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2023 NFL Scouting Combine Preview: Tight End

Oregon State's Luke Musgrave
Oregon State's Luke Musgrave

Many analysts will point to this group of tight ends as one of the strongest positions in the entire draft class. With a variety of skill sets and body types, no matter what your favorite NFL team is looking for, chances are they'll be able to find an option this spring at the position.

Workout Warriors

These are the players who analysts expect to see perform best in the athletic testing portion of the workout.

Luke Musgrave (Oregon State) – Musgrave is the guy all of the analysts are excited to see this week. At 6-foot-5, 255 pounds, the nephew of former Eagles Quarterbacks Coach Bill Musgrave has excellent speed down the seam, which was presented in Bruce Feldman's annual Freak List article last summer as the senior came in at No. 27 on the list. The four-sport high school star, who was an excellent skier in the state of Oregon (that flexibility and body control does show up on tape as well), should be one of the best testers at the tight end spot this week.

Zack Kuntz (Old Dominion) – On that Freak List last summer, Kuntz was one of the biggest "wait, who is that?!" names inserted into the NFL Draft landscape, as he checked in at No. 11 for Feldman. The Penn State transfer moved to ODU in 2021 and caught 73 passes for nearly 700 yards and five touchdowns on his way to being named First-Team All-Conference USA. With potential 4.5 speed and explosiveness in his lower half, Kuntz (who was a state champion both as a hurdler and high jumper in high school) should impress.

Josh Whyle (Cincinnati) – Whyle checked in just outside the Top 75 on Feldman's Freak List last summer, and his athleticism does show up on tape. A field stretcher with an impressive 6-foot-6, 260-pound frame, the senior tight end is a smooth natural athlete who should impress in all athletic tests across the board with good shuttles and jumps as well as a positive result in the 40-yard dash.

Will Mallory (Miami) – There hasn't been a ton written about Mallory's potential test scores this week, so this is all gut instinct on my part based off film study, where I thought the tight end flew off the ball and showed the ability to be a vertical weapon. The senior's fluidity and lack of wasted movement stood out while watching him as a junior, when he caught four touchdowns for the Hurricanes as an every-week starter. A year later and the Jacksonville native was named Second-Team All-ACC because of his playmaking ability as he set career highs with 42 catches and 538 yards in the new "U" offense.

Brenton Strange (Penn State) – While Kuntz is a Penn State transfer, Strange stuck it out with the Nittany Lions and paid it off this year with career highs in catches (32), yards (362), and touchdowns (5) this season as a junior. At 6-3, 246 pounds, he's built like a matchup-type, a movement piece who can be shifted around the formation in the passing game. A four-year letterman for his high school basketball team, Strange's movement skills on the gridiron should transfer well to the track this week.

Will Kill the Drills

These position drills are meant to make players uncomfortable, and for a lot of these players, blocking is not something they're used to doing. Here are some things to take note of in the bag drills on the field:

When these tight ends strike the bags, look for explosiveness out of their stance, some knockback on the bag, and finally some violence through contact. Ideally, if the microphones are turned up on the field, you should be able to hear the "thud" on contact!

Here are the players who have a chance to shine in these drills:

Darnell Washington (Georgia) – Listed at 6-foot-7, 270 pounds, Washington is a true throwback at the tight end spot and I won't argue with those who view him as a potential offensive tackle convert in the mold of former Eagle Jason Peters. A devastating blocker in all areas of the game, Washington should look good when striking the bag considering how dominant at the point of attack he was on a weekly basis in the best conference in college football.

Michael Mayer (Notre Dame) – While he's not the devastatingly powerful blocker that Washington is, Mayer is no slouch. Only one tight end (Air Force's Kyle Patterson) turned in a better Run Block Grade from Pro Football Focus this season, and the film backs it up with Mayer's effort and technique at the point of attack. He should look good in those drills.

Noah Gindorff (North Dakota State) – Gindorff is a huge human being at 6-foot-6, 266 pounds with giant hands and an impressive wingspan. He could only put his skills on display for three starts this season due to injury, but the Bison star has great tape throughout his career and his size allows him to be really impactful in the run game.

