For the first time since 2016, the 2020 NFL Draft was absent of a tight end being selected in the first round. Much was made during the scouting process about how the class was lacking talent at the tight end position and the first one off the board came at No. 43 overall when the Chicago Bears picked Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet. The only other tight ends picked among the top 100 selections were at No. 91 overall when the New England Patriots picked UCLA’s Devin Asiasi and Cincinnati’s Josiah Deguara who went No. 94 overall to the Green Bay Packers.
The 2020 tight end class represented a sharp contrast to the 2019 class when one year prior there were two first-round tight ends and eight picked among the top 100. The talent discrepancy is evidenced when comparing the production of the tight end classes as rookies through the initial 10 weeks of each season.
Including all rookie tight ends across the entire NFL, the group has combined to collect 43 receptions for 467 yards with seven touchdowns so far in 2020. For the 2019 rookie class of tight ends, they combined for 118 receptions for 1,382 yards and eight touchdowns at the same point one year ago.
The bright spot among 2020 rookie tight ends is Harrison Bryant, who was the sixth tight end off the board when the Cleveland Browns made him the No. 115 pick. He leads all rookie tight ends with 15 catches for 151 yards and three touchdowns. His production was a bit unexpected given that the Browns’ depth chart already included Austin Hooper and David Njoku at the time of his selection. Working in Bryant’s favor is that head coach Kevin Stefanski’s offense often features two tight end sets while Hooper and Njoku have both dealt with injuries and missed some time.
The only other rookie tight end with at least 10 catches or 100 receiving yards is Denver Broncos rookie Albert Okwuegbunam, who has 11 receptions for 121 yards and a touchdown. Unfortunately, Okwuegbunam’s season is over after suffering a torn ACL earlier in November.
As for the draft's first tight end selected, Kmet has only seen the field on 37% of the Bears’ offensive snaps despite being active for all 10 games so far this season. He’s only been able to produce seven receptions for 86 yards and a touchdown as part of Chicago’s fluttering offense.
The good news for the 2020 tight end class is the eventual success of the 2016 tight end class, another group that was billed as lacking talent and didn’t produce a first-round pick. Among that class were Tyler Higbee and Hooper, who are now among the top-10 tight ends in the NFL when it comes to total contract value. In addition, 2016 produced Hunter Henry, who is playing the 2020 season under the franchise tag, is earning a salary of $10.6 million, and is the league’s third-highest paid player at the position in 2020. Henry is currently on pace for achieving new career highs in both catches and receiving yards, positioning himself to get paid handsomely in the offseason.
It’s widely understood that it takes tight ends more time to develop and acclimate to the NFL game compared to most other positions. The 2020 rookie crop of tight ends is no exception, but hopefully it can gain the momentum of the 2016 class and produce a few quality starters in the league.