Kyle Pitts was a legitimately generational TE prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft. But his presence at times blotted out the lack of positional depth behind him. Does the 2023 NFL Draft have that same flawed structure, or is there a trove of sleepers behind Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer? It appears as though the latter may be true.
2023 NFL Draft sleepers at TE
Mayer is the top TE prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft and might be one of the best TE prospects to come out over the past several cycles. But only one team will enjoy the addition of Mayer. The rest will have to scour the ranks of the 2023 class and see what gems in the rough they can find. Luckily for them, there will be plenty of opportunities.
Benjamin Yurosek, Stanford
With any emergent quarterback, there is often a recipient for the yards and touchdowns that amass. Now, Stanford wasn’t lighting up defenses with Tanner McKee at the helm, but the young QB provided valued stability after Davis Mills’ departure. And in McKee’s presence, the primary beneficiary was tight end Benjamin Yurosek.
As a sophomore, Yurosek put up 43 catches for 658 yards and three scores in 2021. He was one of the nation’s top producers at his position, but he’s not just a college phenom. Yurosek has legitimate NFL potential, particularly as a receiver. He’s an explosive long-strider who can separate and get into space. But even when he doesn’t, he uses his steely instincts and hands of steel to win consistently in contested situations. Yurosek is lighter than your average TE, but he plays like the biggest man in the defensive backfield.
Ben Sims, Baylor
The Baylor Bears’ receiving corps wasn’t that deep to begin with. Now, they’ve lost Tyquan Thornton and Drew Estrada to the NFL and R.J. Sneed to the transfer portal. It’s safe to say that someone will have to carry the load for Baylor in 2022. And that someone might not be a receiver at all, but instead tight end Ben Sims.
Sims had a good 2021 season with 31 catches for 361 yards and six touchdowns. But his 2022 campaign is shaping up to be even better. A tremendous opportunity is present, and Sims has the tools to take advantage of it. The 6’4″, 253-pound target is a very well-rounded prospect. He might not be an elite athlete, but he’s fluid enough to stack cuts and separate as a route runner. Sims competes at the catch point, and he paves lanes as a blocker.
Zack Kuntz, Old Dominion
Trey McBride led the TE position with 90 catches in 2021. Wondering who came in second behind him? It was Old Dominion’s Zack Kuntz, who accumulated 73 catches for 692 yards and five touchdowns over the course of the 2021 campaign. A former graduate transfer from Penn State, Kuntz has the pedigree, and he’s just now starting to find his groove with the Monarchs.
Few tight ends in the 2023 NFL Draft — or any draft — can match up with Kuntz physically. The Old Dominion star stands at a massive 6’8″, 245 pounds. As you might expect, he can easily box out defensive backs with his size, as well as extend beyond his frame to haul in tough catches. He’s not quite the short-area athlete that other tight ends are, but he has enough athleticism to get into space, where he lets his size do the rest. A venerable red-zone and seam threat, Kuntz has a future at the next level.
Ryan Jones, Eastern Carolina
Few tight end prospects have had a more winding path to the 2023 NFL Draft than ECU’s Ryan Jones. Jones was, in fact, a four-star athlete in the 2017 class. He initially signed with the Oklahoma Sooners and played outside linebacker. But after a couple seasons of stagnation, he chose to transfer to ECU. He sat out the 2020 season due to transfer rules, then switched to tight end in 2021. The results? 37 catches for 442 yards and five scores.
It’s not historic production, but for a 6’2″, 247-pound former OLB in his first year at the position, it’ll do. Jones showed natural talent at TE in 2021. His dense frame naturally translates in the run-after-catch phase, where he can bulldoze defensive backs and churn through contact. He has great body control and ball-tracking ability, and he also knocks opponents around as a blocker. Jones will be an older rookie, but he provides utility in many different areas.
McCallan Castles, Cal Davis
Every now and then, a tight end prospect emerges from the FCS level and eventually earns Day 2 capital. In the 2018 NFL Draft, it was Dallas Goedert for the Eagles. In the 2020 NFL Draft, it was Adam Trautman for the Saints. And an early candidate to potentially follow that path in the 2023 NFL Draft is Cal Davis TE McCallan Castles.
Castles, who accrued 27 receptions for 387 yards and four touchdowns as one of the Aggies’ primary receiving threats, is a 6’5″ mismatch generator who flashes the traits to make it at the next level. He’s a smooth athlete in space who can sink his hips on breaks. And at the catch point, he has the body control and coordination to pluck the ball out of the air with impressive precision.