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2024 NFL Scouting Combine Cheat Sheet: Tight End

Brock Bowers, Georgia
Brock Bowers, Georgia

The 2023 Draft class proved to be one of the best tight end groups in NFL history based off early returns, so let's take a look at some of the top players from this year's crop that will be participating in the Combine.

Workout Warriors

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

Brock Bowers (Georgia) – One quick breeze through Bowers' highlights with the Bulldogs and you can see that he's a phenomenal athlete. He's explosive. He's fluid. He's outstanding in space. He can separate. He'll hurdle defenders with the ball in his hands. In the spring of 2022, after Bowers' first year on campus, I asked then-Georgia linebacker Channing Tindall about him at the Combine and he told me that when Bowers first got to campus, he volunteered to run gassers alongside Tindall and a couple of his teammates on defense. They looked at him and thought, 'Yeah, OK rookie, let's see what you've got," and he proceeded to beat them on two straight laps across the field. The day after Tindall told me that story, he went out and ran a laser-timed 4.47 40-yard dash. In Bruce Feldman's annual Freaks List article highlighting the top athletes in college football, a Georgia staffer told him that Bowers would be in the 4.50 range in the 40 ... my feeling is that he could be faster on that based off that intel from Tindall.

Ja'Tavion Sanders (Texas) – Like Bowers, it doesn't take long after watching Sanders on the football field to think this guy is a top-end NFL athlete. He has speed to stretch the field vertically, and Head Coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff did an outstanding job of using that speed to their advantage over the last couple of years, as the junior tight end was often targeted down the field. Despite that, Sanders did not drop a single pass this season for the playoff-bound Horns. He's a mismatch nightmare in the pass game, and that athleticism should shine through in Indianapolis.

Jaheim Bell (Florida State) – If Bell had come out of college a few years ago, he likely would have been viewed as a mismatch fullback as opposed to being a tight end. Listed at just under 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds, he's an undersized player for the position, but he has mismatch qualities to his game. Both at FSU and previously at South Carolina, Bell was used out wide, in the slot, and even in the backfield where he both ran routes and took handoffs between the tackles. You don't often see tight ends get the ball on jet sweeps, but Bell did just that in his career. He is a dynamic athlete at the position, and should test very well in the athletic portion of the workout.

Jared Wiley (TCU) – Wiley has explosive traits. He's really fluid in and out of cuts. He's smooth catching the football. This is a natural athlete who, when considering his size into the equation, looks like he should be one of the top testers in Indianapolis. Factor that in with the fact that he is a former high school quarterback who is still relatively green to the tight end room? There are a lot of reasons to be excited about the senior from TCU.

Tip Reiman (Illinois) – Like Wiley, Reiman is a bigger-bodied tight end (6-foot-4, 273 pounds) who won't wow you with what the numbers look like on the receiving end of the stat sheet but who has traits that pop when you watch him. Everything with the former team captain was underneath (just an average depth of target of around 6 yards over the course of his career), but Reiman showed at the Shrine Bowl that he has enough juice to get down the seam and make plays. If he runs well at that size, it should put him more on the map of the media during the pre-draft process.

Will Kill the Drills

These position drills are meant to make these 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 these 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:

Brevyn Spann-Ford (Minnesota) – Listed at just under 6-foot-7, 265 pounds, Spann-Ford is a true throwback at the tight end spot. He's a long strider who, when you watch him on film, is a player who is built to be a point-of-attack blocker and embraces that role as well (which is more than half the battle). Spann-Ford caught just 95 passes in a six-year career, but he has played a lot of ball and has proven to be a weapon in the blocking game.

Ben Sinnott (Kansas State) – Like Spann-Ford, Sinnott's versatility in the run game is an important strength in his scouting report. They put him into the backfield at times and asked him to be a lead fullback, even against defensive ends at the point of attack. The blocking drills will not be foreign to him.

