2024 NFL Draft Preview: Brock Bowers and the Curious Case of Tight Ends

By Scott Kacsmar

The curious case of tight ends in the NFL continues after a quiet offseason for free agents at the position, and now a 2024 NFL draft where only one player, Georgia’s Brock Bowers, stands out as a top prospect.

Meanwhile, the tight end position has been extremely important to some of the most successful teams in history. This includes the last two NFL dynasties with the 2010s Patriots (Rob Gronkowski) and the current Chiefs (Travis Kelce). Even the first team to repeat in the salary cap era, the 1997-98 Broncos, had a Hall of Fame tight end in Shannon Sharpe with that rare ability to lead a team in receiving from that position.

If Kelce’s Chiefs did not come back to win Super Bowls in 2019 and 2023, then George Kittle and the 49ers would have a pair of rings as Kittle has been another of the elites at the position in today’s game.

Yet it still feels like tight end is undervalued and underpaid while we see wide receivers and edge rushers continue to get increasingly huge long-term deals. Kelce is the best tight end of his era, and he has reportedly spent more than half of his $14 million salary on his relationship with Taylor Swift in the last year.

My guy, that’s not going to be sustainable when you are never going to make that Patrick Mahomes money. That quarterback money.

The argument is not to pay elite tight ends on par with quarterbacks, but someone like Kelce probably should be making more relative to a below-average starter like Daniel Jones, the $40 million per year quarterback of the Giants who never improves his game after all this time.

But Kelce’s top-earning days on the field are over. He’ll be 35 this year and the end is near for his playing career. He’ll soon give way to a new wave of tight ends. We already saw a glimpse of it last year in Detroit with Sam LaPorta, who gave the 49ers all they could handle in the NFC title game. We also saw Dalton Kincaid, last year’s highest-drafted tight end, have a good rookie season for Buffalo, a team that always gives the Chiefs a challenge.

Rookie success as a receiving tight end has always been rare, but LaPorta (86) and Kincaid (73) doubled the number of rookie tight ends in history with at least 70 catches from two to four, joining Keith Jackson (81 catches on 1988 Eagles) and Jeremy Shockey (74 catches on 2002 Giants).

Was last year just a really solid draft class for tight ends? What about 2024?

According to the prospect rankings from the NFL Mock Draft Database, Brock Bowers is the No. 9 player in this draft. The only other tight end higher than 90th is Ja’Tavion Sanders from Texas, who ranks No. 53. Last season, six tight ends were drafted in the first two rounds (top 61 picks), so we are unlikely to see anything like that this year.

How good can Bowers be right away, where might he land in the first round, and why does it already feel like he’s going to slide at a position that is uniquely not tied to first-round success like most key positions are?

For our draft preview on wide receivers, see here.

Brock Bowers: How Good Is He as a Prospect?

When you talk about winning multiple championships behind a tight end who can serve as his team’s leading receiver, Brock Bowers had that in spades at Georgia. The SEC Freshman of the Year in 2021, Bowers immediately came in and led his team in receiving while winning a national championship. He did it again in 2022, and he led his team for a third time in 2023. He left Georgia with 175 catches for 2,538 yards and 26 touchdowns in an offense that did not throw as frequently as some in college.

These are numbers that dwarf what most college tight ends achieve. Kyle Pitts was the highest-drafted tight end in NFL history when the Falcons took him with the No. 4 pick in 2021. But in three years at Florida, Pitts had 100 catches for 1,492 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Bowers is 6’3” and 243 pounds, which puts him closer to the George Kittle mould (6’4” and 250 pounds) rather than Rob Gronkowski (6’6” and 265 pounds) and Travis Kelce (6’5” and 250 pounds).

But that is the calibre of player Bowers hopes to be at the next level with his ability to make plays down the field, break through tackles, and catch everything thrown his way.

Bowers may never be as good of a blocker as Kittle or that dominant at creating YAC. Bowers will never be as big as Gronk with his catch radius or ability to plough through tackles. Bowers may not have the quick twitch and speed in the open field to play the game like Kelce.

But if he can emulate some of their traits consistently enough, he’s going to be a huge weapon for the right team that can utilize his skills. He is a better prospect than LaPorta was last year, and who saw LaPorta setting rookie NFL records after he caught 5 touchdowns at Iowa? Not to mention the Lions are infamous for drafting some of the most disappointing tight ends high in the first round in NFL history with Brandon Pettigrew (1.20 in 2009), Eric Ebron (1.10 in 2014), and T.J. Hockenson (1.8 in 2019).

Tight end has been weird like that, and past first-round busts at the position understandably scare teams off from going so high on these players. But if you need a tight end in the 2024 draft, it’s likely Bowers or bust in the top 50 picks.

Which NFL Team Gets Bowers?

The absolute funniest move would be for the Chiefs to trade up from No. 32 and get Bowers, securing another decade of elite tight end play for Patrick Mahomes to enjoy as Kelce soon retires. That could keep the dynasty going.

