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 as 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 now. 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 for it 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.
But a key factor why tight ends are in demand are because they can disrupt the very popular defensive scheme known as the Cover-2 Tampa.
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.
A good example of what teams think about when putting a value on tight ends: In 2002, three teams (Giants, Patriots, Seahawks) selected players at this position in the first round -- all three traded up to get the player they wanted.
Twenty-three tight ends were selected in 2002, the most ever in a seven-round draft.
1. Heath Miller, Virginia (6-5, 256)
He did not work out at the combine or his pro day. He has not been able to work out since undergoing surgery for a sports hernia in January. He played quarterback and safety in high school, where he passed for 45 touchdowns in a two-year span. He also was an outstanding basketball and baseball player. At Virginia, he redshirted in 2001, then started every game the next three years at tight end. He knows how to get open. He has soft hands, but he will double-clutch some balls. He's a good, but not great, athlete. A former team captain, Miller is very smart and a top character person. He is a West Coast-type tight end who will block, and he's a big target who moves well.
2. Matt Jones, Arkansas (6-61/4, 242)
He had a complete workout at the combine. He ran two 40s in 4.38 and 4.37. (In fact, his times at 10 yards (1.50 and 1.56) and 20 yards (2.49 and 2.53) were faster than any wide receiver who ran at the combine! Hampton WR Jerome Mathis ran about the same in the 20.) He also ran the short shuttle in 4.11 seconds, the three-cone drill in 6.65 and the short shuttle in 11.07. He had a 391/2-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-9 broad jump. In high school, he played quarterback (he rushed for more yards (939) than he passed for (830) his senior year), wide receiver (22 catches and five touchdowns as a junior) and returned punts. He also scored 24.5 points per game in basketball. At Arkansas, he played as a true freshman (nine games, no starts). He started all 14 games in 2002 and nine of 13 in 2003. In 2004, he started all 11 games at quarterback and led team in rushing (622 yards; 7.5 per carry). He also started 10 games for the basketball team in the 2003-04 season; he played 42 minutes against Alabama. He has excellent size and athletic ability. He's smooth and has very good hands. I'm not sure we have ever seen someone with his height and weight do the things he did at the combine and his pro day. Whenever you convert a player to another position, there is a risk involved. This player has great upside if you can find the right position; it might be as a wide receiver.
3. Alex Smith, Stanford (6-4 1/8, 258)
At the combine, he did only the bench press (28) because he had a knee injury. He also did not work out at Stanford's pro day. He ran during the first week of April, but not under great conditions. He played tight end in high school. He also played basketball and ran track. He ran the 400 meters and high-jumped 6 feet 5 inches in the state meet. At Stanford, he redshirted in 2000 and played as a backup in 2001. He started the next three years. He broke Stanford's record for most catches by a tight end (107). He has very good hands and body control. He will try to block, but needs to be more physical. Has good, but not great, speed for the position. He look the part of a player who is well put together. He father Edwin played for Denver from 1973-76.
4. Kevin Everett, Miami (Fla.) (6-4 5/8, 241)
Due to an operation on his left shoulder, he did not work out at the combine or Miami's pro day. He did work out for two teams April 6 at his high school in Port Arthur, Texas. He played tight end and defensive end in high school. He went to Kilgore (Texas) Junior College for two years (2001-02), then transferred to Miami in 2003. He started the first two games of the 2003 season and played in all 13. He was a regular starter in 2004 with 23 catches and no touchdowns. Physically, he looks the part of an NFL tight end. He can run and get separation on routes, but he's not a great route runner. He doesn't have great hands, but will make acrobatic catches. He needs a lot of work to become what you want, but he has ability.
5. Joel Dreessen, Colorado State (6-41/4, 260)
He had a full workout at the combine. He ran his 40s in 4.72 and 4.73. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.01 seconds, the three-cone drill in 7.09 and the long shuttle in 11.64. He had a 36-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-5 broad jump and 22 bench presses. He played tight end and defensive end in high school. He also ran the high hurdles for the track team. At CSU, he redshirted in 2000, then started the next four years when healthy. He was more of an H-back style of player. He is tough and will compete. He has very good hands and long arms. He can even long snap. A top character person. He looked good at the combine, but he needs more strength and to improve his blocking.
6. Bo Sciafe, Texas (6-2 5/8, 249)
He had a full workout at the combine. He ran his 40s in 4.75 and 4.78. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.12 seconds, the three-cone drill in 7.21 and the long shuttle in 11.66. He had a 321/2-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-6 broad jump and 24 bench presses. In high school, he was the Colorado player of the year. He was a tight end who caught 109 passes and scored 24 touchdowns. He also returned four kickoffs for touchdowns. He also was a very good baseball player and earned two black belts in martial arts. At Texas, he played as a true freshman in 1999 and was granted a sixth year to complete his eligibility due to a medical redshirt year. He has very good hands and knows how to get open. He can get yardage after the catch and will try to block. This player has worked hard to regain his form after his two knee operations. If his physicals are OK, he could be a Day 2 find.
7. Tony Jackson, Iowa (6-2, 266)
He had a complete workout at the combine. He ran his 40s in 4.71 and 4.78. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.34 seconds, the three-cone drill in 7.34 and the long shuttle in 12.01. He had a 33-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-5 broad jump and 23 bench presses. He played tight end in high school. He also played basketball and holds the school record in the shot put and discus. At Iowa, he redshirted in 2000, then was a backup the next three seasons. He started one game in 2003 (Penn State) and every game in 2004. He's more of a blocker than a receiver (only 14 catches in four seasons). He has some athletic ability. He's a very good blocker who caught the ball OK at the combine.
