This year might be the best tight end class in a long time. Only one tight end -- Kellen Winslow Jr. -- has been drafted in the top 10 over the last nine drafts. He was the sixth player selected in 2004.
The most tight ends selected in the first round since 1996 was three in 2002. All three were selected after the teams moved up in the first round. Two of the three -- Jerramy Stevens and Daniel Graham -- have played in the Super Bowl. Sixty-one tight ends in the past 10 drafts have been selected on Day 1 (the most in one draft was nine in 2002).
Times are changing in the NFL. It used to be a rarity when a tight end was taken in the first round of a draft. While tight ends were important to an offense, they weren't considered a vital part -- you could get by without a tight end.
Well, there isn't a GM or head coach in the league that thinks that way in 2006. A good tight end has become a priority for teams to acquire. The great ones are highly valued and are very much sought after. The reason is because now tight ends are hybrids -- they are asked to be good at blocking and good at receiving.
The tight end has sort of replaced the fullback, or at least the fullback's role, in the offense. Because there's no fullback, the tight end is called upon to block, be it from the fullback's spot in the formation or from the line of scrimmage. But also like a fullback, the tight end needs to be able to make those clutch third-down receptions to keep the chains moving. And don't even think twice about a team's red-zone offense -- tight ends are really relied upon there to help put points on the board. On one weekend during this past season, tight ends had 19 TD catches.
But a key factor why tight ends are in demand are because they can disrupt the very popular defensive scheme known as the Tampa Cover-2. In that defensive formation, the middle linebacker gets a lot of depth, so coaches want to find a way to attack that by throwing to the tight end in that intermediate area. The result usually will cause a mismatch as a tight end with great hands and great speed can outrun a linebacker with lesser speed. Now that teams realize this strategy, it makes the demand for tight ends much higher.
1. Vernon Davis, Maryland (6-3 1/4, 254; 4.39)
Davis had a complete workout at the Combine, recording 4.40 and 4.38 times in the 40. He also ran 4.17 in the short shuttle and 7.00 in the three-cone drill. He had a 42-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot-8 long jump and did 33 bench presses. He played tight end and safety in high school and also lettered in basketball and track. He was the District of Columbia area high school high-jump champion with a 6-foot-5 leap. He played but did not start as a true freshman in 2003. In 2004, he played in 11 games and started six (playing at the tight end, fullback and wide receiver positions). He will create a lot of matchup problems for defenses. His big frame looks like a box of granite. He has very good strength and can run after the catch. He made some big catches during the season. He had some drops at the Combine. He has great speed and short, choppy steps. He's not as tall as you would like and he's an OK blocker, not great. Someone will line him up at running back on goal-line or short-yardage plays. He has Pro Bowl potential.
2. Marcedes Lewis, UCLA (6-6 3/8, 261; 4.85)
Lewis had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran the 40s in 4.84 and 4.85, 4.82 in the short shuttle and 7.24 in the three-cone drill. He had a 37-inch vertical, a 9-foot-10 long jump and did 23 bench presses. He played quarterback and tight end in high school, as well as defensive end. He was also a starting power forward, averaging over 19 points per game as a junior. He play on UCLA's basketball team following the 2002 football season. Lewis played but did not start as a true freshman. He started eight games in 2003 and 22 over the next two seasons, while winning the Mackey Award in 2005 as the best tight end in college football. He has very long arms (34 3/8). At the Combine, Lewis caught the ball better than Maryland's Vernon Davis. He's somewhat of a long strider. He'll try to block, but he needs to get better. He caught 21 TD passes at UCLA, shattering the old record (10) for a tight end. He has a big upper body, but a small lower body. He has talent and will make some great catches in the NFL.
3. Leonard Pope, Georgia (6-7 5/8, 258; 4.67)
Pope had a complete Combine workout, running his 40s in 4.66 and 4.69. He had a 37½-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-10 long jump, a 4.68 short shuttle, a 7.47 in the three-cone drill and 22 strength reps. He played tight end in high school on a team that won back-to-back state championships. He attended Hargrave Military Academy in 2002. Played but did not start as a true freshman in 2003. He started 10 games in 2004 and 12 in 2004 and missed just one game due to a suspension for breaking team policy. He's a very big target with long arms (34 1/4). He has good hands (watch him against Auburn to check his hands in that game -- eight catches for 100 yards and touchdown), and is able to reach and catch. But he needs to block better and get tougher. His size alone is not enough to be a star in the NFL. He did not catch really well at the Combine.
