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Steelers 2023 NFL Draft Big Board: Tight End Rankings

The BTSC Big Board crew gives extensive breakdowns on every noteworthy tight end in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Boston College v Notre Dame Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Draft season is here, ladies and gentleman, and BTSC is excited to bring you our exclusive NFL Draft Big Board for the third consecutive year! Between January and April, we will be giving you an in-depth look at over 250 prospects in this draft class, ranking and analyzing noteworthy prospects at each position.

We will unveil this board one position at a time, with the final top 250 draft board coming out right before the draft. This compilation of rankings, stats, and analysis is completed by a combination of BTSC staff and community members. The rankings and grades are my own and will be updated throughout the process, while the stats and measurables are compiled by site moderator SNW. The analysis is a collaborative effort, which includes myself, Ryland B., Jeremy Betz, Noah_E., Necksnation, John O’Malley, Adam Curry, and Steve Martucci.

As it pertains to the grading scale, first-round grades will include top-five, top-ten, mid first, and late first grades. Rounds 2-4 will have early, mid, and late grades, while grades fifth round or worse will have a generic round grade. Prospects with a Round 7 grade will not be differentiated from those with an undrafted grade.

Just like last year, each big board article will be a complemented by a separate article discussing whether or not the Steelers should draft said position in the 2023 NFL Draft. Ryland will be heading up that portion of the draft coverage once again this year.

The next position on our list is one that Pittsburgh could look to add depth at in the mid to late rounds: tight end. This year’s class provides a decent amount of depth relative to recent years, as we could see as many as seven or eight tight ends selected in the first three rounds.

If you have any thoughts on this tight end class, be sure to share it in the comment section below, but without further ado, it is time to take a closer look at the tight ends in the 2023 NFL Draft!

1. Michael Mayer | Notre Dame | 6’5”, 265 lbs

2022 Stats: GP 12, Rec 67, Yds 809, TD 9.
Wilbar’s Grade: Mid 1st

Andrew Wilbar: Mayer is by far the most complete tight end in the NFL Draft. The sure-handed, big-bodied pass catcher from Notre Dame possesses solid speed, excellent hands, and a large catch radius. Also known for having great ball skills, Mayer does a great job of tracking the football in the air and knowing when to turn around to make a play on the ball. He is also comfortable running routes, consistently finding open pockets in the coverage of opposing defenses. If that is not enough to sell you on him, he is one of the better blockers in this class as well. While he does not blow defenders off the ball, he displays good hand placement and finds creative ways to win the battle for leverage off the snap. Simply put, Michael Mayer is going to be an immediate contributor in his rookie season, and the team that takes him may be getting one of the next upper-echelon NFL tight ends.

2. Darnell Washington | Georgia | 6’7”, 265 lbs

2022 Stats: GP 14, Rec 27, Yds 426, TD 2.
Wilbar’s Grade: Mid 2nd

Ryland B.: I first took notice of Washington when the Bulldogs played Oregon in the 2022 season opener. On one play, the 6’7”, 270-pounder bulldozed one defender and promptly hurdled the next, an impressive feat of athleticism for a guy his size. Darnell Washington is simply a massive tight end, dwarfing any DBs trying to cover or tackle him and being a formidable blocker at the line of scrimmage. Washington is a fantastic run blocker with great want-to and road-grading efficiency. In pass protection he’s good as well but his lack of great lateral mobility can hamper his effectiveness. Still, he’s leagues above where most rookie tight ends grade out in blocking as a whole. As a pass-catcher Washington displays incredible athleticism for his size, and his long stride makes him faster than you’d expect. Washington isn’t a super twitchy athlete, but he is a mismatch against linebackers with his speed and against corners with his size. He’s sure-handed as well. He does lack the smooth athleticism of a true elite pass-catching tight end like Kyle Pitts, as Washington has more of a lumbering run. His production isn’t stellar either but it seems like that was due to Georgia’s depth and scheme more than anything. Don’t overthink it – Washington is not only one of the best blocking tight ends in this class, but he’s still a very solid receiver with sky-high upside. At the moment he looks like a second rounder, but a good day at the combine could give Washington some first round hype.

