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2024 Senior Bowl preview: Tight ends

The 2024 NFL Draft starts in Mobile!

The Reese’s Senior Bowl game will be held Saturday, February 3rd, with the practices occurring the week leading up to it, starting Tuesday, January 30th. It is also one of the first major stops in the pre-draft process before the teams are on the clock on April 25th.

Even more exciting, this year’s Senior Bowl may be one of the more anticipated in recent memory. There will be over 100 NFL prospects competing all week in front of scouts and draft pundits alike and the talent this year will be easy to see throughout the week.

Outside of the big names like Brock Bowers, Ja’Tavion Sanders and possibly Cade Stover, there may not be a lot of name recognition with this season’s tight-end class. In this preview, we will look at the seven tight ends who will be looking to become household names by the time their names are called in the upcoming draft.

Other previews:

Quarterbacks
Running backs

Florida State's Jaheim Bell

Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports
Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

The most recognizable name you will see in Mobile is probably Florida State’s offensive weapon Jaheim Bell.

Listed at 6’3”, 239 pounds, Bell is a matchup nightmare due to his unique mix of size and speed. His ability to find yardage after the catch makes him a threat from virtually anywhere on the field, which is how Mike Norvell used him in 2023. Whether he lined up in the backfield as a running back, in-line as a traditional tight end, an H-back, or out wide as a receiving option, Bell commanded attention from the defense. Bell runs routes like a wide receiver, so while his blocking needs improvement, he is a reliable target in the passing game.

Michigan's A.J. Barner

USA Today Sports
USA Today Sports

While the box score may not reflect his impact, A.J. Barner was integral to Michigan’s run to the national title.

Listed at 6’6”, 251 pounds, Barner uses his large frame to box out defenders in the passing game and shows unique quickness for his size. At Michigan, he was a reliable check-down option for quarterback J.J. McCarthy. However, Barner’s specialty is in the running and quick passing games, where he is an exceptional blocker. Barner is strong at the point of attack and has shown the ability to seal off and kick out defenders of all types, from defensive ends to quicker defensive backs. Mobile will give Barner a necessary opportunity to show off more of his pass-catching abilities.

Penn State's Theo Johnson

USA Today Sports
USA Today Sports

One of the more intriguing names coming to Mobile will be Penn State’s Theo Johnson.

Johnson ended up forgoing his final year of eligibility to enter the 2024 NFL draft, a decision that will likely benefit him in the long run. He must gain the blocking technique to be an every-down in-line tight end. However, in the receiving game, he looks the part of a wide receiver coming off the line, which is even more impressive when you see that he weighs close to 265 pounds. He has good speed to threaten the defender off the snap and the quickness to get in and out of the top of routes efficiently.

Whether for his incredible story up to this point or his play on the field, Johnson will turn some heads down in Mobile.

Kansas State's Ben Sinnott

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

One of the better examples of the modern-day tight-end, Kansas State’s Ben Sinnott was used everywhere in the Wildcats’ offense. Similar to Norvell’s usage of Bell, Sinnott lined up at H-back, in-line, out wide, in the slot, everywhere. Sinnott is a smooth route-runner with a knack for setting up defenders throughout the route to gain separation.

His blocking is solid and makes his role more unpredictable while he’s lined up as a traditional in-line tight end.

Sinnott is most dangerous when he’s lined up wide and can use his athleticism to win in the intermediate parts of the field. He struggles with drops from time to time, taking away from his reliability, but he is a solid prospect. 

Minnesota's Brevyn Spann-Ford

Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports
Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

Brevyn Spann-Ford is possibly the biggest tight end of the bunch, listed at 6’7”, 269 pounds. His ability as a blocker is what will get him on the field. While Minnesota also had him out wide, his strength and monster frame make him best used as an in-line tight end at the next level. His soft hands and natural route-running ability make him a versatile threat in the receiving game, but don’t expect a lot of separation due to his lack of speed/quickness. Even without that separation, Spann-Ford should still be an asset in the passing game due to his wide frame boxing out would-be defenders.

TCU's Jared Wiley

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

A former high school quarterback and Texas Longhorns transfer, Wiley was an integral part of TCU’s offense. Wiley was used in a variety of ways, some stemming from his ability as a blocker. He was put in motion a solid amount in this offense as a lead blocker and could be relied upon to use his strength to finish the job if called upon. That does not mean he isn’t an asset in the passing game.

Wiley is adept at making plays once the ball is in his hands, a trait that will surely be on display in Mobile. He has a good feel for the game and knows where the soft spots of zones are in a defense, which will help his transition to the next level. Wiley is another name that could be discussed more when Senior Bowl week is over.

Arizona's Tanner McLachlan

Zachary BonDurant-USA TODAY Sports
Zachary BonDurant-USA TODAY Sports

Before transferring to Arizona, then-Arizona quarterback Jayden de Laura admitted that he didn’t throw many passes to tight ends. He figured out, once he got to Tuscon, how useful the tight end could be in the passing game, especially when they are built like transfer Tanner McLachlan, the first tight end de Laura threw to in his college career.

A former FCS receiver and high school basketball player, McLachlan’s athleticism is paramount on his tape as he hurdles defenders and rises to make catches over the middle of the field. McLachlan walked on at Arizona and, before the season started, had earned a scholarship. His ability to win at the catch point could surprise some folks in Mobile.

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Story originally appeared on Vikings Wire