The NFL is often labeled as a copycat league. So naturally, other NFL franchises will examine the ingredients that made the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl teams and look to replicate what made them successful.
While the Chiefs and 49ers were the best teams in their respective conferences for various reasons, the single most comparable component in the makeup of both teams is the tight end position. Travis Kelce of the Chiefs and 49ers’ George Kittle are the two best tight ends in football. Both Kare coming off 1,000-yard receiving seasons and have been dynamic weapons in the passing game.
With teams in search of their own Kelce or Kittle, the demand for a game-changer at tight end is at an all-time high. Unfortunately, the class of tight ends available for the 2020 NFL Draft won’t provide the answers teams are looking for.
Cole Kmet, Adam Trautman and Brycen Hopkins offer the best chance at becoming a reliable starter or quality No. 2 tight end, but the prospects that profile as true difference-makers won’t be found in this year’s class.
It’s easy to poke holes in a player’s skill set and determine what they can’t do. The important and useful goal of evaluating a position group for a draft is determining what each prospect can do and how they can help a football team. While efforts to find a Kittle or Kelce in this year’s class are fruitless, there is a trio of versatile talents that can provide value in the middle rounds and make an NFL offense better in more of an H-back role, a tight end/fullback hybrid that frequently motions and lines up in a variety of alignments that run blocks, pass blocks and is used as a receiver.
Josiah Deguara, Cincinnati
H-backs are often responsible for doing the dirty work as a lead blocker in the run game or staying in as an additional blocker on passing downs and Josiah Deguara wouldn’t mind doing it all. After studying his game, he loves every bit of any role he’s asked to fulfill on the field. Deguara executes with a fierce, competitive demeanor and gives maximum effort on every rep. While he doesn’t provide the biggest frame with ideal length, his mentality as a competitor leads to success.
Deguara is a detail-oriented player and illustrates good technique as both a blocker and route runner. He knows how to clear traffic to reach his landmarks when running routes and make himself available to the quarterback. Deguara showcases good ball skills and perfectly accurate throws aren’t required for him to make a play on the ball. His hands are reliable and he competes after the catch for additional yardage.
Deguara isn’t dominant in any one area, but he is consistent, reliable and competitive in whatever his team needs him to do. Those qualities should lead to valuable contributions on special teams in addition to offensive packages. His all-around skill set and the ways he can impact a football game presents unheralded value.
Harrison Bryant, Florida Atlantic
Production in the passing game is often hard for college tight ends to come by but not for Harrison Bryant, who hauled in 65 receptions for 1,004 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior. Florida Atlantic University prioritized targets for Bryant, often by virtue of the scheme, and he was able to not only showcase his ability to win down the field but create yardage after the catch.
While Bryant was a big-time contributor in the passing game, his forecast to the NFL is much more modest. He isn’t consistent playing through contact as a route runner or making ideal adjustments to the ball in the air. Bryant’s routes aren’t as crisp as they need to be and getting his frame in ideal positions to finish receptions is still a work in progress. Despite his limitations as a receiver, Bryant projects favorably to the H-back role where the onus isn’t on polished route running technique or dynamic ball skills to execute as a pass-catcher.
Bryant won’t be labeled as having dominant play strength and he lacks length, but he is a more-than-willing blocker who can be trusted to hit key blocks on the move and even widen some holes by lead-blocking into gaps.
When it comes to high-effort blocking, baseline receiving skills, intriguing ability to win after the catch and forecasting his competitive mentality to special teams combined with some limitations, Bryant has the qualities needed to fill an H-back role.
Dalton Keene, Virginia Tech
Dalton Keene was criminally underutilized at Virginia Tech, especially for a fluttering offense that hasn’t met expectations under fourth-year coach Justin Fuente. In fact, it’s quite possible Keene could become a legitimate starting tight end in the NFL given his size, athleticism and untapped potential. But his forecast from studying his tape is an easy projection to an H-back role at a minimum.
Keene is a tenacious competitor that executes with a motor that is always fully cranked. He gets after it as a blocker and battles for yardage after the catch with his share of broken tackles on film. While he hasn’t been tasked with a full route tree, Keene has good separation quickness and the athleticism to run away from linebackers.
Keene has already proven his abilities as an H-back given the way he was used in college. The appeal with Keene is his makeup, balanced skill set and appealing physical traits that could lead to an even bigger role at the next level.