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Light, Fast & Explosive: Looking at TE Fits in the 2020 Draft

| March 25th, 2020

It’s no secret that the Bears are looking to upgrade the tight end group this offseason, after the position gave them historically bad production in 2019. If past positional overhauls are any indication (RB in 2018 offseason, WR in 2017 offseason), Ryan Pace will likely look to add players both in free agency and the draft.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The Bears have added Jimmy Graham to this group in free agency on what is essentially a one-year deal.]

Last year, I looked at the Combine performance of every tight end drafted for a Reid offense in Philadelphia (1999-2012, 2016-present with Doug Pederson) or Kansas City (2013-present) to see if any patterns emerged.  Three traits stood out:

  • Light: every tight end was 258 pounds or less, with an average of less than 250 pounds for the group as a whole. That is appreciably lighter than the NFL average of 255 pounds.
  • Fast: the average NFL tight end runs a 40 in around 4.70 seconds. 8 of 10 in this sample size were faster than that.
  • Explosive: explosiveness is usually measured through jumps, and the average vertical jump for tight ends is just under 33″. 8 of the 10 in this sample beat that, with an average of 34.3″.

This then gives us a rough profile of a tight end who would be targeted as a pass catcher in this offense. They should be under 260 pounds, run a sub 4.70 40, and have a 33″ or better vertical jump. These all make sense. The main purpose of a TE in this offense (at least for the U TE) is to be able to catch passes. They need to be athletic and able to challenge defenses down the field.

I’ll note these test results are not a way to say how good or bad a tight end will be, but simply if they match the physical characteristics of previous players who have excelled in this offense. Think of it as a way to identify what players are a priority for evaluation.

Now let’s look at which tight ends in the draft this year fit the profile. The table below shows all of the tight ends from the Combine, sorted by how many thresholds they hit. Misses are highlighted in red, while measurements that player did not provide are in purple.

A few thoughts:

  • This is generally a pretty light tight end class, as nobody came in terribly high above the average weight and nearly half the players were under 250 pounds.
  • This is also a slow tight end class, which is especially disappointing considering that most of these guys are light, which means it should be easier for them to be fast. Only 3 players tested with a faster time than a 4.70, and only 1 was faster than 4.65. Speed isn’t everything, but the Bears need to add more of it at the skill positions this offseason, and outside of Albert Okwuegbunam, there isn’t much of it to be found at the tight end spot in the draft (As we’ll see in upcoming articles, the same can not be said of wide receivers).
  • If you’re looking for fits with one of the Bears’ first picks in round 2, Cole Kmet or Brycen Hopkins are probably the best options there. I have no clue where Okwuegbunam gets drafted, but he’s a physical fit as well. If you’re looking for a late round sleeper option, Stephen Sullivan is probably the guy to watch. Everybody else is slow. This just isn’t an athletic TE group.

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