8. Dave Kashetta, Boston College (6-3 3/8, 247)
He had a complete workout at the combine. He ran his 40s in 4.87 and 4.90. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.34 seconds, the three-cone drill in 7.34 and the long shuttle in 12.01. He had a 351/2-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-5 broad jump and 17 bench presses. In high school, he played tight end and defensive end, and also starred on the basketball team (a four-year all-conference selection). At B.C., he redshirted in 2000, then was a backup the next three years before starting 12 games in 2004. He's a better blocker than a receiver. He doesn't have real good hands; he's more of a body catcher. He plays hard, but he needs more strength. He has long-snapping ability.
9. Jerome Collins, Notre Dame (6-41/4, 267)
He worked out at the combine and at Notre Dame's pro day. He ran his 40s in 4.71 and 4.76. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.39 seconds and the three-cone drill in 7.28. He had a 38-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-10 broad jump and 21 bench presses. He was a three-year starter in high school at wide receiver and outside linebacker. He also played basketball and was part of a state-championship 400-meter relay team. At Notre Dame, he redshirted in 2000. He played in 36 games over four years, but did not start any of them. He played on defense from 2001-03. He played tight end in 2004 and caught six passes. He also blocked two punts. He has very good athletic ability; he can run and has good hands. He could be a real find; it's hard to understand why he never started a game.
10. Victory Sesay, Missouri (6-5 1/8, 279)
He was not invited to the combine. He worked out March 3 at Missouri's pro day. He ran his 40s in 4.87 and 4.91. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.33 seconds, the three-cone drill in 7.64 and the long shuttle in 11.97. He had a 281/2-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-5 broad jump and 20 bench presses. He played high school football (tight end) in Washington, D.C. He also was a standout player in basketball. He went to Ventura (Calif.) College for two years, then entered Missouri in 2003. He started two games in 2003 and four in 2004. He caught 31 passes last season. He's a pass receiver only. He has good hands and gets off the line quickly. He's not a good blocker and needs to play harder.
11. Billy Bajema, Oklahoma State (6-4 7/8, 261)
He had a complete workout at the combine. He ran his 40s in 4.74 and 4.78. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.25 seconds, the three-cone drill in 7.05 and the long shuttle in 11.76. He had a 311/2-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-5 broad jump and 16 bench presses. In high school, he played quarterback and defensive end. He also played basketball and baseball. At OSU, he played as a true freshman in 2001 with one start. He started the next three years at tight end. He had 20 catches in 2004. He has good hands and release. He will make catches in traffic. He's an OK blocker, a hard worker and a smart player. He has a big body but he needs to improve his lower-body strength.
12. Cody McCarthy, Texas Christian (6-4, 263)
He was not invited to the combine. He worked out March 10 at TCU's pro day. He ran his 40s in 5.07 (against the wind) and 4.92 (with the wind). He also ran the short shuttle in 4.49 seconds, the three-cone drill in 7.84 and the long shuttle in 12.58. He had a 30-inch vertical jump, an 8-foot-9 broad jump and 20 bench presses. He played quarterback in high school. He also played baseball and was a three-time all-district selection in basketball. He came to TCU as a quarterback and was redshirted in 2000. In 2001, he moved to tight end and played on special teams. He started three games in 2002 and 11 in 2003. He caught 17 passes in 2004. He has good athletic ability with soft hands. He's a very good worker, but he needs to get stronger.
13. Adam Bergen, Lehigh (6-4 3/8, 265)
He had a complete workout at the combine. He ran his 40s in 4.78 and 4.87. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.10 seconds, the three-cone drill in 7.11 and the long shuttle in 11.60. He had a 38-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot-1 broad jump and 25 bench presses. He played quarterback in high school. He also played baseball and was an all-conference basketball player. At Lehigh, he played but did not start in 2001 and 2002. He started in 2003 and 2004. He wound up with 124 catches and 14 touchdowns. He has very good hands and the size and speed you want for this position, but he needs work as a blocker. He worked as a security guard at the Philadelphia Eagles training camp in 2003.
14. Steve Fleming, Arizona (6-41/2, 267)
He was not invited to the combine. He worked out March 10 at Arizona's pro day. He ran two 40s in 4.74 and 4.74. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.37 seconds, the three-cone drill in 7.49 and the long shuttle in 11.92. He had a 31-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-10 broad jump and 21 bench presses. As a quarterback in high school, he helped lead his team to a state title. He also played center on the basketball team. At Arizona, he redshirted in 2000, then moved to tight end in the spring of 2001. He started two games in 2001 and 2002, then was a regular starter in 2003-04. He's a hard worker who has gotten better each year. He has good hands, and can deep snap. He needs to become more physical.
Andy Stokes, William Penn (6-41/2, 253)
He caught 42 passes in 2004 and wound up with 104 in his career. He had a 35-inch vertical jump. He needs to play in NFL Europe; he could be a real find.
Tight ends to look for in the 2006 draft:
Andrew Clarke, Toledo
Tim Day, Oregon
Matt Herian, Nebraska
Jeff King, Virginia Tech
Mercedes Lewis, UCLA