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2023 NFL Draft tight end rankings: Michael Mayer is No. 1 in loaded TE class

Who is the best tight end in the 2023 NFL Draft? The excitement around the NFL for this year’s crop says a lot about the players. As we dive into our 2023 NFL Draft tight end rankings, it’s clear this position is much deeper than it has been in years.

Once-in-a-generation tight end prospects are incredibly rare. We don’t have one in 2023, but Notre Dame Fighting Irish star Michael Mayer is a bonafide first-round talent. Multiple starting-caliber tight ends will be available after Round 1, with several of them offering traits that suggest a few Pro Bowl selections could be in their future.

Related: 2023 NFL mock draft

Before examining the 2023 tight end prospects, one promising note for the future. While many of these players could be multi-contract starters, Georgia Bulldogs tight end Brock Bowers is draft-eligible in 2024 and he’s the rare player at that position worthy of a top-10 pick.

Let’s dive into our 2023 NFL Draft tight end rankings.

2023 NFL Draft tight end rankings: Depth highlights 2023 TE prospects

Just Missed: Tucker Kraft, South Dakota State; Josh Whyle, Cincinnati Bearcats; Jahleel Billingsley, Texas Longhorns; Payne Durham, Purdue Boilermakers.

Statistics are courtesy of College Football Reference and Pro Football Focus. Of note, all ages for the 2023 tight end prospects are for Week 1 of next season.

5. Sam LaPorta, Iowa Hawkeyes

NCAA Football: Iowa at Ohio State
Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
  • Sam LaPorta height: 6-foot-4
  • Sam LaPorta age: 22 years old
  • Sam LaPorta stats: 657 yards, 11.3 ypc
  • Sam LaPorta 40 time: 4.59 seconds
  • Sam LaPorta draft projection: Round 3

The football program that produced George Kittle, T.J. Hockenson, Dallas Clark and Noah Fant now sends another promising tight end prospect to the NFL. While Sam LaPorta might not be on that elite tier, the former Iowa Hawkeyes star brings plenty to the table.

Related: 2023 NFL Draft order

A former wide receiver, LaPorta often looks the part as a pass-catcher. Despite playing for one of the worst offenses in college football, he led the team in receiving with consecutive 600-yard seasons and no other teammate eclipsed 400 yards. LaPorta also looked comfortable being moved around, proving effective as both an in-line tight end and making plays out of the slot.

A willing blocker who showed improvement with his technique over the years, but with a lot of room to grow, LaPorta could be a dependable three-down player at the next level. He’s not a great athlete, so his playmaking ability is limited, but he can be a productive starter for five-plus years.

LaPorta proved at the NFL Combine that he’s an even better athlete than advertised. A 4.59-second 40 time is absurd for someone of that size and it highlights what he can do as an offensive weapon. Putting LaPorta’s 9.25 Relative Athletic Score into perspective, it’s just behind George Kittle (9.57) and ahead of Evan Engram (9.15).

4. Darnell Washington, Georgia Bulldogs

NCAA Football: Georgia at Kentucky
Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports
  • Darnell Washington height: 6-foot-7
  • Darnell Washington age: 22 years old
  • Darnell Washington stats: 454 yards, 16.2 ypc
  • Darnell Washington 40 time: 4.64 sec.
  • Darnell Washington draft projection: Top 45

Imagine drafting a sixth offensive lineman who is also a pretty capable weapon thanks to his size (6-foot-7) and athleticism. Darnell Washington draws some NFL comparisons to Marcedes Lewis. While that might not seem like the ideal outcome for a top-45 talent, Lewis has played 17 NFL seasons and still played like a physical force in his late 30s.

Related: 2023 NFL Draft QB rankings

Washington’s impact in the run game is going to make him a meaningful contributor immediately as a rookie. Of course, he brings more to the table than simply creating lanes for the running back. He is a nightmare in the red zone, putting his massive frame, length and height to create mismatches against linebackers and safeties.

You’re not going to see Washington rip off a lot of YAC plays nor will he make many downfield catches. However, that big body can be a go-to target for the quarterback in the middle of the field and if Washington gets the football near the goal line, no one is stopping him.

