Jaguars 2023 NFL Draft: The case for Taking a Tight End in Round 1

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Los Angeles Chargers v Jacksonville Jaguars
AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Los Angeles Chargers v Jacksonville Jaguars / Don Juan Moore/GettyImages

With the 2023 NFL Draft just away, I've reviewed some of the needs the Jacksonville Jaguars must focus on. First, I took a look at their pass-rush situation. Then, I assessed the state of the offensive tackle position. Now, it's time for the fun part. We’re going to discuss the Jaguars' tight ends and the enticing prospects who will be hoping for a phone call from Doug Pederson. I believe this position is a significant concern considering the lack of depth and the importance in Pederson’s scheme.

Headlining this position group is Evan Engram. He had a career year in 2022, recording 73 receptions for 766 yards along with four touchdowns, and is hoping to build on that production this season. However, he’s currently on his way to playing under the franchise tag, which means that unless he signs a new contract before the end of the season, he will be a free agent in 2024. As the only tight end on the roster with more than 11 career catches, that is quite alarming.

The next tight end on the Jaguars' 2023 roster is Luke Farrell, drafted in the fifth round out of the 2021 NFL Draft. The former Ohio State Buckeye has only played in 32 games with four starts, notching 11 catches for 96 yards, playing backup to Chris Manhertz and Dan Arnold, neither of whom are on the roster this year.

One way to look at it would be that Farrell now has no one in front of him, giving him an opportunity to be the second tight end. However, I’m not sure he’s earned such an honor. His hands are solid and his blocking fundamentals are sound, but he lacks aggression and just doesn’t have the athletic profile to contribute in a meaningful way as a receiver.

The last tight end on the roster this season is Gerrit Prince. An undrafted player out of UAB in 2020, he recorded just one season of college production before joining the NFL ranks, having not seen an active roster in three seasons. A former wide receiver at 6'5” and 239 pounds he has the characteristics of a move tight end with little to contribute as a blocker. He has decent speed and runs good routes, but just hasn’t been effective enough to make his regular-season debut.

What are the tight end options for the Jacksonville Jaguars in Round 1?

This brings us to the 2023 NFL Draft and the prospects who can provide this position group with some much-needed depth. The general consensus for the top three candidates are Michael Mayer, Dalton Kincaid, and Darnell Washington. Even though there are some pundits who still have other tight ends ahead of Washington, they are quickly changing their tune.

Michael Mayer, Notre Dame

Starting off is Michael Mayer, a 6’4”, 249-pound prospect out of Notre Dame. He played as the starter in all three of his collegiate seasons, gathering 180 passes for 2,099 yards and 18 touchdowns. While Mayer is not the fastest or quickest tight end in the class he gets the most out of his abilities and has great hands.

Where Mayer really stands out is in his blocking, considered one of the best in this year’s draft at sustaining blocks in both pass protection and run blocking, showing aggression to finish in both areas. Given his effectiveness in both receiving and blocking, Mayer is considered to be the most well-rounded prospect at the tight end position this year and would be a great complement to Evan Engram, capable of moving into the full-time starting role should Engram move on after the 2023 season.

Dalton Kincaid, Utah

Next is Dalton Kincaid. A pure Y tight end out of Utah, he started his final two seasons, notching 106 catches for 1400 yards and 16 touchdowns. He compares favorably to players like Zach Ertz; a productive weapon as a receiver but just doesn’t have the size or tenacity to be an effective blocker. For a team that is looking for a big, downfield weapon and a tall target in the red zone, Kincaid would be a very productive addition.

For the Jaguars, Kincaid would likely be the second tight end behind Engram and the heir to the starting job heading into 2024. However, to me, it just doesn’t seem like the most likely scenario and chances are pretty good he won’t be available at No. 24 anyway.

Darnell Washington, Georgia

The final player on the list and the last one to be discussed in this series is Darnell Washington. He is a player I targeted several months ago as one I will keep my eye on for the next several years regardless of what team he ends up playing for.

Washington is a behemoth of a tight end, measuring 6’7” and 264 pounds, he also ran the 40-yard dash in just 4.64 seconds. He is the most effective blocking tight end to enter the draft in years and there is no debate. Viewed as a sixth offensive lineman when he lines up next to an offensive tackle, he has the technique, power, and attitude to make a real difference in the running game and offer an extra layer of security for his quarterback in the passing game.

While most consider the UGA product a marginally effective receiver based on his limited opportunities, anyone who has seen his play and watched him in the positional drills at the combine should understand otherwise.

At Georgia, Washington played the last two seasons behind Brock Bowers, a player considered to be a generational pass-catching tight end, so was the second option in that offense. However, he has surprising quickness given his size, sneaky speed, and the size and hands to “big brother” linebackers and defensive backs in contested catch situations.

With Washington's skills as a blocker and potential impact in the red zone, any team would be vastly improved. If the Jaguars were to draft him with the 24th overall pick, he would immediately be the top tight end in blocking situations and have an opportunity to earn the starting job as a pass catcher should the team not reach a long-term deal with Evan Engram.

That wraps up the top three areas of need on the Jaguars roster heading into the 2023 season and the players in this year’s draft who can address those concerns.

Out of all of the prospects I’ve discussed, I think Darnell Washington is my top choice, followed by Lukas Van Ness, should he be available, and then any of the three tackles I mentioned. An argument could be made for a cornerback, but I just don’t see that as needing to be addressed in the first round. Time will tell and I look forward to seeing how it plays out.

Next. 4 Jaguars who are vulnerable to being replaced in the draft. dark