4. Anthony Fasano, Notre Dame (6-4 1/8, 259; 4.75)
Fasano worked out but did not run at the Combine. He ran two 40s at Notre Dame's Pro Day on March 8. He had a 32½-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-4 long jump, a 4.34 short shuttle, a 6.94 in the three-cone drill and 19 lifts. He earned 12 varsity letters, four in football and basketball, two in baseball, and two in track. He played at tight end and on the defensive line, scoring 21 TDs in 2001. Fasano did not play in 2002, started three of 11 games in 2003, started nine in 2004 and 12 in 2005. He's a good athlete. He has a good touch with very good hands. He's a very instinctive player who finds the holes to get open. He's a good block, although not overpowering. He's smart, but needs to be more physical. He will be a solid starter for a team.
5. Joe Klopfenstein, Colorado (6-5 3/4, 255; 4.65)
Klopfenstein had a complete workout at the Combine, recording 4.67 and 4.62 times in the 40. He also ran 4.21 in the short shuttle and 7.39 in the three-cone drill. He had a 36-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-4 long jump, did 33 bench presses and also did some long snaps. He played at guard as a sophomore and junior in high school and quarterbacked one game as well. He also lettered in baseball and track. He played but did not start in 2002, started 10 games in 2003, 12 in 2004 and 2005. Klopfenstein set a Colorado school record by a tight end with 13 career TD catches. He has very good athletic ability and can stretch the field. He has the frame to get bigger, possibly up to 275 if a team wants him to. He needs to improve his in-line blocking skills. He's a good character type of player who will start and play for a long time in the NFL.
6. David Thomas, Texas (6-3 1/8, 252; 4.70)
Thomas had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran the 40s in 4.67 and 4.72, 4.34 in the short shuttle and 7.05 in the three-cone drill. He had a 37½-inch vertical, a 9-foot-5 long jump and did 19 bench presses. He was a tight end and linebacker in high school and also lettered in basketball and track. Played as a true freshman in 2003 and started 38 games over the next three years. He set a school record by a tight end with 98 catches and 15 touchdowns. He knows how to get open and has very good hands. He's a very good route runner and plays faster than his 4.7 timed speed. He works very hard, but lacks bulk to be a top blocker. He doesn't look very big, but he plays like a giant. He's a great person, a team captain from a small town in west Texas. He has a great family. His dad is in the school system. Thomas will surprise you with his results.
7. Tony Scheffler, Western Michigan (6-5 3/8, 254; 4.57)
Scheffler had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran his two 40s in 4.54 and 4.60 seconds. He also recorded a 33½-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-7 long jump, a 4.01 short shuttle, a 6.81 three-cone drill and 17 lifts. He played wide receiver in high school, recording 67 catches for 1,340 yards and 16 TDs in his senior year. He also lettered in baseball and declined an offer from the N.Y. Yankees coming out of high school. He also played for Western Michigan's baseball team. He redshirted in 2001, played and started one game in 2002. He caught a pass in his first game in 2003 against Michigan State, fractured his right clavicle and missed the rest of the season. He started 22 games over the next two seasons, recording 110 catches and 12 TDs. He has a big frame with thin legs, but he should be able to gain 25 pounds. He's a very good athlete. He has a burst and is able to get off the line with ease to find the open spot. He needs to get stronger and learn to block better. He has a good upside if he works year round on getting better at playing football.
8. Owen Daniels, Wisconsin (6-3 3/8, 253; 4.65)
Daniels had a complete workout at the Combine, recording 4.65 twice in the 40. He also ran 4.10 in the short shuttle and 6.88 in the three-cone drill. He had a 34½-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-8 long jump and did 23 bench presses. He was a high school quarterback and also played basketball and track. He redshirted in 2001, played quarterback in 2002 and moved to tight end before the bowl game. He played in 2003 and 2004 starting just two games and started eight games in 2005. He's a very athletic player who gets open. He has good hands, works very hard to get better and will block. I'm not sure he will be big enough to block the big NFL ends. He will see more of a H-back type of player. He has had a lot of injuries, but he's an outstanding player and will do everything to help become a better player.
