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Who Are the Best TE Draft Prospects in NFL History? Brock Bowers Joins Kyle Pitts on the Podium

The NFL Draft has seen dozens of stellar TE prospects in its history, but names like Kyle Pitts, T.J. Hockenson, and Brock Bowers top the list.

Who are the best tight end draft prospects in NFL history? The TE position has evolved since the very inception of the game of football. But prospects who can impact the game in multiple ways, and in multiple phases, have always been of great interest.

Top 12 TE Draft Prospects in NFL History

12) David Njoku, Miami (FL)

There were three TEs selected in Round 1 of the 2017 NFL Draft: O.J. Howard, Evan Engram, and David Njoku. Njoku was selected third out of that group, but he may have been under-appreciated as a prospect.

Howard was the elite talent and Alabama TE who fielded excitement, while Engram was the modern receiving threat. But Njoku was a productive receiver and an elite athlete at 6’4″, 246 pounds who also brought mauling blocking ability and fortitude as a RAC weapon.

Fast forward to today, and Njoku is one of the best TEs in the game, coming off a Pro Bowl 2023 campaign in which he racked up 81 catches for 882 yards and six scores.

In the future, NFL teams may be on the lookout for their own Njoku — a truly elite two-phase TE with value on all downs.

11) Rickey Dudley, Ohio State

Athleticism has always been a deal-breaker for TEs at the NFL level. If you want to be an impact starter, you need to have an unimpeachable athletic profile. Rickey Dudley was one of the most compelling athletes ever to hit the NFL Draft circuit.

At 6’6″, 255 pounds, Dudley was a standout in both football and basketball at Ohio State, averaging double-digit points in his senior season on the hardwood. On the football field, he was a big-play and touchdown threat who could run as fast as 4.48 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

Dudley went ninth overall in the 1996 NFL Draft to the Oakland Raiders. His best season came in 1997 when he amassed 47 catches for 787 yards and seven TDs.

10) Eric Ebron, North Carolina

The idea of Eric Ebron was better than Ebron himself at times, but there was little disputing his merit as a top prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft. The 6’4″, 253-pound target dominated in 2013 with 62 catches, 973 yards, and three TDs, and his receiving profile awed evaluators.

At his size, Ebron logged a 4.6 40-yard dash and a 10′ broad jump at the NFL Combine — numbers that quantified his elite functional athleticism. With his speed and bend, he could separate all multiple levels, but he also had physical RAC ability and box-out chops.

After going 10th overall, drops plagued Ebron in his time with the Detroit Lions. However, he was nonetheless a respectable NFL player, scoring Pro Bowl honors with the Indianapolis Colts in 2018 after racking up 66 catches, 750 yards, and 13 scores.

9) Riley Odoms, Houston

Until Kyle Pitts broke the record in 2021, Riley Odoms was tied for being the highest-selected TE prospect ever in the NFL Draft. In 1971 — an era where the passing game was still being developed — Odoms racked up 45 catches for 730 yards and eight scores at Houston.

The Denver Broncos selected Odoms fifth overall in the 1972 NFL Draft, and Odoms wasted no time establishing himself as a fixture in the NFL. He was a Pro Bowler by his second season and earned All-Pro recognition in 1974 and 1975.

Odoms played his entire career with the Broncos, amassing 5,755 yards and 41 TDs over 12 years. The 6’4″, 230-pound TE could stack defenders, get open, and track the ball — and he became one of the prototypes for the modern receiving TE.

8) Jeremy Shockey, Miami (FL)

The TE position is such a physical one that prospects who can outmuscle the competition put themselves ahead by default. Few TEs, over the years, have played with more unabashed physicality and attitude than Jeremy Shockey.

Shockey was a high-level physical talent, to be clear. He ran a 4.64-second 40-yard dash at around 6’5″, 251 pounds, and he caught 40 passes for 519 yards and seven scores in his final season at Miami. And when he made the leap to the NFL, he was ready — physically and mentally.

Shockey was an All-Pro as a rookie — a very rare distinction at any position — and across his 10-year career, he accumulated 547 receptions for 6,143 yards and 37 scores.

7) Kellen Winslow Sr., Missouri

Kellen Winslow Sr. never commanded high-end volume at Missouri, but there was a strong sense among evaluators that he could be a transformative pass-game weapon in the NFL.

When the San Diego Chargers selected Winslow in the 1979 NFL Draft, the team’s owner famously remarked: “It isn’t often that you get the best player in the draft without your team having the worst record.”

The Chargers were able to nab Winslow at 13th overall, and the 6’5″, 251-pound TE — with his athleticism, play strength, and nuance — became a cheat code in Don Coryell’s “Air Coryell” system.

Across a Hall of Fame career, Winslow hearkened a new era of the passing game. Three separate times, he eclipsed 85 catches, 1,000 yards, and eight TDs in a given season — in a time where such a feat was virtually unheard of.

