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NFL Draft Prospect Preview - A.J. Barner

by J.T. Toth

Photo courtesy of Maize n Brew.

At Draft 412, the NFL draft talk never ends. We will keep you ready for the next set of gridiron stars—from today and all the way until draft night 2024. We will bring you mock drafts, player profiles, individual team needs, and everything else you may need related to the 2024 NFL Draft.

Today’s Spotlight- Michigan, Tight End, A.J. Barner

Name- A.J. Barner

Pos- Tight End

Team- Michigan

HT/WT- 6’6” 251 lbs.

Born- 5-3-2002

Home – Aurora, OH

A.J. Barner played football at Aurora High School in Ohio. During his time at Aurora, he was a consensus 3-star recruit at tight end. He also played defense and as a linebacker was named the Northeast Ohio Division III Defensive Player of the Year. He finished his prep career with 15 receptions for 123 yards and 4 touchdowns and collected 124 tackles on defense. During his senior season, Barner committed to play football at Indiana.

As a freshman in 2020, Barner appeared in 8 games, primarily on special teams and was named special teams player of the week for his work against Michigan State.

In his sophomore year, Barner was a reserve tight end playing in 12 games, starting 1 and was a special teams contributor. Barner finished the season collecting 14 receptions for 162 yards and a touchdown for the Hoosiers.

In his junior season, Barner was selected as a team captain and backed that up with his best season to date. In 10 games, he caught 28 passes for 199 yards and 3 touchdowns. After the season, Barner entered the transfer portal and accepted an offer to play football at Michigan for Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines.

So far this season, Barner has hauled in 21 passes for 236 yards and 1 touchdown and has been named to the John Mackey Award List.

For a big man, Barner has above average body control and straight line speed. He uses both of these traits to be a weapon down the seam of the defense. He is effective at tracking the ball in the air and uses his large 6’6” frame to shield defenders. He starts with the proper wide base and is able to fire off in run blocking, demonstrating power and drive through the whistle. He uses his arm length to extend his catch radius and appears on film that he’s always an open target. Barner could add more weight to his frame without losing any of his athleticism.

On the downside, Barner does not project as a quality blocking tight end at the NFL level. When firing off the ball, he struggles frequently to land the proper punch to connect and move a defender. He is more effective going down the seam or going against man-to-man and has issues with setting up in zones and finding the soft spots in the defense. He needs to work on his route running if that is going to be his calling card in the NFL.

Draft 412 sees some Cole Kmet in A.J. Barner’s game. Though Kmet was definitely a more polished prospect coming out of Notre Dame in the 2nd round of the 2020 draft, they share the same frame and the way they can stretch the seams of a defense. Kmet has become a solid starting tight end in the NFL and runs the whole gauntlet of routes.


  • Straight line speed

  • Size/length

  • Ball tracking

  • Catch radius


  • Route running

  • Zone/soft spot on D

  • Blocking

Final Analysis

A.J. Barner is part of a large group of mid-round to late-round tight ends in the 2024 draft. He has the hands and speed to be a viable pass option in a team's offense. His blocking is something of a work in progress, and he is a player who will benefit from playing in a postseason all-star game to prove value to scouts and coaches.

Draft 412 Draft Prediction - Round 5 or Round 6

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