9. Quinn Sypniewski, Colorado (6-6½, 268; 4.80)
Sypniewski had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran his two 40s in 4.77 and 4.82 seconds. He also recorded a 32½-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-6 long jump, a 4.52 short shuttle, a 7.09 three-cone drill and 20 lifts. He was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Iowa in high school. He played tight end and defensive end. He was also the starting center in basketball and also ran the 200 and 400 meters on the track team. He played as a true freshman, starting just two games. He played in 2001 and 2002, starting nine games over the two years. He was injured and missed the 2003 and 2004 seasons, but returned in 2005 and played in all 12 games. He has the size you want for the position. He's a talented player who until this past season, didn't work hard enough to develop his skills. The light finally came on during his sixth year. He will block and has good hands and good quickness. He has committed himself to being a better player and has stayed healthy. He's a possible starter in the NFL.
10. Dominique Byrd, Southern Cal (6-2 5/8, 256; 4.80)
Byrd chose not to work out at the Combine, but did work out at USC's Pro Day on April 2. He ran two 40s in 4.81 and 4.79 and had a 4.50 short shuttle and 7.22 three-cone drill. He also had a 36½-inch vertical jump and did 16 lifts. He played tight end and linebacker in high school. As a tight end, he had 147 catches and 49 TDs in four years as a starter. He also lettered in basketball and track. He played and started six games in 2003, was injured and missed the first four games of 2004 and started nine games in 2005, catching 39 passes and no TDs. He has good hands, smooth running routes and looked good at the Senior Bowl. He's not a good blocker and needs better work habits. He also needs to get along with his teammates.
11. T.J. Williams, N.C. State (6-2 3/8, 259; 4.75)
Williams had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran his two 40s in 4.72 and 4.75. He also recorded a 34-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-3 long jump, a 4.54 short shuttle, a 7.49 three-cone drill and 25 lifts. He played tight end, running back and quarterback in high school. He played as a true freshman in 2002 and started 31 games over the next three years. He's a very good athlete who has above-average hands. He's much better at catching than blocking and needs to work on his running routes. He has had a history of injuries. He's more of an H-back type of player.
Jeff King, Virginia Tech (6-5 1/8, 245; 4.87)
King had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran his two 40s in 4.83 and 4.91. He also recorded a 32½-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-1 long jump, a 4.09 short shuttle, a 6.99 three-cone drill and 21 lifts. He played tight end and defensive end in high school and was an outstanding basketball player. He also threw shot-put on the track team. He redshirted in 2001, played and started two games in 2002 and 2003 and started 25 games in 2005. He's a big player who works hard and runs good routes. He has good hands and will make the difficult catch. He's not great, but he's a good blocker and athlete. He's an H-back type of player.
Tim Day, Oregon (6-3¼, 256; 4.76)
Day had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran his two 40s in 4.77 and 4.75. He also recorded a 35-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-1 long jump, a 4.20 short shuttle, a 7.03 three-cone drill and 24 strength reps. He played guard and defensive end, before moving to tight end in his senior year in high school. He redshirted in 2001, played but did not start in 2002, and then started 29 games over the next three years. He has the size you want for the position with his long arms (33 7/8). He was not used a lot as an in-line tight end. Last fall, he was mostly flexed out. He's a good athlete, but there's question about his blocking ability. His calves need to be checked and see if he can pass the physical.
The following players are listed in alphabetical order. Every player here has some ability to play in the NFL:
Charles Davis, Purdue (6-5½, 254; 4.95)
Davis had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran his two 40s in 4.91 and 4.97. He also recorded a 31½-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot long jump, a 4.36 short shuttle, a 7.56 three-cone drill and 27 lifts. He ran 4.88 and 4.84 at Purdue's Pro Day on a very fast track. He was a tight end and basketball player in high school who went on to play on Purdue's basketball team as well. He's a fluid player with good hands, but he needs to be a better blocker. He has some skills for the position.
