken the league by storm. Their offenses have proven that if you find an elite tight end they are nearly impossible to stop.
This is a deep tight end class, and because of that there are a handful of guys who can make an impact at the next level. But just for fun let's take certain aspects of different tight ends in this class and create the perfect tight end altogether.
Athleticism: Noah Fant, Iowa
I mean, those numbers are crazy, right?
When O.J. Howard rolled through the NFL Combine a few years ago, people were awestruck at how well a man of his size could move. This past Combine, Fant moved even better. Fant's athletic ceiling is about as high as it gets for any tight end, let alone one of his size. His jumps and runs were all above the 95th percentile for the position.
Size: Kendall Blanton, Missouri
The first time I saw Kendall Blanton in person at the East-West Shrine event this past January, well, let's just say I didn't forget or ever confuse him for another player ever again.
At a shade over 6-foot-6 and 262 pounds, Blanton has size that puts him in the 94th percentile for height and the 75th percentile for weight. His nearly 82-inch wingspan gives him a 90th percentile score, in that category, and his hand size of over 10 inches puts him in the 86th percentile.
Simply put: this dude is a size mismatch against any defender in the league.
Hands/Ball Skills: T.J. Hockenson, Iowa
This one was difficult, not because Hockenson is bad at ball skills or anything, but because I could have potentially used Hockenson in every category on this list.
Hockenson may not have the elite agility like some other tight ends do, but man, when that ball gets close to his frame it is his. He's had diving catches, catches in traffic, catches near the sideline and at the back of the end zone. This guy will not let you down with those big ol' mitts he has. He's as reliable as they come with ball skills and consistency.
Blocking: Trevon Wesco, West Virginia
When I first saw Trevon Wesco at the Senior Bowl this past January I was taken back by how big this dude was. I mean, I had watched his film a bit going into the week just so I had a baseline of what I was looking for with him, but until I was field level and saw what he looked like next to other players at his position, I was really impressed.
Wesco is a legit 270 pounds, which is in the 90th percentile for a tight end. As you would expect with a guy that big, he can block his butt off. Hand placement and lower body power is consistent and evident on almost every play. He and Hockenson are the best in the class, if you ask me.
Route Running: Jace Sternberger, Texas A&M
Sternberger is a smooth criminal when it comes to route running. During his one year wonder at Texas A&M, he was a consistent target for quarterback Kellen Mond, and the reason for that is because how precise he was with his route running. Sternberger was always where he needed to be. Varying speeds in his routes or coverages he was up against did not dictate him getting to his spot at the correct time, and because of that he was able to garner pretty good chemistry with his quarterback -- that trend should continue at the next level.
I think he's the best of the bunch when it comes to both separation and smoothness in his routes.