Free agency has begun and the NFL Draft is a few short weeks away. With the departure of Hayden Hurst to Carolina, the Bengals have a huge need at tight end, and the list of remaining free agents is uninspiring at best. This year’s draft, however, has a number of promising options that could fit the bill. In fact, it’s considered one of the best tight end classes in years. But it doesn’t matter how good a class is, it’s about finding the right player for your team.
Here are some of the options the Bengals may be considering.
The Top Talent
Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer is an excellent blocker and extremely productive as a receiver. Over the last three seasons, he has caught 180 passes for 2,099 yards for 18 touchdowns. He is also a team captain and local to the greater Cincinnati area. Mayer has the polish to come in and contribute immediately and is likely to have a long, successful career, but I don’t think he changes their offense. He’s not the type of tight end who could be a top receiver if injuries or free agency force him into a primary role in the pass game. Here are a couple of players who could.
Sam Hartman connecting with Michael Mayer at Notre Dame's Pro Day on Friday afternoon. pic.twitter.com/7c065eaT4T— Matt Freeman (@mattfreemanISD) March 24, 2023
Utah’s Dalton Kincaid has incredible hands and is fantastic after the catch, Not only is he an excellent athlete, but defenders seem to bounce off him. He is the most exciting pass-catcher in the group and could be a major part of the Bengals pass game. Unfortunately, Kincaid suffered a back injury late in the season and was unable to test at either the NFL Combine or Utah’s pro day. This combination makes him a risky pick, but his upside is tremendous.
Anybody else see a whole lot of Travis Kelce in Dalton Kincaid's game? Zone-beaters, bulling through tacklers, and if you're not careful, he'll cook a whole side of your defense. pic.twitter.com/a2pVABtvlC— Doug Farrar ✍ (@NFL_DougFarrar) February 22, 2023
A safer option with just as much upside is Iowa’s Sam LaPorta. He makes great adjustments to poorly thrown balls. He can also make big plays after the catch. When he has the ball in his hands, he doesn’t look like a tight end, he looks like a running back. LaPorta is a dynamic player, who could add something special to this offense, but neither he nor Kincaid is the blocker that Mayer is. There is, however, one player who could give you excellent blocking in the run game like Mayer, and the passing game upside like Kincaid and LaPorta.
If heart and grit were quantifiable attributes, Iowa’s Sam LaPorta would get a 100 on both. He’s a very solid player flying under the radar in a loaded TE class. #2023NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/RR3sNGEDIH— Kyle Lindemann (@LuckIsMadeFF) March 25, 2023
Darnell Washington is an absolute beast. The 6-7 264-pounder blocks like a guard, but move like a large slot receiver. Not only can he block defensive linemen one on one, he is incredible blocking in space. Despite his size and athletic profile, he was not a big piece of the Georgia passing game. This makes him a bit of a projection, but the tools are there.
Round 2 Possibilities
The problem with going into the draft with an obvious need is that you could miss out on a great prospect who falls unexpectedly. Although Mayer, Kincaid, LaPorta, and Washington will not all be first round picks, it is unlikely that any of them make it all the way to the end of the second round when the Bengals pick again. So here are some other candidates who could be available later in the draft.
South Dakota State’s Tucker Kraft is a big, physical guy who can make tough catches and is hard to bring down after the catch. He was used a lot as a move tight end, but has the tools to put his hand in the dirt and make blocks as an attached Y. He’s a fringe top-50 player, so he would be great value if the Bengals could get him at 60.
Brenton Strange is tall and lean with excellent ball skills. The Penn State product is a very good athlete, who could make a big impact in the passing game. Three other tight ends are likely to go on Day 2, but give me pause for one reason or another. The first is Oregon State’s Luke Musgrave. He is an impressive athlete with good hands, and he only played two games last season before injuring his knee.
Next is Luke Schoonmaker, who has catch production, but not a lot of yardage. This was in part due to how he was used in the Michigan offense, but he also doesn’t do as much after the catch as someone with his athletic ability should. That brings us to Zack Kuntz from Old Dominion, who has crazy measurables, but saw limited action in college and is raw. Still, a 40” vertical at 6’7” and a 4.55 40 make him worth a shot.
Zack Kuntz is a TE prospect in the 2023 draft class. He scored a 10.00 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 1 out of 1054 TE from 1987 to 2023. #Correction, but didn't knock him out of the top spot.https://t.co/mpZ9CLNDkc #RAS pic.twitter.com/vIUzepU1VE— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 24, 2023
Day 3 Options
With the depth in this class and the almost complete lack of tight ends on the roster, the Bengals could definitely look to take two tight ends in the draft. Here are some guys who could be in play on Day 3.
On day three, the Bengals could keep it local and select Josh Whyle from UC. He’s a balanced player, who can block, but also has nice ball skills and very good athletic ability. Purdue’s Payne Durham is a fantastic blocker who runs good routes and makes great adjustments.
Purdue TE Payne Durham has had a bunch of impressive blocks in the running game. This play is a perfect example pic.twitter.com/IgFxKhb3Ws— Jack Brentnall (@Jack_Brentnall) February 2, 2023
The Bengals lost one Wake Forest Demon Deacon in Jessie Bates, but they could pick up a solid tight end with Blake Whiteheart. He is a skilled blocker with great hands, but limited college production. Former Oklahoma Sooner, Brayden Willis has some huge hands and can go up and get the ball in contested situations. He is also a tough, physical blocker in the run game.
Whyle, Durham, Whiteheart, and Willis are all excellent blockers who could balance out the offense if the Bengals selected more of a big slot type early in the draft. Of course, if they are still looking for an athlete who can be a force in the pass game, there will still be options on Day 3. Will Mallory is a smooth runner, but he does not do much as a blocker. The Bengals love coach’s kids and Mallory is not only a coach’s kid, he is a coach’s grandkid, and a coaches’ nephew (twice). His father is currently with the Denver Broncos, and his grandfather is the winningest coach in Indiana University’s history.
Davis Allen is rail thin and does not do a lot after the catch, but man can he go up and get the ball. He is excellent in contested situations, which as we all know, is an excellent fit for a Joe Burrow lead offense.