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Triple Take: Tight ends

The "Triple Take" team breaks down of the tight ends. In this installment of this draft prospect preview by position, the Steelers Radio Network trio of Matt Williamson, Dale Lolley and Mike Prisuta give their takes on the top prospects at the tight end position. If you want to hear the audio version of "The Triple Take" click here.

The opinions of these Steelers Radio Network personalities do not reflect the views of the Steelers organization.

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Dale's Take …

This might be the deepest tight end draft group in quite some time. There are 12 to 15 players available at the position this year who, in most drafts, would hear their name called in the first three rounds.

That could cause some pretty good prospects to slip to the later rounds. And unlike many years where many of the tight ends available have not done a lot of blocking in their collegiate careers, this group offers some who have lined up in-line in addition to the usual premium pass catchers.

It's a great group.

#5 - Tucker Kraft, South Dakota State (6-5, 254 lbs.) - A small-school prospect with size and speed. Kraft's comparison from draft analyst Lance Zierlein is Pat Freiermuth. Uses his frame to screen off defenders and make tough catches. He also runs well after the catch. Kraft should develop into a solid starter who can block as well as catch the football.

#4 - Dalton Kincaid, Utah (6-4, 246 lbs.) - Kincaid is a prototypical receiving tight end. He creates matchup issues as his 70 receptions for 890 yards and eight scores last season would suggest. Kincaid isn't going to give you a lot as a blocker, but he didn't start playing football until his senior year in high school. There's a lot of untapped potential here, even though he's already 24 years old.

#3 - Darnell Washington, Georgia (6-7, 264 lbs.) - A massive tight end with power in the blocking game, but the ability to stress a defense in the seam. He ran a 4.64-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine and showed off his power, easily moving the blocking sleds with little effort. Was underutilized in Georgia's passing game, catching just 45 passes with three touchdowns in three seasons, but there's more meat on the bone there.

#2 - Luke Musgrave, Oregon State (6-6, 253 lbs.) - A knee injury ended his 2022 season after just two games. But he had 11 catches for 169 yards and a touchdown in those two games. Musgrave is a premium athlete. He posted a 4.61-second 40-yard dash at the Combine, with a 36-inch vertical and 10-5 broad jump. His speed is going to be an issue for most linebackers, while his size makes him a mismatch for defensive backs.

#1 - Michael Mayer, Notre Dame (6-4 ½, 248 lbs.) - Mayer is a solid all-around tight end who understands the nuances of where to sit down in zones and get open better than anyone else in this class. Had 180 receptions with 18 touchdowns in three seasons at Notre Dame, but is still just 21, so he's growing into his body. Also has proven to be a willing and able blocker in the run game, something that should continue to get better. Just a good football player and a safe pick.

Mike's Take …

It's a good year to need a tight end, maybe more than one.

NFL teams in the market at the position will select from "the best group of tight ends I've seen in a decade," NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah maintained. "It is loaded with starting tight ends.

"I think we're gonna see about three first-round tight ends in this draft."

The record at the position is four. This year's group has a chance to match or surpass that standard because these guys aren't just pass catchers.

"When I look at this group and the size, I see inline-tight end bodies for the most part with move-tight end skills," NFL Network analyst Charles Davis assessed. "Ordinarily, we'd be getting a lot more move-tight ends out of the college ranks. This feels like a return to the days of yore."

Added Jeremiah: "I think there's some willing blockers in this group. It's phenomenal in its depth and its talent."

#5 - Sam LaPorta, Iowa (6-3, 245 lbs.) - He's the career receptions leader at the position (153) for a school that has sent Dallas Clark, Noah Fant, T.J. Hockenson, Scott Chandler and George Kittle to the NFL. They grow tight ends like corn in Iowa. LaPorta was the Big Ten Tight End of the Year in 2022 and an obvious bright spot while playing for a Hawkeyes offense that struggled mightily. He shined at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis with what Jeremiah described as a "phenomenal workout."

#4 - Luke Musgrave, Oregon State (6-6, 253 lbs.) - Musgrave only played two games in 2022 (knee) but his performances at the Senior Bowl and the Combine were reassuring, particularly the 4.61 seconds he needed to complete the 40-yard dash. He's a skier as well as a football player, and he told the NFL Network he spent time while rehabbing bouncing around from position room to position room (quarterbacks one week, linebackers the next, offensive line the next) to perfect his knowledge of the game. It's not about what Musgrave's done, it's what he'll do at the next level.

#3 - Michael Mayer, Notre Dame (6-4 ½, 248 lbs.) - Everybody's All-American (with the possible exception of the 4.7 40 Mayer clocked in Indy). He's the only FBS tight end to have registered 800-plus receiving yards in each of the last two seasons and he impressed at the Combine on the blocking sled. "That's Mayer's game," Jeremiah opined. "He can do everything as a complete tight end."