But that’s probably not going to happen. Instead, Bowers is confronted with a draft class that expects to be dominated early by a run on quarterbacks and No. 1 wide receivers:

  • No. 1 pick: Chicago is almost certainly taking USC quarterback Caleb Williams after trading Justin Fields to Pittsburgh.
  • No. 2 pick: Almost a lock Washington goes with a quarterback.
  • No. 3 pick: Almost a lock New England goes with a quarterback.
  • No. 4 pick: Arizona has its choice of No. 1 wide receivers (Marvin Harrison Jr., Malik Nabers, and Rome Odunze), or it could trade the pick to a team wanting to draft Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy.

Things get interesting with the Chargers at No. 5, because what if instead of getting a new wide receiver for Justin Herbert, Jim Harbaugh’s team goes with Bowers at tight end? That would better fit the mold of his teams, who had Vernon Davis in San Francisco, and offensive coordinator Greg Roman ran an offense in Baltimore where tight end Mark Andrews was the best target. This could happen, but smart money is still on the Chargers going with Nabers or Odunze after losing Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. But this would likely be the highest Bowers would go in this draft.

  • No. 6 pick: Giants need help elsewhere, including more pressing needs at wide receiver after years of bad moves there.
  • No. 7 pick: Titans feel like a team that will build in the trenches with someone like Joe Alt (Notre Dame) instead of a tight end.
  • No. 8 pick: Keeping Bowers in Georgia would be sweet, but doesn’t the 2021 selection of Kyle Pitts kind of negate this pick in 2024?
  • No. 9 pick: Imagine if the franchise with the first great tight end (Mike Ditka) went all in and got Bowers to pair with Cole Kmet, who had a breakout season last year. Very interesting idea, but probably too much of a luxury pick for a team with other needs.
  • No. 10 pick: Would be a good pick for the Jets, but Aaron Rodgers does not elevate tight ends as much as you’d like to see from a 4-time MVP. He has always preferred throwing to wide receivers in his career.
  • No. 11 pick: Overkill in Minnesota with T.J. Hockenson there, and they need a quarterback move.
  • No. 12 pick: Denver could really use a weapon and Sean Payton had a special tight end in Jimmy Graham in New Orleans, but like Minnesota, this team needs to think about a quarterback move for maybe McCarthy.
  • No. 13 pick: Raiders already used a high second-round pick on Michael Mayer last year, and while Bowers is better, this feels like a quarterback trade or defensive pick for Antonio Pierce’s team.
  • No. 14 pick: Saints could absolutely be a landing spot as Derek Carr liked having Darren Waller with the Raiders.
  • No. 15 pick: Colts would be a nice spot as they need another reliable weapon after Michael Pittman Jr., and coach Shane Steichen was already doing nice things with backups last year.
  • No. 16 pick: Probably overkill in Seattle with a strong receiving corps and a defensive coach (Mike Macdonald) taking over a bad defense.
  • No. 17 pick: Jaguars have gotten very nice production out of Evan Engram.
  • No. 18 pick: Bengals might want to upgrade the offensive line more, but how can you pass up this opportunity with the limitations you’ve had at tight end and losing Tyler Boyd in the slot?

We could probably keep going a few more picks, but at some point, it would be absurd if Brock Bowers was still available in this draft. Someone has to make a move, and that takes us back to the beginning of how funny it’d be if the Chiefs said to hell with it and moved up for their new Kelce.

The rest of the NFL would be wise to not let that happen.

But I also think we just laid out a very realistic scenario, barring trades, where Bowers can go No. 5 to the Chargers, No. 12 to the Broncos, No. 14 to the Saints, No. 15 to the Colts, or No. 18 to the Bengals.

If you think that sounds too low, just keep in mind what happened last year. Most mock drafts had Dalton Kincaid going around No. 15 to Green Bay as the first tight end. He actually went No. 25 to Buffalo.

When it comes to tight ends in the NFL draft, you have to think lower than expected. Given how valuable and impactful the great ones can be, you have to question why that is still the case.

Look where many of the tight ends in the Hall of Fame or likely on their way someday have been drafted:

  • HOF John Mackey (2.19)
  • Rob Gronkowski (2.42)
  • HOF Dave Casper (2.45)
  • Todd Christensen (2.56)
  • Travis Kelce (3.63)
  • Jason Witten (3.69)
  • HOF Charlie Sanders (3.74)
  • Jimmy Graham (3.95)
  • HOF Jackie Smith (10.129)
  • George Kittle (5.146)
  • HOF Shannon Sharpe (7.192)
  • Antonio Gates (undrafted)

None of those players were first-round picks, and only John Mackey was a top 40 pick. Sure, there have been some excellent tight ends drafted in the first round, but the list is not quite as impressive, especially for the top 15 picks in a draft:

  • HOF Mike Ditka (1.5)
  • Vernon Davis (1.6)
  • HOF Kellen Winslow (1.13)
  • HOF Tony Gonzalez (1.13)
  • Keith Jackson (1.13)
  • HOF Ozzie Newsome (1.23)
  • Dallas Clark (1.24)
  • Greg Olsen (1.31)

Suddenly, it makes sense why Bowers going in the top 12 picks and being a stud would be so jarring for NFL history. He’d be the best to do it since Ditka put the position on the map in the 1960s.

Let’s hope Bowers lands in a good spot and can live up to the hype. It doesn’t get much better than watching an elite tight end make memorable plays for a championship-caliber team.  

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