Only five times in the past 30 years has a tight end been selected with a top-10 pick. But I’m pretty sure we’re going to see another one on Thursday night. Everybody seems to be excited about T.J. Hockenson, and all of the teams that really could use a tight end are sitting at the bottom of the top 10 in the draft order.

Jacksonville, Detroit, Buffalo and Denver could all really use a good tight end, and they’re sitting in the Nos. 7-10 spots. Cincinnati picks 11th, and it could also be interested in a tight end. The Broncos perhaps most of all. They don’t really have a tight end, and they’re going with Joe Flacco as their quarterback – he has long liked to have a good pass-catching tight end.

Only eight tight ends have been selected with first-round picks in the last 10 years, and half of those players have been selected by the Lions (Pettigrew, Ebron) and Bengals (Gresham, Eifert).

The teams selected 7th, 8th and 9th have all signed free agent tight ends, but none are dynamic players. Geoff Swaim, Jesse James, Tyler Kroft. Most teams would prefer to have those guys as second tight ends, rather than counting on them to be their main players at the position.

Of the five teams picking 7th thru 11th, I don’t see any big-time tight ends.

NFL DRAFT (picks 7 thru 11)
7Jac.Geoff Swaim (Dall.)262429.31
7Jac.James O'Shaughnessy242148.90
8Det.Michael Roberts910011.13
8Det.Jesse James (Pitt.)3042314.12
9Buf.Jason Croom2225911.81
9Buf.Tyler Kroft (Cin.)4369.00
10Den.Jeff Heuerman312819.12
10Den.Jake Butt88510.60
11Cin.C.J. Uzomah4343910.23
11Cin.Tyler Eifert1517911.91

So it’s laid out nicely for a tight end to be picked in the top 10, and that doesn’t happen often. In the last 38 drafts, it’s happened only five times. The Jets selected Kyle Brady 9th in 1995. The Raiders went with Rickey Dudley in 1996. Browns choose Kellen Winslow 6th in 2004. San Francisco went with Vernon Davis 6th in 2006. And the Lions choose Eric Ebron 10th in 2014.

Hockenson, I think, is going to be selected in that range.

As a disclaimer, I don’t quite understand why Hockenson is seen as a can’t-miss franchise tight end. He’s not unusually big, strong or fast. At the combine, he ran a 4.70 and did 17 reps on the bench press – well below average if you want to compare him against other tight ends selected in the first and second rounds in the last five drafts.

Hockenson is also a small-hands guy. They measured at 9 and half inches at the combine. Of the last 14 tight ends selected in the first two rounds, all but three have larger hands than Hockenson. (Three of the most notable tight ends in the league in recent years, by the way, all have really large hands – Gronk and Kyle Rudolph both measure at 10 and three quarters, and Jimmy Graham is just an eighth of an inch back.)

Hockenson wasn’t a complete stiff at the combine. He had a vertical jump of 37.5 inches, and he turned in a 4.18 time in the 20-yard shuttle drill. That may seem like a weird and arbitrary drill (it’s certainly never gotten the same acclaim as the 40) but it might be more useful in measuring a player’s ability to change directions quickly. I know it’s a drill that the Patriots were very interested in when they were scouting Julian Edelman.

Hockenson in that 20-yard shuttle drill was faster than Evan Engram (4.23), Tyler Eifert (4.32), David Njoku (4.34) and Hayden Hurst (4.37). O.J. Howard (4.16) was a little faster. I don’t have those numbers for all of the past tight end guys, and I’m not looking them up right now, but it’s a really good time.

Hockenson wasn’t super productive at Iowa. He caught 49 passes for 760 yards and 6 TDs last year. (He also ran for a score). The numbers are fine, but they don’t stand out in comparison with other tight ends selected in the first two rounds in recent years.

2014110Eric Ebron, Det.6297315.73
2014238Austin Seferian-Jenkins, T.B.3645012.58
2014249Jace Amaro, NYJ1061,35212.87
2014252Troy Niklas, Ariz.3757315.56
2015255Maxx Williams, Balt.3656915.88
2016235Hunter Henry , S.D.5173914.53
2017119O.J. Howard, T.B.4559513.23
2017123Evan Engram, NYG6592614.28
2017129David Njoku, Clev.4369816.28
2017244Gerald Everett, LAR4971714.64
2017245Adam Shaheen, Chi.5786715.216
2018125Hayden Hurst, Balt.4455912.73
2018242Mike Gesicki, Mia.575639.99
2018249Dallas Goedert, Phil.721,11115.47
2019??T.J. Hockenson4976015.56

So I will concede that when I say I expect Hockenson to be selected in the top 10, it’s not because I look at him and see a great player. I’m being influenced by what I’m reading, with seemingly all of the scouts saying he looks like a can’t-miss tight end. You combine that with the needs of the teams in the bottom of the top 10, and it looks pretty likely he will have his name called early.

Of the 14 teams on the list above, Dallas Goedert, Evan Engram, O.J. Howard, David Njoku and Hunter Henry have done just fine so far. I don’t know that any of those teams would be interested in trading their guys for Hockenson.

—Ian Allan