The New York Giants took an unorthodox approach to the tight end position in 2023.
They leaned into the positions’ potential for creating athletic mismatches as way to increase the potency of the team’s passing attack. Not only did they invest a third round pick in acquiring hybrid tight end Darren Waller, but they opted to keep fellow receiver-turned-tight end Lawrence Cager as their only depth at the position.
If the Giants believe they’re on the right track at tight end, they could look to add another tight end in Ja’Tavion Sanders out of Texas. And it just so happens that Giants’ offensive coordinator Mike Kafka will get a first-hand look at Sanders as the head coach of the West team at the 2024 Shrine Bowl.
Prospect: Ja’Tavion Sanders (0)
Games Watched: vs. Alabama (2023), vs. Oklahoma (2023), vs. Kansas State (2023), vs. Oklahoma State (2023 Big 12 Chamionship)
Red Flags: Ankle (2023)
Weight: 243 pounds
- Route running
- Ball skills
Sanders is a slightly undersized but athletic and versatile tight end prospect. Sanders became Texas’ starting tight end as a sophomore in 2022 and has been named an All-American in each of the last two years.
While Sanders is primarily known as a receiving tight end – he’s averaged 13.1 yards per catch over his career and 15.2 this past season – he has upside as a blocker. He was aligned all over the Texas offensive formation, from wide receiver to H-back, and was used creatively from all of those alignments. He’s at his best as a “move” blocker, getting into motion at the snap of the ball to create a numbers advantage for the offense elsewhere on the field. He was also lined up as a slot or wide receiver to block on screen passes, using his athleticism to match up with defensive backs in space. Sanders made a habit of “losing slowly” as an in-line blocker, doing just enough to slow defenders down and let his teammates get past them.
Not only does Sanders have the quickness, agility, balance, and long speed to move like a wide receiver in space, but he also has excellent ball skills and good route running. Sanders has a good release off the line of scrimmage, with a good feel for delivering chip blocks to disrupt opponents’ timing. Sanders understands how to use his size like a power forward against man coverage, boxing out defenders and extending to pluck the ball away from his body. He also has a good understanding of coverage schemes and has a knack for finding voids in zone coverage. He’s able to settle into holes between defenders and makes himself available for the quarterback.
He does a good job of tracking the ball in the air, making necessary adjustments, expanding the receiving window, and has strong hands to secure difficult catches.
Sanders may have upside as a blocker – and it should be noted that he’s definitely a willing blocker – but that upside is largely unrealized at this point. He’s more useful as a perimeter or back-side blocker matching up with smaller players in space than as an in-line or lead blocker right now.
Sanders doesn’t consistently set his feet and establish a firm base as a blocker before engaging defenders. Likewise, he doesn’t consistently block with good hip and pad level, nor does he work to get his hands on opponents’ chest plate. Taken as a whole, he doesn’t consistently establish good leverage, minimizing his play strength and he can struggle to block effectively even when he has a size advantage. That can also make it difficult for Sanders to sustain his blocks, or even establish effective blocks against technically sound defenders.
He was used in some short-yardage packages by Texas, mostly when they wanted his speed and athleticism on the field for play design purposes. However, it’s also clear that he wasn’t thought of as a “blocking” tight end.
Sanders projects as an important number two tight end at the NFL level, with the upside to be an every-down player.
Sanders is an NFL-ready receiver as a tight end, with the ability to help out quarterbacks as a safety blanket in the short-to-intermediate area of the field. Likewise, he’s a dangerous ball carrier on tight end screens or if he gets the ball in space. He also has the speed and route running to threaten defenses down the field and the skills to produce against both man and zone coverage.
However, Sanders will also need to improve as a blocker in order to be a factor as a “complete” starting tight end. He may never block like an undersized offensive tackle, but even a modest improvement in his technique could pay serious dividends. Sanders has excellent movement skills for a tight end, and his ability to get into position quickly can be a tremendous advantage for teams as offenses incorporate more movement before and at the snap.
Does he fit the Giants?
Potentially. Sanders could fill a role similar to Waller, with greater blocking upside, if they choose to continue to invest in that type of tight end.
Final Word: A solid Day 2 value with upside