#2 - Dalton Kincaid, Utah (6-4, 246 lbs.) - Kincaid didn't participate in any on-field drills in Indy (back). What he's put on tape confirms his understanding of how to get open and how to catch the ball. Jeremiah observed a polished route runner who's smooth, fluid and explosive, and who knows how to finish. Kincaid is the only FBS tight end with eight touchdown receptions in each of the last two campaigns.

#1 - Darnell Washington, Georgia (6-7, 264 lbs.) - Washington has only caught 45 passes for three touchdowns in three seasons at Georgia. But he's a potential first-round selection because he's a massive target, he can move (Washington's 4.64 40 was sixth among tight ends in Indy) and he's committed to blocking. The team that drafts Washington will draft "an unbelievable blocker," Jeremiah emphasized. "And now you have this piece of clay to work with as a route runner and a pass catcher. This guy's gonna enter the league and function as a sixth offensive lineman. That's what he can do in the run game." Washington destroyed the blocking sled in Indy, and his one-handed grab in a fade drill hinted at the potential he'll realize in the passing game sooner rather than later.

Matt's Take …

This is a fantastic tight end class. We could see numerous tight ends drafted in the first round and maybe five in the top 50 selections overall. Not only that, but there is also great depth in this group and future starters could be coming off the board in the mid rounds.

This draft features big inline traditional tight ends as well as movement based receiving types. If you are looking for a tight end, this is the year to draft one.

Zack Kuntz from Old Dominion wasn't even mentioned in the top five, but he very well could have put up the best Combine workout in history for a tight end.

#5 - Tucker Kraft, South Dakota State (6-5, 254 lbs.) - Kraft showed off his athletic ability at the Combine, but also has very good size for the position. He has a thick frame and good speed and body control. He projects as a do-it-all guy but does have a big jump in competition heading to the NFL. His versatility and overall potential should be very attractive to the league. He can align inline or detached with mismatch capabilities from both spots and plays the game with toughness and competitiveness.

#4 - Dalton Kincaid, Utah (6-4, 246 lbs.) - Kincaid is a receiving tight end-and an excellent one at that. He is a move tight end that does his best work detached from the formation rather than inline. While he is a willing blocker, that isn't Kincaid's game, and he could stand to get stronger. But this is a very fluid athlete and an exceptional route runner. Kincaid has great hands and ball tracking ability. He runs very well and has a burst that most tight ends just don't possess. Kincaid is overaged. He will be 24 years old as a rookie and lacks the ideal bulk and muscle mass, but he is a great receiver.

#3 - Michael Mayer, Notre Dame (6-4 ½, 248 lbs.) - There is an argument that Mayer should be the top player on this list. He is a throwback at the position. He owns the middle of the field and is a very rugged blocker, something he loves doing. Everything Mayer does on the football field is physical and nasty. He helps set the tone for the entire offense. His testing numbers won't blow you away, but Mayer consistently shows more than enough athletic ability on tape and his yards per route run was exceptional at Notre Dame. However, he isn't a great separator and most of his catches are contested. Most rookie tight ends take time to hit their stride in the NFL, but Mayer looks about as ready for that jump as any tight end in recent memory.

#2 - Darnell Washington, Georgia (6-7, 264 lbs.) - Washington has a fantastic body for the position. He is huge and chiseled. Although his technique still needs work, Washington also is one of the best blocking tight ends in this entire class, something he enjoys with a nasty edge. But his blocking technique still needs work. This is a very physical football player, but also a very rare mover for a young man his size. His numbers across the board at the Combine were eye popping and even at his immense size, Washington had the best short shuttle of all tight ends. Washington can stretch the seam, will be a real force in the red zone, and often out muscles linebackers and safeties alike. Washington will be a mismatch at the next level, but only caught 45 passes in college as he played alongside Brock Bowers, a fantastic prospect in his own right. But Washington did average 17.2 yards per catch.

#1 - Luke Musgrave, Oregon State (6-6, 253 lbs.) - There is certainly some debate as to who is currently the top tight end in this draft class, but Musgrave is going to give NFL defensive coordinators nightmares before long. Musgrave has great size that he uses very well as a receiver and he runs like a deer. His testing numbers in Indianapolis were excellent as well, including his 10-yard split which was best in the class, showing off his great initial explosion. Musgrave is just an average blocker but should improve in this area and has some rawness to his route running. His 2022 season was cut short due to knee injury, which no longer seems to be an issue for Musgrave. Musgrave has a multi-sport background including as a downhill skier, but his traits are perfect for terrorizing NFL defenses. His upside is tremendous with some more refinement to his overall game.

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