NFL draft position preview: Tight ends


Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Posted: 4:06 p.m.

By Jared Sherman Contributor

The tight end position is in a renaissance period right now, with tall, agile pass catchers dotting the NFL landscape and becoming bigger parts of offenses than ever before.

From veteran stalwarts like Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates to burgeoning stars Jermichael Finley and Jermaine Gresham, tight ends are making a huge impact and are being sought earlier in the draft. Between 1990 and 1999, only nine tight ends were selected in the first round. From 2000 to 2009, that number jumped to 15.

In 2011, the TE crop is not going to help support the notion that the position is growing in value. With only one player at the position - Notre Dame's Kyle Rudolph - having an outside shot at making it into the first round, this year's class is perhaps the worst of any position.

1. Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame
Rudolph is a huge (6-6 18, 259), agile target with excellent hands and surprising speed. He attacks the ball in the air and is nearly an impossible match-up for safeties once he gets his body between them and the ball. On top of that, Rudolph is a fierce competitor and leader on and off the field. So why isn't he a surefire first round pick? Rudolph has been hurt. A lot. In 2009, he had shoulder surgery. In 2010, he gutted out six games before succumbing to hamstring issues that also required surgery. While no one questions his toughness, the injuries are a big concern. Look for Rudolph to come off the board in the early second round.
2. Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin
Kendricks is really just a big (6-2 78, 243) wide receiver. He's a natural athlete, and once he learns to run routes the NFL way he'll be able to gain even more separation than he does already. He uses his athletic ability to makes tough catches. High or low, Kendricks can get to the ball. He struggles blocking but not because of effort. Kendricks reminds me of former Badger TE Owen Daniels. I have a third round grade on Kendricks.

3. Luke Stocker, Tennessee
Stocker has excellent speed (4.79 40 at the Combine) for his size (6-5, 258) and is a dangerous player when matched up against linebackers. He has soft hands and can find the openings in coverage. The things that separate him and top prospect Randolph are his ability to make the tough catch on balls off target and running in the open field. He's simply not the athlete Randolph is. Look for Stocker to go somewhere in the middle to late third round.

4. Virgil Green, Nevada
Perhaps the best pure athlete in the group, Green wowed folks with a brilliant performance at the NFL Scouting Combine. A solid 6-3 38 and 249 pounds, Green ran a 4.64 40 (third fastest among TE) and blew away the field when he posted a 42.5 inch vertical jump. The knock on Green is his football intelligence. Even with a top QB in Colin Kaepernick, Green didn't translate his outstanding athleticism to many big plays in college. He's going to be a project, but one that with the right coaching could pay off big. Some team may take a flyer on him in the late third round.

5. Robert Housler, Florida Atlantic
Like Kendricks, Housler is a WR in tight end's body (6-5 38, 249). He runs superb routes and has soft hands. Housler also ran the fastest 40 (4.55) at the Combine. As a blocker, Housler is about as useful as a house cat.
Five Others to Watch
Jordan Cameron, USC; D.J. Williams, Arkansas; Weslye Saunders, South Carolina; Lee Smith, Marshall; Cameron Graham, Louisville
Eagles' Interest
The Birds have this position locked down. With Brent Celek and Clay Harbor in the fold, the Eagles have little need to pursue a TE in the draft. If they did, however, a blocking TE might be what they'd go for late in the proceedings. Someone like Marshall's Smith, who is just a nasty player, might be a luxury in the seventh round.

Related: NFL draft position preview: Guards & centersNFL draft position preview: Tackles

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