The New England Patriots will almost certainly select a tight end in the 2019 NFL Draft. That player will enter the NFL with enormous shoes to fill, fair or not.
Regardless of where the Patriots select a tight end, he’ll be deemed “Rob Gronkowski’s replacement” after the All-Pro’s offseason retirement. No single player can replace the greatest tight end of all time, and a rookie likely will share the Patriots’ top tight end role with players like Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Matt LaCosse. Still, those are the expectations a rookie tight end will face with the Patriots.
Leading up to the draft, which runs from April 25-27, we’ll go position by position and draft a player who fits the Patriots in each round. We tackled quarterbacks Monday, running backs Tuesday and wide receivers Wednesday. Now we’ll focus on tight ends.
Picks: No. 32
Noah Fant, Iowa
The top two tight ends in the 2019 NFL Draft are both Iowa products — Fant and T.J. Hockenson. Both players are likely to be out of reach when the Patriots are picking at the end of the first round, but Fant could be in reaching distance after a trade. We like the idea of the Patriots trading up with the Seattle Seahawks to the 21st overall pick in the draft if Fant is still there.
Fant is an excellent athlete and a decent blocker.
Picks: Nos. 56, 64
Jace Sternberger, Texas A&M
We also like Alabama’s Irv Smith Jr. in the second round, but he might be gone by the time the Patriots are drafting at No. 56 overall. Sternberger is a better receiver than a blocker, but at 6-foot-4, 251 pounds, he could be coached up in both roles.
Picks: Nos. 73, 97, 101
Dawson Knox, Ole Miss
Knox has been a late riser in the draft process. At 6-foot-4, 254 pounds, he tested well, running a 4.59-second 40-yard dash and 7.02-second three-cone drill.
Picks: No. 134
Kahale Warring, San Diego State
Did you know Warring is a former water polo player? That will be the new cliche in the vein of “Chris Hogan played lacrosse” and “Julian Edelman was a college quarterback” if Warring gets drafted by the Patriots.
Warring is another strong athlete with tons of untapped potential.
Drew Sample, Washington
Sample was Pro Football Focus’ highest-rated blocker in their 2019 draft guide. He didn’t produce much as a pass-catcher with the Huskies, but he tested well at 6-foot-5, 255 pounds, running a 4.71-second 40-yard dash with a 7.15-second three-cone. The Patriots met with Sample at the Senior Bowl.
Picks: No. 205
Keenen Brown, Texas State
Brown is undersized at 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, but he’s athletic and one of PFF’s highest-graded blockers. He could wind up being a steal late in the draft.
Picks: Nos. 243, 246, 252
C.J. Conrad, Kentucky
Conrad was forced to leave the NFL Scouting Combine because of a heart issue, but he’s since been medically cleared. He’s another strong blocker with the potential to be a complete tight end.