Daniel Fells, Cal-Davis (6-3 3/8, 259; 4.97)
Fells had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran his two 40s in 4.98 and 4.95. He also recorded a 29½-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot long jump, a 4.46 short shuttle, a 7.27 three-cone drill and 19 lifts. He ran 4.81 and 4.85 with track shoes on grass at the Pro Day on March 13. He's a former basketball player with lots of upside. He has very good hands and will try to block. He missed five games in 2005 with a broken ankle. He's a very interesting player.
Tim Massaquoi, Michigan (6-2½, 259; 4.86)
Massaquoi was invited to the Combine, but did not work out (injured). He worked out at Michigan's Pro Day on March 17 and ran two 40s in 4.84 and 4.87. He had a 29-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-2 long jump, a 4.34 short shuttle, a 6.92 three-cone drill and 32 lifts at the Combine. He was a tight end, safety and linebacker in high school and started 28 games over three years at Michigan. He was not featured much in Michigan's offense. He's a hard worker and possibly an H-back type of player in the NFL.
Bristol Olomua, Texas Tech (6-5 1/8, 268; 4.94)
Olomua was not invited at the Combine, but he worked out at Texas Tech's Pro Day on March 9. He ran two 40s in 4.95 and 4.93. He also recorded a 32½-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-3 long jump, a 4.46 short shuttle, a 7.15 three-cone drill and did 21 lifts. He was a standout player in high school in Arizona. He entered school at BYU in 1999. He's a good athlete with good hands, but needs to learn how to block.
Joshua Tinch, Louisville (6-1 7/8, 225; 4.58)
Tinch was not invited at the Combine, but he worked out at Louisville's Pro Day on March 6. He ran two 40s in 4.57 and 4.59. He had a 34½-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-8 long jump, a 4.26 short shuttle and did 15 bench presses. He did not play football his senior year in high school, but played basketball. He had 67 catches in 2005, the best in the Big East. He's a West Coast offense H-back type of player. He has some skills and is a very good athlete, but where does he play?
Cooper Wallace, Auburn (6-3¾, 261; 4.85)
Wallace had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran his two 40s in 4.83 and 4.86. He also recorded a 29-inch vertical jump, an 8-foot-9 long jump, a 4.21 short shuttle, a 7.29 three-cone drill and did 21 lifts. He played fullback, tight end and linebacker in high school. He was a three-year starter in a very good program. He has good hands and will work. He's a good athlete.
Tight ends to look for in the 2007 draft:
Clark Harris, Rutgers
Dan Murray, Connecticut
Joe Newton, Oregon State
Jake Nordin, Northern Illinois
Matt Spaeth, Minnesota
Size And Speed
The average height of the 21 tight ends who attended the Combine was 6-4 1/8 (10 were 6-4 or taller). The average weight was 257. They did an average of 23 strength reps. They also averaged 34½ inches in the vertical jump and 4.74 seconds in the 40-yard dash. These numbers, except for weight, were better than last year's group of 14 tight ends, whose average weight was 261.
The tallest was Georgia's Leonard Pope (6-7 3/4) and the heaviest was North Carolina State's T.J. Williams (269).
What scouts look for when grading tight ends:
- Ability to learn football
- Competitive toughness
- Work habits
- Athletic ability
- Adjustment to the ball
- Run after the catch
- Accelerate deep
- Route running
- Jumping ability
- Ball concentration
- Blocking ability
Did You Know?
- In his senior year in high school (2002), Vernon Davis returned four kicks for touchdowns (two kickoffs and two punts).
- Joe Klopfenstein deferred starting for Colorado's bowl game in 2004 to let Jesse Wallace, a senior, start in his final game at Colorado.
- Dominique Byrd started on his high school's basketball team in the eighth grade after obtaining a waiver to play at that level.
- Charles Davis was named "player you'd least want to meet in a dark alley" in a poll of Big Ten players.
- The highest pick in the draft for a tight end was Ron Kramer (fourth overall) by Green Bay in 1957. Mike Ditka (fifth by Chicago in 1961) and Riley Odoms (fifth by Denver in 1972) are tied for the next highest.
- Six tight ends are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Only one (Jackie Smith) was not selected in the first round.
- The last seven tight ends drafted from the University of Washington have gone on to play in the NFL. Two were drafted in the first round and two in the second. Three have played in the Super Bowl.
- Eight tight ends led their teams in receptions in 2004.