The 2023 Tight End class is already enjoying a bump in expectation and enthusiasm over its predecessor. In this class, we find several unique players with exciting combinations of size and athleticism, a few accomplished names that return to build on their resume, and the usual mixed bag of players who have a unique set of tools but need to shore up areas of their game and seize upon the opportunity that 2023 offers. A few of these names to familiarize yourself with are as follows:
Arik Gilbert - Georgia
Arik Gilbert is going to generate a ton of buzz in both NFL media and fantasy, having both the size and athletic profile that fantasy managers salivate over. He’s a 6’5” 248 lb tight end that “broke out '' during his freshman season in 2020, at LSU. Afterward, he transferred to Georgia for 2021 but took the season off for personal matters, rendering his name not widely known and below the radar. What his rookie tape showed were prolific hands through the full act of the reception, amidst contact or over the shoulder while working deep. Gilbert demonstrated the know-how to drift into space to create a target for his quarterback, heads up route running vs zone, and the ability to play vs man while out wide, all with the aesthetic of looking like an oversized wide receiver given the nuances of his movement. Gilbert has drifted from the public's eye, nonetheless, he is looking to reestablish himself and his game on a Georgia team that should be competing for another National title. If he can step onto the field without missing a beat from his freshman LSU tape, with greater consistency in run-after-catch decision-making, he’ll be destined as the draft's top tight end selection and a possible Day 1 selection.
Michael Mayer - Notre Dame
Michael Mayer returns to one of college football's brightest platforms to showcase the receiving and route running skills that he demonstrated along the way to a 71-840-7 season in 2021. As such, he’s the prospect with the most name recognition amongst his peers. Mayer provides a big target for his quarterback with reliable hands that are aided by his efficient, quick movement and body positioning throughout the route. Like Gilbert, his combination of movement and receiving skills will offer alignment versatility at the next level, which places both as the top-2 tight ends for the 2023 class. Mayer needs to show more consistency as a blocker and create more opportunities post-catch to take that next step towards being the undeniable prospect of this class. It’s possible he can make it into Day 1 of the NFL draft, but he won't be left hanging for long on Day 2.
Darnell Washington - Georgia
The Big O as he is referred to around Athens. Darnell Washington is 6’7” 265 with well demonstrated, soft hands in all areas of the field. His receiving is particularly impressive when the ball is away from his frame, and in vertical scenarios where he has to track the ball and showcase hand-eye coordination while running at full speed. He is a powerful force with great balance and nimble footwork that make his build-up speed look smooth and efficient, as opposed to laboring and choppy which can be an issue for such a large athlete. He works quickly in short and intermediate space as a determined runner with or without the ball in his hand. His tape shows a young man who isn’t stiff or lumbering as his height and weight would suggest. While he’s athletic and highly versatile for his size, he projects as an in-line tight end for the pro level, thus, continuing to showcase his high-level receiving skills and athleticism will be critical to solidifying his stock as a possible Day 2 selection.
Sam LaPorta - Iowa
Iowa knows how to grow corn and make NFL-caliber tight ends. Entering his senior year this season, LaPorta looks to demonstrate strength and consistency at the point of attack with his in-line blocking and to continue making the most out of his opportunities to catch the ball and move the chains. He is a dependable short to intermediate target who quickly works his way to the chains after securing the catch, demonstrating as an efficient QB-friendly target that has a nose for the first down line. At 6’4” 249 he looks every bit the part of a rotational/committee tight end for the next level, with the ability to develop into a featured tight end if the right situation presents itself. LaPorta should be an early Day 3 prospect for the NFL draft.
Brock Bowers - Georgia
The theme for the 2023 college football season is how loaded the Georgia tight end room is. Brock Bowers got the opportunity to have some monster games for the Bulldogs as a true freshman, going 56-882-13. At 6’4” 230, he displayed soft hands and speed that defenses constantly disrespected and paid the ultimate price for (as indicated by his 13 touchdowns). Bowers isn't expected to leave college after this season and will thus be a premium devy asset at the position for when Gilbert and Washington move on. Even so, his athletic talent and playmaking capability as a true freshman will earn him reps and opportunities to make big plays for the Bulldogs in 2023, and enter the 2024 college football season as the top name for his draft class.
Zack Kuntz - Old Dominion
At 6’8” 251, the former Penn State tight end is a matchup nightmare for the defensive secondary. He put up 73-692-5 last year on his way to an All-Conference USA season. He can play outside, be used in motion, in-line, or featured in the slot in a pass-heavy offense. While he never cracked much playing time at Penn State, his transfer to ODU allowed him to showcase his ability as a featured tight end. He capitalized on the situation and is held in high esteem by his teammates and coaches. This season he looks to continue his involvement in the offense as one of the top performers in the nation for receptions, yards, and touchdowns. He’s a startable tight end for C2C formats, a devy stash, and quite possibly a late rookie draft pick for dynasty. His combination of size and speed should make him an early Day 3 pick for the 2023 NFL draft.