AJ Barner (Michigan) – Football fans are aware that Jim Harbaugh's offense is very tight end-focused, often majoring in heavy personnel sets with two or even three of those guys out there at a time. Barner was one of the focal points of that attack this year despite catching just 22 passes in his first season on campus (he was a team captain as a fourth-year player for Indiana in 2022). Barner has prototypical size at the position and projects well to that type of role in the league.

Cade Stover, Ohio State
Cade Stover, Ohio State

Best Stories

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

Cade Stover (Ohio State) – The reigning Big 10 Tight End of the Year caught 41 passes this past season for the Buckeyes in his second year as a starter without dropping a single target. But what makes that performance so impressive is that he's still very new to the position. Stover arrived in Columbus as a defensive player, logging 35 snaps and a pair of tackles as a true freshman defensive end back in 2019 and continuing to play, at least part-time, as a defensive player through the 2021 season (when he saw time at linebacker while beginning his journey on offense). Stover was Kentucky's Gatorade Player of the Year in football, while also scoring the most points in his school's history for the basketball team. He's an accomplished, versatile athlete.

Theo Johnson (Penn State) – The Canadian pipeline to the NFL continues to flourish, and Johnson is next in line. A fourth-year senior with good size at 6-foot-6, 257 pounds, Johnson looks the part and has proven to be a very reliable player who checks a lot of boxes on the scouting report, competing in any way you need a tight end to contribute on offense as well as on special teams. He's looking to continue building momentum through the process after winning the Practice Player of the Week Award for the National Team last month down at the Senior Bowl.

Fly Eagles Fly

How did the current Philadelphia Eagles perform out in Indianapolis? We'll take a look at one number or performance from the current depth chart that stood the test of time.

Dallas Goedert (South Dakota State) – Due to a hamstring injury, Goedert could not compete at the 2018 National Scouting Combine, but he followed that up with an outstanding performance at his Pro Day a few weeks later, putting his natural athleticism on display in drills. Goedert's quickness in and out of breaks is what has allowed him to become one of the best route runners in football at the position, and that was backed up by some outstanding shuttle times that afternoon. Goedert's 6.87 in the 3-cone drill ranks 10th out of 120 drafted tight ends in the last 10 years, while his outstanding 4.06 in the short shuttle is the fastest time at the position during that span. How fast is that 4.06-second mark? It's the same time All-Pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill posted at his Pro Day two years earlier.

Significant Stats

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

Tanner McLachlan (Arizona) – A late addition to the Senior Bowl roster last month, McLachlan has proven to be a reliable pass catching threat throughout his college career, but really elevated his play in 2023. The transfer from Southern Utah contributed as both a blocker and pass catcher out in the desert, taking a big step in the former this season as a senior. The most important stat, however? He caught every single one of his targets in his final season on campus in 2023. He's as sure-handed as they come.

Trey Knox (South Carolina) – While McLachlan is relatively inexperienced, especially at the FBS level, Knox has logged a ton of playing time over the course of his career in Columbia. The super senior started 39 games with more than 2,200 snaps played on offense with the Gamecocks, both of which are in the 90th-plus percentile of tight ends drafted in the last decade. He also displayed a real knack for finding open space last year, with just 8.7 percent of his targets being contested in the SC offense, one of the lowest numbers in football at the position.

The Rest of the Pack

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

Erick All (Iowa), Devin Culp (Washington), Dallin Hooker (Colorado State), Jack Westover (Washington)

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 pounds

Hand Size: 968 (9 3/4")

Arm Length: 3300 (33")

Wingspan: 7918 (79 1/8")

Unofficial 40-Time (Stopwatch): 4.68 seconds

Official 40-Time (Laser): 4.72 seconds

10-Yard Split: 1.62 seconds

3-Cone Drill: 7.15 seconds

Short Shuttle: 4.37 seconds

Broad Jump: 118"

Vertical Jump: 34"

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