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.
Size and speed
The average height of the 19 tight ends who attended the combine was 6-foot-4 1/8 and the average weight was 264 pounds. They did an average of 21 strength reps, a 311/2-inch vertical jump and a 9-foot-3 broad jump. On average, they ran their 40s in 4.83 seconds. Twelve of them were 6-foot-4 or taller.
The tallest was Courtney Anderson of San Jose State at 6-61/4. The heaviest was Jason Peters of Arkansas (334 pounds). The fastest was Ben Watson of Georgia, who ran a 40 in 4.52 seconds.
1. Kellen Winslow Jr., Miami (6-3 7/8, 251)
Ran two 40s in 4.54 and 4.56, the short shuttle in 4.10 and the three-cone drill in 6.71. He had a 331/2-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot-1 broad jump and 24 strength lifts. Played wide receiver, tight end and defensive end in high school; also punted, kicked off and kicked field goals. Played as a true freshman at Miami in 2001 behind Jeremy Shockey. Started next two seasons and amassed 117 catches and nine touchdowns. Very good athlete with football smarts, good quickness and soft hands. Very good route-runner; has ability to get open; can be flanked out as a wide receiver and cause matchup problems. Inconsistent as a blocker. Father selected to five Pro Bowls in nine-year career with San Diego and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
2. Ben Troupe, Florida (6-4 3/8, 265)
Ran two 40s in 4.69 and 4.67, the short shuttle in 4.30 and the three-cone drill in 7.10. He had a 381/2-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot-4 broad jump and 17 strength lifts. In high school, he played tight end; also was on the tennis team. In 2000 at Florida, he played as a true freshman (33 plays, one catch). He played but did not start in 2001, then started six games in 2002. Last year, he caught 39 passes and scored five touchdowns. A very athletic tight end with soft hands and good quickness. He can create mismatches in the passing game against the defense. He needs to improve as a blocker. He is said to have a short attention span.
3. Ben Watson, Georgia (6-31/2, 258)
Ran two 40s in 4.50 and 4.53, the short shuttle in 4.14 and the three-cone drill in 7.38. He had a 351/2-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot-3 broad jump and 34 strength lifts. Played tight end in high school, where he was named "student of the year" as a senior. Enrolled at Duke in 1999 and a football/academic scholarship. He played at Duke as a true freshman in 1999, then transferred to Georgia in 2000. He started three games in 2001. As a starter the past two years, he caught 54 passes and scored five touchdowns. A player with rare athletic ability; can run to stretch the field. Has very good hands. More of a "leaner" than a blocker. Works hard; great-looking athlete; the kind of ability to be special. Needs to be more nasty. Big question: Will he play hard all the time?
4. Kris Wilson, Pittsburgh (6-1 7/8, 248)
Ran two 40s in 4.61 and 4.65, the short shuttle in 4.10 and the three-cone drill in 6.88. He had a 35-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-11 broad jump and 24 strength lifts. He played linebacker and wide receiver in high school, where he gained 26 yards per catch (936 yards and 10 touchdowns on 36). Also played baseball and basketball. At Pittsburgh, he redshirted in 1999, then made six starts in 2000. He started the past three years and had 44 catches and nine touchdowns in 2003. Not the ideal height for the position. Gives effort to block. Very good hands; will catch in crowd. Can separate and stretch field on deeper routes. This is a very good player who will help a team. Brother played basketball at Bucknell.
5. Ben Hartsock, Ohio State (6-4, 263)
Ran two 40s in 4.76 and 4.80, the short shuttle in 3.96 and the three-cone drill in 7.10. He had a 35-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-9 broad jump and 23 strength lifts. In high school, he was a receiver and running back, and also had 19 sacks. At Ohio State, he redshirted in 1999, started one game in 2001, then started every game the past two years. He had 33 catches in 2003. A good athlete who competes hard on every play. An effective blocker with good hands. He has lined up as an H-back. The type of player you want on your team - has great character and work habits; long-range plans include medical school. Married high school sweetheart, Amy Lykowski, this past summer.
6. Chris Cooley, Utah State (6-31/2, 265)
Ran two 40s in 4.81 and 4.89, the short shuttle in 4.19 and the three-cone drill in 7.19. He had a 33-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-7 broad jump and 22 strength lifts. Grew in up Logan, Utah. Played tight end and defensive end in high school. Finished second in the state in his wrestling class; also played baseball. At Utah State, he played defensive end as a true freshman in 2000. He moved to tight end to 2001 and started four games. He started every game in 2002 and 2003. He had 62 catches and six touchdowns in 2003. Aggressive as a blocker and receiver. Played on special teams; can deep snap. Has good, soft hands for position. Good character person. Will be a steady player in the NFL.