3. Tucker Kraft | South Dakota State | 6‘5“, 255 lbs

2022 Stats: GP 9, Rec 27, Yds 348, TD 3.
Wilbar’s Grade: Mid 2nd

Andrew Wilbar: One thing I really appreciate about Kraft is his feistiness as a run blocker. He does not have the greatest blocking technique or refinement, but he never gives up on a play, even if it looks as if he is beat. He has active hands, good leg drive, and the necessary awareness to both diagnose and follow through as a blocker. Although you will see an occasional drop on tape, Kraft is typically a sure-handed receiving weapon who can beat slower linebackers with his athleticism and beat the average defensive back with his size. Kraft was limited to an average of only 3 receptions per game in 2022, but after losing quarterback Chris Oladokun to the NFL, a fallback in production can only be expected. He will most likely be selected relatively early on Day 2.

4. Luke Musgrave | Oregon State | 6‘6“, 252 lbs

2022 Stats: GP 2, Rec 11, Yds 169, TD 1.
Wilbar’s Grade: Early 3rd

Ryland B.: Musgrave only played two games in 2022 due to injury, but he showed enough development in those two games to really boost his draft stock. He has the prototypical build for the position with above-average speed, making him a surprisingly effective vertical threat. Musgrave has strong hands and can make both contested and over-the-shoulder catches. He’s a solid route-runner with good RAC ability. Used heavily as a receiving tight end, Musgrave isn’t the greatest blocker and will likely need to primarily be used as a pass-catcher at the next level. Musgrave’s lack of well-roundedness as a blocker hurts his draft stock, but he’s the ideal pick for a good offense looking for a dynamic addition to their passing game. Musgrave’s field-stretching ability really is special for his position.

5. Sam LaPorta | Iowa | 6‘4“, 249 lbs

2022 Stats: GP 12, Rec 58, Yds 657, TD 1.
Wilbar’s Grade: Mid 3rd

Andrew Wilbar: Iowa has quite the track record of putting out quality tight ends, and LaPorta could very well be the next one. The numbers may not jump off the paper, especially as it pertains to touchdowns, but much is due to absolutely lousy play at quarterback. To have over 650 yards in a season highlighted by offensive deficiencies is nothing short of impressive. The area I am more concerned about is his blocking. LaPorta does not have the strongest lower body, which causes him to be supplanted as a blocker and driven back by pass rushers when playing in-line. He displays willingness in that department, but his hand placement is inconsistent, and he lacks the bulk to hold up against NFL defenders. If he can add a little weight and improve his technique as a blocker, LaPorta definitely possesses the talent to become a top-10 tight end in the league.

6. Dalton Kincaid | Utah | 6‘4“, 242 lbs

2022 Stats: GP 12, Rec 70, Yds 890, TD 8.
Wilbar’s Grade: Mid 3rd

Noah E: Dalton Kincaid hasn’t been talked about in the light that Michael Mayer has, but he absolutely should be. Kincaid is a good athlete and extremely dynamic after the catch. He’s a very physical runner, and the way he finishes runs reminds me of George Kittle. However, where he really excels is at the catch point. He makes catches in traffic as well as outside of his frame, he tracks the ball well, and the body control he has is phenomenal. Now he doesn’t have much twitch, but he’s still able to consistently create separation on all 3 levels of the field. Kincaid already has the skill set and athleticism to be a great vertical threat as well as one of the best Tight Ends overall. If he can improve as an in-line blocker, the sky’s the limit.

7. Davis Allen | Clemson | 6‘6“, 250 lbs

2022 Stats: GP 14, Rec 39, Yds 443, TD 5.
Wilbar’s Grade: Mid 3rd

Andrew Wilbar: Allen is one of my favorite pre-combine prospects at the tight end position. The Clemson product may have limitations as a route-runner, but he may run a better 40 than people expect. Allen is a decent linear athlete who displays great ability as an in-line blocker. He has also earned high praise from head coach Dabo Swinney, who has stated that Allen may be the best NFL tight end prospect he has had during his tenure at Clemson. One of the biggest boxes NFL teams want a tight end prospect to check, however, is that of consistency. Fortunately, Allen has been the epitome of such, always displaying a willingness to get his hands dirty and do whatever is asked of him. With solid combine numbers, he could go as high as Day 2.

8. Cameron Latu | Alabama | 6’5”, 250 lbs

2022 Stats: GP 11, Rec 30, Yds 377, TD 4.
Wilbar’s Grade: Early 4th

Noah E: The 6’5” senior from Alabama may not stick out among this deep tight end class, but he’s a pretty good prospect. He wins with his athleticism and has shown he can get open at the top of his route. Latu has also flashed his ability to get yards after the catch. His biggest strength though is as a blocker. Latu is good at chipping on his way out for a route and is very effective as a lead blocker on screens and outside runs. Drops are something that needs to be cleaned up and he generally isn’t someone that’s going to create much separation. I could see him going to a team like the Falcons that could use a second tight end and would benefit from one that’s a good blocker.