6) Mike Ditka, Pittsburgh

Mike Ditka entered the fold in an era where passing the ball was largely secondary. He went fifth overall in the 1961 NFL Draft. That’s how good he was.

At 6’3″ and 228 pounds, Ditka was known as a productive two-way tight end, leading his team in receiving each year he played. The Chicago Bears saw Ditka’s potential, and as soon as he entered the league, he revolutionized the TE position.

Ditka won Offensive Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowl honors in 1961, logging 56 catches, 1,076 yards, and a then-team record 12 TDs. He’d go on to become a two-time All-Pro, an NFL and Super Bowl Champion, and a Hall of Famer.

5) Tony Gonzalez, California

Some prospects are simply infallible. Tony Gonzalez was that caliber of player when he hit the 1997 NFL Draft circuit out of California. The 6’5″, 247-pound TE was a smooth athlete and a skilled receiver with a basketball background, and his culmination of traits projected well.

The Kansas City Chiefs selected Gonzalez 13th overall in his respective class, and Gonzalez went on to become one of the greatest TEs of all time. He made the Pro Bowl in 14 of his 17 seasons, made the All-Pro team six times, and was eventually crowned a Hall of Famer.

Gonzalez’s physical tools were rivaled by few, but his sheer durability and dependability proved to be one of his greatest assets. On five separate occasions, he eclipsed 90 catches in a season — and four of those times he also logged over 1,000 receiving yards.

4) Vernon Davis, Maryland

In some ways, Vernon Davis was Brock Bowers before Brock Bowers. As a junior at Maryland, he racked up 51 catches for 871 yards and six scores before making the early leap to the NFL. He was then taken sixth overall by the San Francisco 49ers.

Davis was one of the best athletes ever seen at the TE position. At a hyper-dense 6’3″, 254 pounds, he ran a torrid 4.38-second 40-yard dash and logged a 42″ vertical and a 10’8″ broad jump, and his 33 bench reps gave a show of his raw strength.

Davis was a weapon for years on end on the West Coast — but his best years came in 2009 and 2013. In 2009, he established a career-high 965 yards, and he exploded with 13 TD catches in both seasons.

3) T.J. Hockenson, Iowa

The Iowa Hawkeyes have been a TE factory for the better part of the 21st century, but the team’s crown jewel is T.J. Hockenson, who went eighth overall in the 2019 class.

Hockenson was already on the NFL Draft radar after the 2017 season, but a 2018 campaign that saw him amass 49 catches for 760 yards and six TDs sealed the deal on his Round 1 aspirations.

At 6’5″, 251 pounds, Hockenson laid claim to elite athleticism — quantified by a 4.7-second 40-yard dash, 37.5″ vertical, 10’3″ broad jump, and 7.02-second three-cone drill — and high-level blocking ability. In the NFL, he’s distinguished himself as a clutch chain-mover and money-down machine.

2) Brock Bowers, Georgia

From the moment he set foot on the field at Georgia, Bowers proved he was special. As a true freshman, he earned all-league honors while amassing 56 catches for 882 yards and 14 total TDs. Across his three-year career, he totaled 2,731 yards and 31 scores.

Bowers was always an elite physical talent — rumored to run a 4.5-second 40-yard dash pace at around 6’3″, 243 pounds, and his tape backed up that speed and explosiveness. But what made him so compelling as a prospect in the 2024 NFL Draft cycle was how his skill set was perfectly attuned to the modern game.

Bowers boasted the versatility to be used in a countless allotment of ways. And just when you started to worry about labeling him as a gadget player, he separated independently on a dig route or snared a high pass against close coverage. He’s a true three-level weapon.

The Las Vegas Raiders selected Bowers 13th overall in the 2024 NFL Draft, and in Las Vegas, he’ll get a chance to carve out a legacy for himself like many of the players on this list have.

1) Kyle Pitts, Florida

Like the best prospect of all time at any position, Pitts was billed as a true unicorn heading into the 2021 NFL Draft cycle.

The Florida product — who caught 43 passes for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns in his final season — was the first non-QB taken in his class, and he’s the highest-selected TE in NFL history.

At 6’6″, 246 pounds, Pitts ran a blazing 4.44-second 40-yard dash time and boasted a full route tree on tape with jaw-dropping flexibility and contortion freedom for his size. He was a Pro Bowler in his first season, and with Kirk Cousins now at the helm in Atlanta, his best ball could be on the way.

Odds are, we won’t see another TE prospect with Pitts’ combined physical talent and receiving versatility in a long, long time.

Honorable Mentions

  • George Kittle, Iowa
  • Shannon Sharpe, Savannah State
  • Rob Gronkowski, Arizona
  • Dallas Clark, Iowa
  • Ken MacAfee, Notre Dame
  • Dalton Kincaid, Utah
  • Greg Olsen, Miami (FL)
  • Todd Heap, Arizona State
  • Charle Young, USC
  • Keith Jackson, Oklahoma