7. Jason Peters, Arkansas (6-41/2, 336)
Ran two 40s in 4.94 and 5.03, the short shuttle in 4.75 and the three-cone drill in 7.70. He had a 29-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-7 broad jump and 21 strength lifts. In high school, he played defensive end, scored 12 points a game in basketball and heaved the shot put 51 feet. At Arkansas, he redshirted in 2000 (had surgery on right shoulder). In 2001, he played defensive end and tackle, then converted to tight end in midseason. He had 21 catches and four touchdowns in 2003. He told people at the combine he wanted to play tackle rather than tight end and would the best offensive tackle from the group. Needs to become stronger if switched to tackle. Coaching staff would have to work hard to successfully convert him, but there's a lot to work with. He looks like Seahawks franchise player Walter Jones.
8. Tim Euhus, Oregon State (6-5, 260)
Ran two 40s in 4.84 and 4.94, the short shuttle in 4.14 and the three-cone drill in 6.94. He had a 341/2-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-4 broad jump and 25 strength lifts. Played football, baseball, basketball (scored over 1,000 points) and ran track in high school. At Oregon State, he redshirted in 1999. In 2000, he played but did not start. He started the past three years. Very hard worker. Natural ball catcher; will not drop many. Solid player with athletic ability.
9. Jason Rader, Marshall (6-41/4, 274)
Ran two 40s in 4.96 and 5.00, and the three-cone drill in 7.45. He had a 261/2-inch vertical jump, a 8-foot-3 broad jump and 13 strength lifts. Played tight end, defensive end and linebacker in high school. Also played basketball (honorable mention all-state) and was on the track team. Started college at Georgia in 1999 and played as a true freshman. Left Georgia after 2000 season and transferred to Marshall. Redshirted in 2001; started in 2002 and 2003. Very tough player who competes hard on every play; will block. Good, not great, athlete; runs with a jerky stride. Has good hands to catch ball. A player who works hard but lacks great speed and athletic ability.
10. Jeff Dugan, Maryland (6-4 3/8, 263)
Four-year starter in very good program. Good hands and good blocker.
11. Sean McHugh, Penn State (6-5 1/8, 264)
High school running back who gained over 2,000 yards his senior year. Played running back at Penn State.
12. Sean Ryan, Boston College (6-41/2, 268)
Ran two 40s in 5.03 and 4.96, the short shuttle in 4.49 and the three-cone drill in 7.41. He had a 311/2-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-10 broad jump and 22 strength lifts. Three-sport star in high school (football, basketball and very good lacrosse player). At B.C., he redshirted in 1999. In 2000, he started seven games at defensive end, then started the past three years at tight end. High-motor-type player. Will block; lacks great speed; has good hands. Boston College does not feature the tight end in its offense, but he did catch 75 passes the past three years and scored six touchdowns in 2003.
13. Courtney Anderson, San Jose State (6-61/4, 269)
Athlete who has played quarterback in high school, and wide receiver and defensive end in junior college.
14. Michael Gaines, Central Florida (6-2, 275)
Played six different positions in high school (tight end, linebacker, kicker, punter, backup quarterback and offensive tackle). Signed with Alabama in 1999 but could not qualify academically. Has some talent.
15. Keith Willis, Virginia Tech (6-53/4, 260)
Outstanding high school athlete. First year as a full-time starter.
16. Ben Utecht, Minnesota (6-6 1/8, 249)
Came to Minnesota as a wide receiver and redshirted. Has started four years at tight end. Injuries make him a question mark.
Two Ivy League players who could be drafted:
Casey Cramer, Dartmouth (6-03/4, 242)
Caught more passes than any tight end in this draft (185).
Nate Lawrie, Yale (6-6, 263)
Caught 116 career passes.
DID YOU KNOW?
- Two tight ends played on the basketball team at their colleges (Tim Euhus, Oregon State; Keith Willis, Virginia Tech). Both gave up basketball to concentrate on football.
- Only two tight ends in the past 10 drafts have been selected in the top 10 picks of Round 1. Kyle Brady (N.Y. Jets, No. 9, 1995) and Rickey Dudley (Oakland, No. 9, 1996).
- Of the four tight ends in the 2004 Pro Bowl, three were first-round selections (Todd Heap, Baltimore; Tony Gonzalez, Kansas City; Bubba Franks, Green Bay) while the fourth (Alge Crumpler, Atlanta) was selected in the second round. All four were in the first 33 picks.
- Six tight ends are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Only one, Jackie Smith, was not selected in the first round.
- Kellen Winslow Sr. led the NFL in receptions twice (1980, 1981)
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
Previous Gil Brandt position analysis columns:
Gil Brandt was vice president of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys from 1960-89. He is now in his eighth year as NFL.com's chief personnel guru. (Brandt is of no relation to Packers VP of Player Finance Andrew Brandt.)