9. Zach Kuntz | Old Dominion | 6‘8“, 251 lbs

2022 Stats: GP 5, Rec 12, Yds 144, TD 2.
Wilbar’s Grade: Mid 4th

Adam C: Younger brother of current Steelers long snapper Christian, Zack Kuntz offers great upside. At 6’8”, he creates size mismatches in the passing game. A smooth route runner with a great sense of space and good hands, this combination led him to the most targets for any FBS tight end in the 2021 season. He has all the tools to translate well into the modern pass catching tight end in the NFL. Where he needs to develop is his blocking. He shows effort and plays with good power. However, he plays too high and is inconsistent when run blocking, something needing a lot of work to make the step to the pro level. Likely projects as an early day 3, developmental guy with a lot of potential.

10. Brevyn Spann-Ford | Minnesota | 6‘7“, 270 lbs

2022 Stats: GP 13, Rec 42, Yds 497, TD 2.
Wilbar’s Grade: Late 4th

John O.: On paper, Spann-Ford has the body of an undersized OL, but he did more than that for the Gophers. A senior who progressed from almost zero in his freshman year to being the team’s leading pass catcher in his final season, he played well albeit scoring only 2 TDs in 2022 and one in 2021. Spann-Ford worked to improve his blocking this year, and PFF gave him high marks during the 2022 season. He can block some, but he doesn’t block to his size. Maybe an NFL team can get more out of him. Spann-Ford was used in motion at times and on swing passes plus occasionally via running deep. His hands appear adequate but not stellar. He doesn’t seem to get separation easily, and he likes to hurdle guys after the catch which shows athleticism but at his size seems unwise in the NFL. He strikes more as a plugger who might be overdrafted due to his size but can fill a role assuming his blocking is good enough. Generally, on the Steelers, he could be a later round version of Zach Gentry. However, the team is likely better suited retaining Gentry at a limited price and foregoing this kind of late round TE selection. If they choose to make a pick, Spann-Ford is the type of TE they may look at.

11. Cade Stover | Ohio State | 6‘4“, 255 lbs

2022 Stats: GP 13, Rec 36, Yds 406, TD 5.
Wilbar’s Grade: 5th

Jeremy Betz: Stover has a very traditional build and skill set for a TE. Not a new-age “big WR” like Travis Kelce or Evan Engram, the Ohio State standout plays more like a throwback, using his prototypical frame as a plus blocker and Red Zone threat. That said, Stover knows how to find the soft spots in the zone and works the seam well. Stover is likely an early Day 3 pick (Rounds 4-5) but likely projects as a TE2 early in his career with low-end starter upside.

12. Josh Whyle | Cincinnati | 6‘6“, 235 lbs

2022 Stats: GP 12, Rec 32, Yds 326, TD 3.
Wilbar’s Grade: 5th

Andrew Wilbar: Josh Whyle is an interesting prospect. After an impressive 2021 season, Whyle’s stock has taken a dip, but is that really of his own doing? The quarterback situation was not at all stable in 2022, and that is likely the biggest factor in his lack of eye-popping stats. While Whyle did show flashes of potential as a blocker, he is not strong enough to block in-line in the NFL without adding more weight. As a receiver, Whyle’s catch radius is huge, making him an instant go-to option in the passing game. Some project him to an H-back role, which I do not think is out of the question. However, I do not think he is entirely washed as a pure tight end. He has the versatility to line up just about anywhere, and he possesses respectable athletic traits. Unfortunately, the down season for Cincinnati is likely to affect his draft stock.

13. Will Mallory | Miami | 6‘5“, 245 lbs

2022 Stats: GP 12, Rec 42, Yds 538, TD 3.
Wilbar’s Grade: 5th

Andrew Wilbar: Mallory was once regarded as an early-round prospect in the 2022 draft, but, much like Josh Whyle, he finds himself one year later with a much-lower price tag. When putting into consideration the raucous at the quarterback, Mallory still put up solid numbers overall. At the same time, there was a lot left to be desired in terms of his overall development in 2022. He did not improve much, if any, as a blocker, and he does not separate down the field as well as you would expect from someone with his athleticism. Due to those issues, I have a 5th round grade on Mallory, but don’t fool yourself. If this guy ends up in the right place, he has the potential to put it all together and develop into a starting tight end.

