2023 NFL Draft Tight End Rankings – Mayer and Kincaid in a class of their own
If your team is needing a tight end, then this is the year to do it. The class is deep, but that does not mean you can afford to wait too long as the cream of the crop resides on days one and two. Every prospect listed within these 2023 NFL Draft tight end rankings has something to offer at the next level, but the top two truly do stand apart from the rest.
Grade: Early-Mid 1st Round, 6’4/249lbs
Mock Draft fatigue seems to have led to a fall in Michael Mayer’s stock, but do not let that fool you; he is the best that a deep class has to offer and sits atop of these 2023 NFL Draft tight end rankings.
Mayer’s college production has been outstanding at Notre Dame. With over 800 yards receiving in both 2021 and 2022, and seven and nine touchdowns respectively during those seasons, he is able to do everything needed to play the position at a high level — a complete tight end.
He is one of the rarer tight ends who will enter the league and produce an immediate impact and will be viewed among the league’s best by the end of 2023.
Mayer has been knocked for being slower than some of his peers, but this lack of straight-line speed does not hinder his game whatsoever. Tight ends do not need to blow past defenders in this way. What they do need to be able to do, and what Mayer demonstrates time and time again, is the ability to change direction and adjust late in routes and within tight spaces.
These athletic attributes, combined with his short area burst and agility, are what make him so effective. Mayer does not always appear wide open, but there is an art to what he does in this aspect of his game. The separation at the second level that he achieves is subtle and he can uncover at the key moment.
This subtlety is not always needed though as he can be a sudden and decisive route runner and he is incredible in contested catch situations. He seems to have his own gravitational pull when the ball is in the air as he makes catches look easy, even when multiple players are draped over him. Seeing him make catches in these scenarios, tracking the ball over his shoulder and making the grab, sometimes with one hand, is a real joy and offers some real ‘wow’ moments on tape.
Talking of his hands, Mayer always manages to snag the ball softly with his hands away from his body — he has the softest hands in the class and does not rely on body catches. He has a thick trunk, so when he has the ball in his hands, he is incredibly tough to take down in the open field.
Furthermore, after the catch, he can be a real bulldozer. He has a strong stiff arm and can shrug off would-be tacklers. He is not afraid to lower his head and embrace contact and will do the dirty work when blocking.
This is an area of his game that can be cleaned up, but it is clear that he can be coached to become an excellent blocker. His PFF run block grade in 2022 was 82.1, which is fifth best in the nation, two spots ahead of the perceived top blocking tight end prospect, Darnell Washington.
Overall, teams should not hesitate to draft Michael Mayer in round one as they will be receiving a premium player at the position for the next decade.
Mid 1st Round, 6’4/246lbs
Kincaid is the current darling of Draftniks, and it is obvious why. He is an excellent receiving weapon and has the build of an ideal modern day tight end. Arms of almost 33 inches highlight his length and he does display more variety than Mayer in the ways that he wins as a receiver.
His body control is outstanding, and Kincaid can contort his body in preparation for the catch after the ball has been released by his QB, which is a sight to behold. It is outstanding how he makes such incredible adjustments with the ball in the air at his size.
These traits allow him to consistently win on 50/50 chances, and even 30/70 chances where the defensive back has an advantage. Sturdy hands allow Kincaid to gain a stranglehold on the ball through the catch point. All of this combined suddenly flips 30/70 chances back in his favor and he comes down with it more often than not.
Another area where the tight end wins is thanks to his route running. He can create obvious separation on routes by using subtle head fakes, choppy, but fluent stuttered timing and genuine wide receiver instincts.
However, he is a little leaner than the Notre Dame prospect, is not the same level of blocker, and is not quite as sudden and fearless on shorter routes underneath. He is a willing blocker but lacks the functional strength at this point to be consistent at the next level.
The ex-Ute has better overall speed and can create separation this way better than any other prospect in the class. He is a clear mismatch across the middle and will become a dangerous weapon in the red zone on both fades and quick slants.
There is no doubt that he is the readiest pure pass-catching player in the 2023 NFL Draft tight end rankings and a selection in the middle of round one would not be unwarranted.