Potential tight end prospects for Chargers in each round of 2023 NFL draft

With Gerald Everett, Donald Parham Jr., and Tre’ McKitty all returning for the 2023 season, the Chargers return their top three options at tight end. But with Everett set to be a free agent after next season and Parham and McKitty yet to solidify themselves as premier NFL players, tight end remains a potential need for LA.

Here’s a prospect for every round that could fit the Chargers:

Round 1: Dalton Kincaid, Utah

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Los Angeles’ pick at 21 is prime real estate for the top tight ends in the draft, whether that’s Kincaid, Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer, or Georgia’s Darnell Washington. Kincaid is, in my opinion, the best option as a trusty receiving threat over the middle.

While Kincaid is not the same caliber of blocker as Mayer or Washington, the Chargers’ retention of Parham means their best blocking tight end from a year ago returns to the roster. Instead, the San Diego transfer brings flexibility in a different way: he’s able to win as a receiver from both in-line and slot alignments, giving the Chargers a matchup piece to open up their offense.

Other option: Michael Mayer, Notre Dame

Round 2: Sam LaPorta, Iowa

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A high school wide receiver and defensive back, LaPorta moved to Iowa and became the latest Hawkeye to turn pro, following in the footsteps of George Kittle, TJ Hockenson, and Noah Fant, among others.

With such a lineage at the position, it makes it that much more impressive that LaPorta is the Hawkeyes’ all-time receptions leader at tight end with 131 in his career. Much of that is because LaPorta was one of the few bright spots of a lethargic Iowa offense in 2022.

Given his usage as a receiver, LaPorta has yet to develop as a blocker, but the team that selects him is betting on developing that area of his game while still being able to tap into his receiving chops. With Everett and Parham on the roster for 2023, LaPorta would be able to build slowly.

Other option: Tucker Kraft, South Dakota State

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Round 3: Luke Schoonmaker, Michigan

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Schoonmaker is built in the classic mold of a starting NFL tight end selected in the middle rounds. He was underutilized at Michigan, posted a Relative Athletic Score of 9.85 with elite testing numbers in nearly every area, and has ample receiving and blocking ability.

While he hasn’t flashed a ton of change of direction ability as a route runner, Schoonmaker’s athletic testing suggests that he can improve in that area on the field. The main blister on Schoonmaker’s RAS card is his weight – 251 lbs – but his frame looks built to accommodate at least 10 more pounds of functional weight without sacrificing a ton of athleticism. That would also build up his blocking ability, and LA would be able to give him the opportunity to condition as TE2 or 3 as a rookie.

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Other option: Josh Whyle, Cincinnati

Round 4: Zack Kuntz, Old Dominion

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After missing the majority of the season due to a knee injury, Kuntz flew under the radar for most of the draft cycle. He still received an invite to the combine in early March and got fully healthy in time to perform. What came next was the most athletic tight end performance of all time per RAS, with a 4.55 40, 40” vertical, and 10’ 8” broad jump.

With the specter of an injury and school pedigree working against him, Kuntz will likely still be available into Day 3 despite his athletic testing. But again, with three tight ends on the roster entering 2023, plus Kuntz’s college teammate Stone Smartt, the Chargers can afford to mold Kuntz in their vision for a season.

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Other option: Cameron Latu, Alabama

Round 5: Payne Durham, Purdue

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The star of Mobile’s Senior Bowl in February following a stellar week, Durham has the build of a secondary tight end whose career lasts a decade or beyond. He’s not an elite downfield option at the position, which may rule him out from Chargers consideration, but this far down the board a team would be happy with a premier second option.

Durham’s 40 time of 4.87 is below average for a tight end, but his 10 yard split of 1.61 is roughly 88th percentile. That shows two things: one, Durham is a plus blocker because of his explosiveness off the line; two, he’s a difficult matchup for linebackers on short routes because of his burst out of breaks.

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Other option: Will Mallory, Miami

Round 6: Brenton Strange, Penn State

Strange has largely flown under the radar because of his status as a surprise early declaration in a strong class, but the former Nittany Lion tested strongly in the 40, vertical, and broad jump at the combine earlier this month. While he stands short of 6’4” and weighs 253 pounds, making him a smaller prospect at the position, he profiles as a potential developmental starter as a move tight end.

With 70 catches for 755 yards and 11 touchdowns in his career, Strange has a relatively strong resume as a receiver, but his hands aren’t always the most confident. As a blocker, however, Strange consistently excelled. If he can be coached up to improve his security as a receiver, a sixth round pick could end up looking like a steal. 

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Other option: Leonard Taylor, Cincinnati

Round 7: Thomas Greaney, Albany

Thomas Greaney - 2022 - Football - University at Albany Great Danes
Thomas Greaney - 2022 - Football - University at Albany Great Danes

At 6’6” and 249 pounds, Greaney has the height of an NFL tight end with the upside to add more weight and strength once he enters a professional strength and conditioning program. While his testing numbers are poor, adding up to a 4.16 RAS, Greaney is a natural catcher of the football and violent run after catch threat.

Greaney won’t be a good blocker as a rookie because of his slighter frame and lack of push, but he’s shown the effort to improve in that area during his time in college. I think his receiving upside will convince a team to take a chance in the late rounds to avoid the UDFA bidding process, but if he slips out of the seventh round, a priority free agent contract could certainly be in the cards for the Chargers as well.

Other option: Daniel Barker, Michigan State

Story originally appeared on Chargers Wire