Preseason Top 5: Big Ten Tight Ends

Photo: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The crop of Big Ten Tight Ends boasts a pretty penny at the top of the pile, but what lurks below the surface? This isn't an especially deep group of players and every listed participant has a notable set of questions to answer coming into the 2018 college football season.

There are no opinions set in stone just yet.

With a full season left to play, plenty can (and will) change for these Big Ten Tight Ends and their resumes for the next level. Some may not even enter the 2019 NFL Draft prospect pool, as several have more than one remaining year of eligibility. But as things stand entering the season, here are the five best draft eligible Big Ten Tight Ends.

1. Noah Fant, Iowa

My goodness. This is a physical specimen if we've ever seen one. Fant is a unicorn, checking in at 6-foot-5 and over 240 pounds while also possessing game breaking vertical speed. Fant also reportedly logged a 42" vertical leap in spring testing, meaning his catch radius ends somewhere above the crossbar of the goalposts.

Fant was efficient with his receptions last year, translating 11 of his 30 catches into touchdowns. Long story short, this is the next great mis-match Tight End in the NFL. Few athletes at his position across the entire country can hold a candle to Fant's physical gifts, which he has harnessed effectively to become a big play weapon.

Needs to improve: In-line blocking

2. Jerome Washington, Rutgers

A former four-star recruit to the University of Miami, Washington is no slouch athletically. He moves really well and has offered some pleasant reps in the run game as well, generating a lot of space to run alongside Rutgers LT Tariq Cole.

Washington's biggest issue? He led the team in receptions last year with a whopping 28 catches. He's was the only player on the team to grab more than 20 footballs. Not great. How much can Washington showcase himself on such a handcuffed offense? It was clear at times that he was frustrated by waves of poor play and non-targets.

But Washington runs the stick route well, is a big body for contested catches in tight space and can really shine as a blocker.

Needs to improve: More deceptive route stems to separate vs. man coverage

3. Sean McKeon, Michigan

McKeon has the look of a solid tight end for the NFL game. He has requisite athletic abilities to be a contributor as both a run blocker and a pass catcher.

That said, McKeon's currently more accomplished as a blocker than he is as a receiver, although he can aide his cause with some basic improvements on his routes. McKeon gets cold feet at the top of many routes, uncertain on how to displace defenders to that have squatted overtop of his vertical stem. The subsequent contact throws off his timing and will need to be diminished to see what his ceiling is as a receiver.

McKeon has great hand-eye coordination and can be an effective receiver in the red zone, where space is at a premium.

Needs to improve: Avoiding contact at the top of routes

4. Zach Gentry, Michigan

If McKeon is the every down option at tight end for Michigan, Gentry is the flex weapon. At a whopping 6-foot-7, Gentry is long and rangy, offering quite the catch radius for any quarterback looking his way.

Gentry is pretty quick to get up to top speed as well, he's got some clear acceleration between 5 and 15 yards up the hash, allowing him to quickly get behind those on the second level who would wish to take away a throwing window in zone coverage.

Gentry's receiving upside is much greater than his teammate McKeon's, but Gentry offers almost nothing in blocking systems at this juncture. His hands are too soft, his hips are too high, his base too narrow. Gentry can be a factor as a receiver, but his one dimensional qualities last year on film hinder his ranking here.

Needs to improve: Functional strength and blocking IQ

5. Matt Sokol, Michigan State

Sokol is a high-upside type player, although senior the clock is certainly ticking on his ability to add polish to his game. Although Sokol didn't see a great deal of targets and wasn't a focal point in the passing offense, that is currently where his strengths lie. There's some athletic ability to get vertical and behind the second level of the defense, Sokol can certainly run.

But functional strength is a highly disappointing trait for a 250 pound Tight End. Sokol will get pushed around in all aspects of the position: trying to press through contact on his route stems or when looking to stalemate defenders at the line of scrimmage.

The mind is willing, but the body is unable in Sokol's case. Hopefully a strong offseason with focus on lower body power leads Sokol to new heights in 2018.

Needs to improve: Functional strength

Sleeper to watch: Cole Herdman, Purdue

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.