This is a really deep class of tight ends with talent not only at the top with players like Notre Dame's Michael Mayer, but teams are going to find Day 1 starters in the NFL at the tight end position well into Day 2 and possibly Day 3 of this draft.
It's probably the deepest tight end class in recent memory.
Top 5 tight ends to watch at the Combine:
1. Michael Mayer, Notre Dame, 6-5, 257
Mayer has a big frame with a wide catch radius. He can line up in-line on the wing or in the slot. He has terrific hands and is really good at catching the ball in a crowd. He does all the little things to be an impact player very early in his career. He caught 138 passes for 1,649 yards and 16 touchdowns the last two seasons combined for the Irish.
View photos of the tight end prospects who were invited to the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine.
2. Luke Musgrave, Oregon State, 6-6, 255
Musgrave is a really impressive athlete for his size. He clocked in at over 20 mph on the Zebra Tech tracking system at Senior Bowl practices. He'll be able to stretch the field a bit from the tight end position and he's also a very capable blocker.
3. Dalton Kincaid, Utah, 6-4, 241
Kincaid might be the best pure receiver of the bunch with the ability to line up all over the field because of his size, route running and hands. A former All-State high basketball player, those skills translate to the football field with his ability to block out would-be defenders and high point the football. He caught 70 passes for 890 yards and eight touchdowns this past season.
4. Darnell Washington, Georgia, 6-7, 280
Washington is probably the most consistent blocker of the group and still very much a developing player in the pass game. A terrific athlete for his size, Washington averaged 17.2 yards per reception over the course of his three-year Georgia career. He creates a lot of mismatches in the run and pass game because of his size and athleticism.
5. Tucker Kraft, South Dakota State, 6-5, 255
Kraft is a terrific athlete who played quarterback, running back, linebacker and punter in high school. He was also a really good high school basketball player. As a sophomore in 2021 he played in 15 games and caught 65 balls for 770 yards and six touchdowns. He's got a chance to be an immediate impact player as a Day 2 pick.
Combine sleeper to watch: Payne Durham, Purdue, 6-5, 255
The National Team tight end Practice Player of the Week at the Senior Bowl, Durham showed an innate ability to make the tough catches look easy. He's a very good blocker in the run game and was Purdue's second leading receiver in 2022 with 56 receptions for 560 yards and eight touchdowns. He did his best work at the Senior Bowl in the red zone.
View photos of the linebacker prospects who were invited to the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine.
Lions' need at the position: Moderate
The Lions traded T.J. Hockenson to Minnesota at the trade deadline, but their production from the tight end position didn't decline afterward. That's a credit not only to Brock Wright, Shane Zylstra and James Mitchell but also to offensive coordinator Ben Johnson.
Wright and Zylstra are exclusive rights free agents, which means the Lions control their rights for the 2023 season. Mitchell will be entering Year 2 and is expected to take a big leap in production after getting a late start to his rookie season due to an ACL injury suffered in college.
Wright showed off his speed and athleticism with the game-winning 51-yard touchdown this past season against the Jets. Zylstra had three touchdown receptions in the loss to Carolina. Mitchell got better and better as the season progressed and showed he's got some real run-after- catch potential.
But don't be surprised at all if Lions general manager Brad Holmes looks to add to this unit as early as Day 2 of the NFL Draft to shore up that room and create some really good competition and depth heading into OTAs and training camp. With Amon-Ra St. Brown and Jameson Williams expected to be matchup nightmares for opposing defenses, there could be plenty of opportunities for tight ends to be very productive in this offense in 2023.
Key stat: The Lions were the only NFL team to have two tight ends with at least four touchdowns this season (Wright and Zylstra each with four). Detroit's 12 receiving touchdowns from tight ends in 2022 established a new franchise record for the most combined touchdowns from the position.