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2024 NFL Draft Scouting Report: Ja'Tavion Sanders

In a draft where Brock Bowers is definitively the top tight end option, Texas' Ja'Tavion Sanders has more or less solidified himself as the year's No. 2 option via the consensus. Although not fitting the prototypical size mold of an NFL tight end at 6'4" and 245 lbs, Sanders was a very reliable target in his two real seasons as a Longhorn, en route to back-to-back First Team All-Big XII births. So, if he's only behind Bowers, how big is the gap?

Player Bio

Name: Ja'Tavion Sanders

Jersey: No. 0 (No. 3 as a Freshman)

Position: Tight End

School: Texas

Class: Junior 

Height: 6'4" 

Weight: 245 lbs 

Games Watched: vs. Iowa State and Kansas State (2022), vs. Alabama, Houston, and TCU (2023)

RAS Score Comp:

Ja'Tavion Sanders RAS Comp

Player Breakdown

Blocking (12.25/20)

Unlike his two other top colleagues in this class, Brock Bowers and Cade Stover, Sanders had trouble blocking (pass blocking specifically), although there was some improvement in 2023. He consistently had trouble holding ground when asked to block edge rushers, even by tight-end standards, and even when they got him in motion as a pass blocker, he didn't have many wins.

If there's any good news here, Sanders was better as a run blocker throughout these five games. I thought he made a ton of good seal blocks at the line of scrimmage, and he wasn't too bad at blocking downfield, either. I'd like him to take better angles downfield and sustain some in-line blocks a tick or two longer. Neither area is a strong suit, but I certainly think he's better in the run game, which I wasn't anticipating to say.

Route Running (13.25/15)

Sanders runs a fairly diverse route tree, but he's kind of like Bowers; he's not a guy who'll create a ton of separation with his ability. I'd give the Georgia product a slight edge in this area, but both guys mainly have the same trouble spots. I will say that Sanders looked very good finding soft spots in zone coverage looks on in breaking stuff, even if he rounded his breaks more often than not.

Release (9/10)

His 10-yard split reflects this pretty well, but Sanders can naturally fly off the snap and quickstart things, even if the long speed tappers off just a tad. And while he's not a natural separator against tight coverage (he wins with physicality more so than footwork/route running prowess), you'll see why I don't think that's a major hindrance in a few moments.

Tracking (9/10)

Sanders' ability to track and highpoint the ball is excellent. There are probably some better examples out there than this, but this grab against TCU jumped out immediately.

It's subtle, but you can see Sanders slow down to make a play on this ball, knowing he's probably taking a shot on either end of this grab. His eyes are on the ball the entire time, and he does an excellent job of absorbing the hit. Excellent rep.

Run After the Catch (9.5/10)

As far as production after the catch and projecting what he could do in an NFL offense after the catch, I find it hard to believe Sanders isn't the best in class not named Brock Bowers. He didn't look as fast on tape as the Georgia product, but he can get through the gears a bit quicker, and his top speed is by no means a detriment. Tie that in with his overall contact balance and field vision, and there are plays to be made by simply getting the ball in Sanders' hands at the next level.

Hands/Ball Security (9.5/10)

Sanders' best attribute, by all accounts, is his mits. Despite not having the biggest hand size/wingspan combo ever, he consistently hauled in passes and didn't play like a tight end with only a 37th-percentile wingspan. He showed great consistency extending vertically to haul in some slightly overthrown passes.

Contested Catch (9.5/10)

While Sanders is not exactly the kind of player to gain a ton of natural separation, you saw a ton of reps either in traffic or close quarters one-on-one. It's safe to say he was excellent more often than not in either situation, none of which were more impressive than this grab against TCU. How he comes up with this and gets about a half dozen yards after the catch, I have no idea.

Versatility (8.75/10)

While Sanders' NFL role may likely be more linked to off-the-line play, he was lined up all over the place with the Longhorns. You saw him align in the slot, as the inside or middle receiver in bunch sets, and occasionally on an island out wide, but usually as a decoy or to get him downfield off the line for blocking purposes. Texas also loved to get Sanders in motion pre-snap as a receiver or blocker.

Athleticism (4.25/5)

If Sanders had done the three-cone drill, broad jump, and vertical jumps at the combine, this score would be a tick higher, but you see a guy capable enough athletically at the tight end position. Sanders's 4.69 40 at the combine was also pretty good. That puts him in the same ballpark as Cole Kmet, Trey McBride, and Tucker Kraft.

Player Summary

With the way things are beginning to shape up, expect Sanders to go lower than where he's graded here based on positional need, but with that said, someone will get themselves a very good pass-catching option on Day 2. You can look at some teams, like the Jets and Colts, right away and say that Sanders would fit in great with how those offenses are set up. The blocking ability would worry me a bit as it relates to every down usage, but you're drafting him because he has sure hands and can do damage after the catch. I'd be stunned if Sanders were to somehow slip into the third round.

Rookie Projections: Starting Move Tight End

Third-Year Projections: Pro Bowl Contendng Tight End

Final Grade (85/100): Early 2nd-Round Talent

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