Related: Best tight ends of all time

3. Luke Musgrave, Oregon State Beavers

NCAA Football: LA Bowl-Oregon State vs Utah State
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
  • Luke Musgrave age: 23 years old
  • Luke Musgrave height: 6-foot-6
  • Luke Musgrave stats: 169 yards, 15.4 ypc
  • Luke Musgrave 40 time: 4.61 seconds
  • Luke Musgrave draft projection: Top 45

Luke Musgrave might’ve already been viewed as a lock to be picked in Round 1 if not for the knee injury he suffered early in the 2022 season. The 6-foot-6 tight end delivered consecutive 80-yard performances through his first two contests, but he limped off the field on Sep. 10 with a knee injury and never returned for the remainder of the year.

Related: 2023 NFL Draft wide receiver rankings

Fortunately, Musgrave is healthy now. At the Senior Bowl, the nephew of veteran NFL assistant coach Bill Musgrave put his athleticism on display. We’re not just talking about your typical above-average NFL athlete. Musgrave couldn’t be guarded in practice drills and it’s easy to understand why considering he ran one of the 10 fastest speeds (20.05 MPH) among all players.

There is a lot of projection with Musgrave. Between the season-ending knee injury and limited opportunities early in his collegiate career, he is well behind his peers as a route runner and not as advanced physically. If he even makes even marginal improvements as a route-runner and NFL coaches help him improve his play strength, Musgrave can be the best version of Mike Gesicki.

2. Dalton Kincaid, Utah Utes

NCAA Football: Utah at Arizona State
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
  • Dalton Kincaid age: 23 years old
  • Dalton Kincaid height: 6-foot-4
  • Dalton Kincaid stats: 890 yards, 8 TDs
  • Dalton Kincaid 40 time: 4.7 seconds
  • Dalton Kincaid draft projection: Top 40

Backgrounds for some of the best tight ends in modern NFL history include a stint playing basketball. Dalton Kincaid starred on the court in high school, only joining the football team as a senior because his friends convinced him. He later became a walk-on at the University of San Diego, earning FCS All-American honors before transferring to Utah.

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After seeing limited playing time in 2020, Kincaid erupted with 1,400 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns in his final two seasons with the Utes. He rocketed up the 2023 NFL Draft tight end rankings, especially after a 234-yard performance against USC in October.

For someone with a limited background in football, Kincaid shows tremendous awareness and intelligence for how to get open. He moves with ease, whether it’s running a route to get open in the slot or snagging an off-target throw in his direction and still recording yards after the catch.

Related: 2023 NFL Draft running back rankings

While he isn’t someone a coaching staff will trust as a blocker, that’s becoming less of a requirement for the position with each passing year. Kincaid is a 6-foot-4 weapon who is just beginning to scratch the surface of what he can do for an offense.

1. Michael Mayer, Notre Dame Fighting Irish

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Oklahoma State at Notre Dame
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
  • Michael Mayer age: 22 years old
  • Michael Mayer height: 6-foot-4
  • Michael Mayer stats: 809 yards, 9 TDs
  • Michael Mayer 40 time: 4.7 seconds
  • Michael Mayer draft projection: Top 15

Michael Mayer is the best tight end in the 2023 NFL Draft. While the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have produced plenty of quality tight ends for the NFL, there is a strong likelihood that Mayer will go down as one of the best to come out of this storied program.

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If you’re wondering what Mayer does well, the short answer is everything. He might not have the athleticism to match Kyle Pitts or even Musgrave, but he still moves extremely well for his size. Naturally, the Fighting Irish made him very comfortable with blocking, both in regards to his effort, power and technique.

Mayer is also a natural as a chain mover and red-zone threat, using both his frame, instincts and fluidity to put himself in a favorable position to be targeted. Standing at 6-foot-4, Mayer does a masterful job at bringing down contested catches and fighting through contact and drops (5.6% drop rate) aren’t a problem. The NFL comparisons to Jason Witten capture the type of role Meyer will have in the NFL, even getting past the rookie hurdles that often impact tight ends the most.

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