Brayden Willis (Oklahoma) – Willis is a fun player to study because he's a headhunter as a blocker. At 6-3, 239 pounds, he has a unique body type as kind of an H-Back/fullback build, and his athleticism and tenacity shows up the moment you put the tape on. An accomplished special teams player throughout his career, Willis was named Second-Team All-Big 12 this year after reaching the end zone seven times in the passing game, but his blocking versatility will boost his value.

Best Stories

These players have great stories to tell, but who has taken the most unique journey to get to this point?

Dalton Kincaid (Utah) – Coming into the season, Kincaid was my favorite tight end in the nation because of what he showed on tape a year ago as a 13-game starter, his first as a full-time player for the Utes. He followed that up with an All-American campaign that featured him as one of the best pass catchers in football, particularly in the second half of the season. Kincaid is a smooth, but not explosive, athlete who gets in and out of breaks well and never puts the ball on the ground. He's reached the end zone 16 times in the last two years for the Utes. If you think that's impressive, factor in the other 19 scores he posted in his first two collegiate seasons at the University of San Diego. Kincaid, who reminds me of former Eagle Zach Ertz with the way he plays the game, is an easy projection as a pass catching option in the NFL.

Payne Durham (Purdue) – One of the fun parts of the tight end position is that you typically get a handful of late bloomers who are new to the position, and Durham is a guy that falls into that category. The senior didn't start playing football until his senior year of high school just outside Atlanta (he was an accomplished lacrosse player before that), but didn't take long to make his mark, earning a trip to the Big Ten and hitting the ground running. In four years on the field with the Boilermakers, Durham never had fewer than three touchdowns in a season, and he had 14 in his final two combined. The touchdown-maker is excellent in the red zone, and his pass catching-prowess should impress in positional work at Lucas Oil Stadium. That said, you have to remember that he was *this* close to not even playing the sport.

Significant Stats

These are the players of note with a special statistic or measurement that sets them apart from their peers.

Davis Allen (Clemson) – Watching Clemson's offense this year, it was very apparent that they had a lot of faith in Allen and his ability to be the focal point of the passing game, as they moved him around the formation and dialed up play after play where he was the primary option for the quarterback. He repaid them by being an extremely reliable pass catcher and one of their leading receivers. Just how reliable was he at the catch point? Well, only one tight end at the Combine (Kincaid) had a lower career drop rate (per Pro Football Focus) than Allen, who allowed just 3.3 percent of his targets to hit the ground during his career with the orange and white.

Tucker Kraft (South Dakota State) – On a per-route basis, no tight end at this event has had a more productive career than Kraft, who gained 2.33 yards per route run over the course of his career with the Jackrabbits, where he carries the mantle of Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert (whose 2.83 yards per route run in college was the highest of any tight end drafted in the last decade that PFF charted). At 6-foot-5, 255 pounds, Kraft is big, productive, and athletic. He's a fascinating prospect.

The Rest of the Pack

Everyone else who will take part in the events in Indianapolis (in alphabetical order)"

Sam LaPorta (Iowa), Cameron Latu (Alabama), Kyle Patterson (Air Force), Luke Schoonmaker (Michigan), Leonard Taylor (Cincinnati), Blake Whiteheart (Wake Forest)

Mr. Average

We get to read all about the measurements for all these players over the next few weeks ... but wouldn't it be nice to have some context? What is considered a "good" 40-yard dash time? What about arm length? The broad jump? Here's what the average player drafted at each position has looked like over the last decade (based on my own personal research).

Height: 6045 (6'4 5/8")

Weight: 251

Hand Size: 968 (9 3/4")

Arm Length: 3300 (33")

Wingspan: 7928 (79 1/4")

Unofficial 40-Time (Stopwatch): 4.69

Official 40-Time (Laser): 4.73

10-Yard Split: 1.63

3-Cone Drill: 7.14

Short Shuttle: 4.38

Broad Jump: 118"

Vertical Jump: 33.5"

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