Which tight end prospects in the 2022 NFL draft have the strongest hands?
In order to find those top 10 receivers, I created a metric called “Catches Added” using data from Pro Football Focus. Its goal is to showcase a receiver’s combined ability to avoid drops and make contested catches.
Just in case you haven’t read one of the previous articles explaining how the metric works, we will use Jets wide receiver Braxton Berrios – the Jets’ 2021 leader in Catches Added – to exemplify how the stat is calculated.
Throughout the 2021 season, Berrios caught 46 passes and dropped only one. Since he had only one drop out of 47 catch opportunities, his drop rate was only 2.1%. The NFL average drop rate for wide receivers in 2021 was 6.6%. In that case, the league average wide receiver would be expected to have 3.1 drops on Berrios’ volume of chances (6.6% of 47 is 3.1). With only one drop, Berrios had 2.1 fewer drops compared to the expectation.
Based on PFF’s tracking of “contested” targets, Berrios caught five of his contested-catch opportunities, an outstanding rate of 83.3%. The league average contested-catch rate for wide receivers in 2021 was 46.8%, so if the NFL average wide receiver caught 46.8% of Berrios’ six contested targets, he would have pulled in 2.8 contested receptions. In reality, Berrios had five contested catches, giving him 2.2 more contested catches compared to the expectation.
Now, we just have to combine Berrios’ drop and contested-catch margins versus expectation.
Add Berrios’ plus-2.1 in the drop category to his plus-2.2 in the contested-catch category, and you get a total of 4.3 Catches Added. That number placed Berrios at 12th-best among all wide receivers in the NFL.
With the Catches Added metric explained, let’s turn our attention to the Jets’ tight end position. New York badly needs help at this position after its tight end unit ranked 29th in the NFL with -3.9 Catches Added in 2021.
Which tight end prospects in the NFL draft would provide the Jets with the sure-handedness that they need at the position?
Here are the top 5 tight ends in the 2022 draft class when it comes to Catches Added (calculated using 2021 FBS averages for tight ends) in the 2021 college football season.
5. Isaiah Likely, Coastal Carolina
- Catches Added: +2.8 (16th out of 163 qualified FBS tight ends)
Isaiah Likely of Coastal Carolina ranked sixth in the nation among tight ends with 59 receptions and showed soft hands in the process, dropping just one pass. Likely’s 1.7% drop rate was well below the FBS average for tight ends, which was 7.9%. His total of 3.8 fewer drops versus expectation ranked third-best among all tight ends.
Likely loses some points in the contested-catch department. He grabbed four of his 10 contested targets (40.0%) whereas the FBS average for tight ends was 49.6%.
Most likely (no pun intended), Likely will be taken on the second day of the draft. His projections range tend to range between the second round and the third round.
4. Jake Ferguson, Wisconsin
- Catches Added: +3.3 (13th out of 163 qualified FBS tight ends)
Wisconsin’s Jake Ferguson caught 46 passes and dropped just one (2.1% drop rate). He also did nice work in contested situations, grabbing five of nine passes (55.6%).
Ferguson is generally considered a late third-round or early fourth-round prospect at the moment.
3. Cole Turner, Nevada
- Catches Added: +4.3 (8th out of 163 qualified FBS tight ends)
Cole Turner ranked fifth among tight ends with 62 receptions for Nevada. He dropped three passes for a drop rate of 4.6%.
Turner maintained good efficiency over a high volume of contested targets, grabbing 17 of his 30 contested passes (56.7%). He ranked second among FBS tight ends in both contested catches and contested targets.
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2. Trey McBride, Colorado St.
- Catches Added: +5.6 (4th out of 163 qualified FBS tight ends)
Colorado State’s Trey McBride led all FBS tight ends with 91 receptions and dropped just three passes (3.2% drop rate) over that high volume. His total of 4.4 fewer drops versus expectation led all tight ends.
McBride saw a position-leading 32 contested targets and snatched 17 of them (53.1%).
1. Charlie Kolar, Iowa St.
- Catches Added: +7.8 (1st out of 163 qualified FBS tight ends)
Iowa State’s Charlie Kolar ranked fourth among FBS tight ends with 63 receptions and dropped two passes (3.1% drop rate). To boot, Kolar grabbed a position-leading 18 contested catches on only 27 contested targets (66.7%).
Kolar ranked fourth in drops versus expectation (+3.2) and second in contested catches versus expectation (+4.6) to earn the nation’s No. 1 spot in Catches Added among tight ends.
Ohio State’s Jeremy Ruckert placed 45th out of 163 qualifiers with a +1.2 mark, earning a +1.2 in the drop department and a +0.0 in the contested-catch department. Ruckert only saw 39 targets, however.
Cade Otton of Washington placed 101st with a -0.6 mark (+0.4 drops, -1.0 contested). However, he had a small sample size of only 43 targets.
Jalen Wydermyer of Texas A&M ranked dead last among all 163 qualifiers with -4.1 Catches Added. Wydermyer grabbed eight of his 16 contested targets (50.0%) but was abysmal when it came to drops, leading all tight ends in the country with eight of them. He only caught 40 passes, so he had a 16.7% drop rate and racked up 4.2 drops above the expectation.
Here are the rankings of some prospects who are projected to be taken late in the draft – Heyward and Bellinger actually have better marks than some players in our top-5 ranking above, but I relegated them to this section due to their smaller sample sizes (under 50 targets):
- Connor Heyward (Michigan St.): +3.9 (10th), +2.0 contested, +1.9 drops (small sample size: 42 targets)
- Daniel Bellinger (San Diego St.): +3.0 (15th), +0.5 contested, +2.5 drops (small sample size: 43 targets)
- Chigoziem Okonkwo (Maryland): +1.9 (31st), +2.5 contested, -0.6 drops
- Jelani Woods (Virginia St.): +1.0 (52nd), +2.1 contested, -1.1 drops
- Gerrit Prince (UAB): -0.4 (92nd), -0.5 contested, +0.1 drops
- Greg Dulcich (UCLA): -1.3 (118th), -1.0 contested, -0.3 drops
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