NFL draft preview: Tight ends
Stanford's Coby Fleener is the top tight end in the NFL draft. (Jim Gensheimer/San Jose Mercury News photo / April 16, 2012)
Many teams would love to find a big tight end who can run, catch and block like Rob Gronkowski, but they won't find one in this draft. The talent is limited, though the draft does offer some smaller, one-dimensional tight ends who won't be of much use in the running game, as well as a few players who could develop into decent receiving tight ends.
1. Coby Fleener, Stanford, 6-6, 247. Fleener has the speed and athleticism to create mismatches in the passing game. He also has excellent hands. He can get in the way as a blocker, but he will not dominate at the point of attack. He has had some back issues and does not have ideal lower-body strength. The Joliet Catholic alumnus is a former basketball player, and he has hops. He also played safety and wide receiver in high school. He is a smart, instinctive player who makes big and timely plays.
2. Dwayne Allen, Clemson, 6-3, 255. He is the best two-way tight end in the draft. He shows decent power and desire as a blocker. He also has reliable hands. Allen does not have much speed and doesn't play much faster than his 4.85 40-yard dash. He is pretty athletic, however, and can gain yards after the catch. He left school early and might need some seasoning before he hits his stride.
3. Ladarius Green, Louisiana-Lafayette, 6-6, 238. He ran a 4.45 40 at 6-6, so his stock has risen. He is a receiving specialist who was flanked out a lot in college, and he can make the spectacular grab. Green is especially effective in the red zone. He also has the ability to go vertical and will cause mismatches in the NFL. As a blocker, he is below average. He is a little similar to the Packers' Jermichael Finley.
4. Michael Egnew, Missouri, 6-5, 252. He can separate from defenders, run well and catch the ball. Egnew has a feel for routes and getting open. He presents a big target. He does his best work in the middle of the field. He is an average blocker. He was a producer in college, but the recent history of Missouri tight ends in the NFL does not bode well for Egnew.
5. Orson Charles, Georgia, 6-2, 251. He is a very athletic tight end who is best suited to be an H-back because of his lack of size. He runs good routes and has strong hands. Charles is not an effective point-of-attack blocker. He didn't help himself by getting arrested for DUI in March. His 4.73 40 at his pro day also didn't help his stock.
6. James Hanna, Oklahoma, 6-4, 252. A great combine workout boosted his stock. Hanna is athletic, explosive and pretty fast. He is put together like an NFL player. He is more of a receiver than a blocker. He is not the most physical tight end. He plays well on special teams. At Oklahoma he shared snaps and was not overly productive.
7. Cory Harkey, UCLA, 6-4, 260. He is probably the best blocking tight end in the draft. He has a thick, wide frame and plays with leverage and power. He attacks defenders with gusto. His hands are below average, and he offers next to nothing as a receiver. He also has some wear and tear on his body.
8. Evan Rodriguez, Temple, 6-1, 239. He is too small to be a true NFL tight end, but he could make it as an H-back/fullback/special teamer. Rodriguez is an athletic player with good hands. He gains yards after the catch. He is willing to block and especially effective on the perimeter. He transferred from West Virginia.
9. Emil Igwenagu, Massachusetts, 6-1, 249. He lacks ideal height and won't fit the mold for a tight end in a lot of systems. He does have potential as a H-back or even as a fullback on some teams. Igwenagu can catch the ball. He can move around well and knows how to block. A good workout has his stock up.
10. Drake Dunsmore, Northwestern, 6-2, 241. He was a combine star, and that resurrected him as a draft prospect. He has excellent hands, runs good routes and is athletic. He has decent speed. Dunsmore is undersized, so he will be best utilized as an H-back. Given his size, he is not a bad blocker. An injury history limited his production at Northwestern. His father, Pat Dunsmore, was a tight end for the Bears.
11. Rhett Ellison, USC, 6-5, 251. Ellison has average athleticism, but he can run decent routes and make nice catches. He does not play with a lot of power and subsequently isn't much of a blocker. His father is former NFL player Ricky Ellison. He has lined up at fullback and wide receiver as well as tight end.
12. Kevin Koger, Michigan, 6-4, 253. He does everything pretty well but doesn't excel at anything. Koger won't knock defenders off the ball, but he does block well on the move and is adequate on the line. He has decent athleticism and hands. He is versatile enough to take some snaps at fullback.
13. Brian Linthicum, Michigan State, 6-4, 249. He can run and separate from defenders, especially on underneath routes. Linthicum has fine ball skills and enough size. He is somewhat of a finesse blocker and needs to become more physical. He has potential to be a better pro than college player.
14. Taylor Thompson, SMU, 6-6, 259. This college defensive end is being projected at tight end by many teams. He played tight end in high school. He has a big body and is fairly physical. Thompson is not the most athletic prospect, but he worked out well at his pro day. He is considered a draft wild card. He will need time to master a new position.
15. Brad Smelley, Alabama, 6-2, 238. He will have to play H-back or fullback in the NFL because he isn't big enough to be an in-line tight end. Smelley is a former quarterback with great intangibles. He knows how to get open and catches the ball well. He has a feel for the game. He is average athletically but tries hard.
16. Jake Byrne, Wisconsin, 6-5, 258. He has the ability to help in both the running and passing games as well as special teams. His athleticism is average and he is not dynamic in any area, but he is good enough at blocking and catching to make a team.