14. Luke Schoonmaker | Michigan | 6‘5“, 250 lbs

2022 Stats: GP 12, Rec 35, Yds 418, TD 3.
Wilbar’s Grade: 5th

Andrew Wilbar: Schoonmaker was a huge part of Michigan’s offense down the stretch in 2022, as he became the most trusted target of quarterback J.J. McCarthy. Injuries have gotten in the way at times, but overall, Schoonmaker is an intriguing tight end who is dangerous working up the seam. He is not an elite athlete, and he is not the most thickly-built, but he does provide a big catch radius as well as reliable hands. A number of NFL scouts reportedly have a second-round grade on the Michigan tight end, but unless he sets Lucas Oil Stadium on fire with unexpectedly good combine numbers, I cannot get on board taking him that high. There is no singular trait in his game that makes him stand out in the pack.

15. Brenton Strange | Penn State | 6’3‘“, 246 lbs

2022 Stats: GP , Rec ,462 Yds , 5 TD .
Wilbar’s Grade: 5th

John O.: Strange was one of three TEs used by Penn St. this season. He was used more as the blocking TE than others, and he lined up in traditional spots, the backfield, and split wide at times. Strange possesses good size and punch when blocking and has a frame like a Steelers TE. He blocked akin to a fullback at times plus as a lead blocker on intricate split sets. H-back work is thus within his skill set. PFF loves him and gave high marks to him generally. Strange is technically a junior and had another season of eligibility. He made certain tougher catches and showed more athleticism than expected occasionally via runs after the catch or catching low balls. That said, near the end of the season, PSU was throwing more to other TEs and Strange was more of a blocker. Overall, Strange has some talent and upside. While versatile, it’s unclear how well he blocks and what level of passing opportunities he can handle at the NFL level. He seems like a mid-to-late round pick. He could help the Steelers if they lose Gentry and think his blocking is good enough to fill a role. If everything hits for him, he could potentially be much better than expected.

16. Jahleel Billingsley | Texas | 6‘4“, 230 lbs

2022 Stats: GP 4, Rec 3, Yds 38, TD 0.
Wilbar’s Grade: 5th

Andrew Wilbar: Billingsley was once a high-profile recruit, but after underperforming at Alabama, he transferred to Texas and was hardly used at all. Billingsley is seriously thin for a tight end, and the first thing he will need to do once drafted is hit the weight room. Despite all the negativity surrounding his game, the one thing going for him is his athleticism. Billingsley has a great chance to crack 4.6 in the 40, and he has the potential to bloom into an elite route-runner. Unfortunately, it is hard to expect much from a guy who has never surpassed 300 receiving yards in a single season.

The best of the rest

17. Kemore Gamble | UCF | 6‘4“, 243 lbs

2022 Stats: GP 11, Rec 7, Yds 118, TD 1.
Wilbar’s Grade: 6th

18. Brant Kuithe | FB/TE | Utah | 6‘2“, 230 lbs

2022 Stats: GP 4, Rec 19, Yds 206, TD 3.
Wilbar’s Grade: 6th

19. Christian Sims | Bowling Green | 6‘4“, 225 lbs

2022 Stats: GP 12, Rec 45, Yds 458, TD 2.
Wilbar’s Grade: 6th

20. Daniel Barker | Michigan State | 6‘4“, 250 lbs

2022 Stats: GP 12, Rec 21, Yds 239, TD 2.
Wilbar’s Grade: 6th

21. Ben Sims | Baylor | 6‘4“, 253 lbs

2022 Stats: GP 12, Rec 31, Yds 255, TD 3.
Wilbar’s Grade: 7th/UDFA

22. Noah Gindorff | North Dakota State | 6‘6“, 268 lbs

2022 Stats: GP 3, Rec 6, Yds 71, TD 1.
Wilbar’s Grade: 7th/UDFA

23. Luke Ford | Illinois | 6‘6“, 250 lbs

2022 Stats: GP 12, Rec 10, Yds 88, TD 0.
Wilbar’s Grade: 7th/UDFA

Which tight ends have your interest in this draft? Which one do you think could make sense in the later rounds for the Steelers? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comment section below, and stay tuned to BTSC as we get you ready for the 2023 NFL offseason!