Share this story...
Latest News

2020 NFL Draft Preview: Tight end sleepers and Broncos fits

(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

The 2020 NFL Draft does not feature a great group of tight ends. Compare this to the 2019 class and you see a drastic drop off in natural talent and potential at the pro level. Even though this is not a top-heavy draft at the position, there are plenty of players who could turn into quality pros at the NFL level.

The Broncos addressed their tight end position last year early in the draft when they selected Noah Fant at No. 20 overall in the first round. Fant showed the ability to be a star at the position as a rookie and he firmly sits atop the depth chart with the upside to be a quality starter for years to come.

This means the Broncos may not be going after a tight end in the draft this year. That doesn’t mean they won’t get someone as a value pick later in the draft and there are some names Broncos fans need to be familiar with come late April. Be on the lookout for the Broncos to perhaps add a tight end late in the draft.

In this article, I will look at the market for the position. I’ll also write about sleepers at the tight end position and some players who could fit what the Broncos need in the 2020 NFL Draft.

***

Market Watch

There might not be a tight end selected in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. In fact, we may go well into the second round before we see the first tight end come off the board.

The first tight end on most anyone’s draft board is likely Cole Kmet from Notre Dame. The first thing that stands out about Kmet is his size. Measuring in at 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds, Kmet’s size can be problematic for linebackers or safeties tasked with covering him. He can use his size and length to reach out and snare passes away from his frame and he makes it difficult for defenders trying to break up the pass.

Kmet is not quick off the line of scrimmage, but when he gets to full stride he can be a dangerous target on deep middle seam routes. He’s mostly stood out as a receiver during his college career for the Fighting Irish, but Kmet has the size/strength combination to work well as a blocker. He’ll just need to be coached up on staying low and using leverage as a blocker to develop into a well-rounded player.

Adam Trautman from Dayton is another tight end who is high on the list this year – although as a day-two pick. Trautman played in the FCS, but he was incredibly productive for a small-school prospect, catching 70 passes for 916 yards and a whopping 14 touchdowns as a senior. His level of competition immediately comes into question, but I watched Trautman perform at a high level against some of the nation’s best defenders down at the Reese’s Senior Bowl earlier this year.

Trautman is a converted high school quarterback and that knowledge as a passer helps him find soft spots in a zone. In addition to finding holes in a defense, Trautman does a good job of coming back to the ball and squaring his shoulders to the line of scrimmage to present the largest possible target for his quarterback. He also played basketball as a prep and that ability to “box out” defenders and play “above the rim” when snaring passes as a tight end.

***

Sleepers

My favorite sleeper tight end in this draft class is Dalton Keene from Virginia Tech. Keene played high school football here in Colorado for the Chatfield Chargers where he began his prep career as a quarterback. Keene and my son Liam were the freshmen quarterbacks for the Chargers and Keene was an outstanding athlete who as a sophomore converted to play running back and became the centerpiece of the offense.

In college, Keene showed off a skill set where he could run the ball as an H-back, catch the ball as a tight end, or be used in the backfield to block as a fullback. Knowing his ability as a passer well, I believe that Keene could even be used as a gadget quarterback if called upon.

Keene is fluid with his movement, weighing in around 250 pounds. He is a hard-nosed player who thrives on contact and does not shy away from the toughest parts of the game. Keene has good contact balance and a nose for the end zone. His position versatility allows him to line up all over the field and that should be something teams covet at the pro level. Keene had a really good performance at the Scouting Combine earlier this year and he stood out in multiple drills. I’d love to see this homegrown product in a Broncos jersey.

While many are focused on LSU’s Thaddeus Moss – for good reason as he’s a talented player and not just because he’s the son of Randy Moss – I happen to like his college teammate Stephen Sullivan as a sleeper prospect. Coming into college, Sullivan was a top-10 wide receiver who found his way to LSU where he ended up transitioning to tight end. He did not fight the transition and instead has been praised by his coaching staff as an unselfish and team-first prospect.

Sullivan is a big slot receiver or tight end at this point in his career. He’s clearly a move tight end who can thrive as a receiver, but Sullivan has skill as a blocker in space. Putting Sullivan in-line is not a good idea at this point in his career, but he does not shy away from his blocking responsibilities and is known as a highly coachable player. He’s got plenty of speed and can pull away from linebackers in coverage. Sullivan is a developmental prospect who the Broncos showed interest in at the Senior Bowl.

***

Broncos Fits

I don’t know if the Broncos will take a tight end with any of their 11 picks in the draft. If they do, the pick is likely to come late in the draft and there is a certain type of tight end they have to be looking for.

The Broncos have plenty of “Y” tight ends on the roster, including the newly signed free agent Nick Vannett. A “Y” tight end is an all-purpose player who can both block and catch. The Broncos may be looking for more “F” tight ends late in the draft. An “F” tight end is mostly a receiving threat and a weapon that can be used to attack linebackers in coverage.

Some “F” tight ends in this draft include guys like Hunter Bryant from Washington. Now, Bryant is not going to be a late-round pick but he could be on the board in the mid rounds of the draft. He has sticky hands and can be dangerous as a receiver no matter if a larger linebacker or smaller safety is covering him. Bryant has a history of knee injuries which will need to be looked at by a medical staff and that could cause his draft stock to fall just a bit. He could end up being a value pick if he is able to stay healthy and play up to his potential as a receiving tight end in the NFL.

Another fit for the Broncos could be Brycen Hopkins from Purdue. Not only does his skill set fit what the Broncos need, he also played in the Big 10 where the Broncos seem to have an obsession of adding tight ends from that conference. Like Bryant, Hopkins is going to be a mid-round pick in this draft, so Denver would have to select him earlier than perhaps they’d want to given the talent they already have at the position. Hopkins stands out with concentration and really good route-running ability which is rare for college tight ends.

Looking at late-round tight ends, other than my sleepers, the Broncos could be interested in I have to tell you about Memphis tight end Joey Magnifico. Not only does he have the best name of all prospects this year, he has untapped potential that could interest a team like Denver. A converted linebacker, Magnifico is good when ripping away contested passes and he just loves to block. He is not yet fully developed as a blocker or as a receiver, so he’s truly raw as a tight end. His mindset and athletic profile might be enough for the Broncos to take a chance on him late in the draft.