Tight end marks the first spot on the offensive side of the football that the Buccaneers may feel inclined to make a selection for in the first half of the draft (the other being at guard). Kellen Winslow has been phenomenal since arriving in Tampa, even when his numbers are not incredible he still manages to be a safety net for Josh Freeman and always seems to make the big grab when necessary. Unfortunately, Winslow’s history of injuries and the Bucs’ lack of a second viable option at tight end makes this position a little bit of a secondary need for the Buccaneers. This year’s class of tight ends is a diverse mix of players from major schools, mid-major schools and non-FBS schools.
Here are the top Tight Ends in the 2011 draft:
1.) Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame- Rudolph should end up getting picked in the back half of the first round, possibly early second. His measurables don’t blow you away but he still shows up on paper as a formidable target. The issues facing Rudolph are his injury history and his lack of technique on open-field blocking, there are also some questions about his ability to handle the more physical linebackers in the NFL. Still, this is a high-character kid who runs like a receiver, has above average hands and will get nasty after the catch. He could be a huge steal if he falls to the Bucs in round two, but I wouldn’t count on it.
2.) Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin- Kendricks is a receiver-turned-tight end. His ability to split the seam, catch the ball and run with it are all amongst the best at his position in this draft. Kendricks ran a 4.65-40 at the combine which he improved to 4.5 at Wisconsin’s pro-day. In pads, Kendricks is quick without great straight-line speed, but at the tight end position he would be considered a fast player. The concern with Kendricks comes from his blocking, which though not lacking in effort, is still developing. Kendricks understands the concepts, the angles and does have above average upper-body strength at this stage in the transition (something a lot of former receivers struggle with) but he can also be shed in the open field by stronger defenders and his footwork off the edge is at times chaotic.
3.) Luke Stocker, Tennessee- A lot of people have Kendricks and Stocker flipped, Stocker comes out of a pro-style offense as a true tight end and has a better frame than Kendricks. What he doesn’t possess is Kendrick’s athleticism. Stocker is a very talented pass-catching tight end, he makes a big target in the middle of the field and has very soft hands. He’ll also bail his quarterback out on a lot of bad throws, something that is huge for a tight end. After the catch Stocker is a load to bring down but lacks elusiveness and certainly won’t run away from anyone. He also has a reputation as a lazy route-runner at times and his blocking leaves something to be desired. Stocker will need to improve his upper-body strength and ability to hold the edge in order to be successful at the next level.
4.) DJ Williams, Arkansas- In my opinion DJ is the best receiving tight end in the draft, at 6’2 245 he lacks the ideal size for a tight end but has all the athleticism and ability you could want out of a tight end, save one very important aspect. That aspect is blocking, where Williams’ lack of size render him less effective than bigger, stronger tight ends. Williams is still a high-effort blocker and will force a defender to make a play while fighting him off simultaneously, but bigger, stronger defenders will still shed him with regularity. As a receiver though, Williams is superb. He has good straight-line speed, good elusiveness, good route-running and great hands. He’s also great character-guy, having overcome a very rough upbringing. He was the recipient of the 2010 Disney Spirit Award given annually by Disney Sports to college football’s most inspirational figure for his emergence as a star student athlete and crusader for domestic abuse awareness. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t be a good fit for the Bucs as Winslow doesn’t excel at blocking either.
5.) Jordan Cameron, USC- If you were going to make a tight end in a video game, you would probably make Jordan Cameron. On paper Cameron is prototypical, standing 6’5, 254 with a 4.53-40 time. Toss in the fact Cameron spent time at receiver and is a former basketball player and you see why this kid is getting some hype. Jordan can do a lot of things other tight ends can’t, his agility and speed are amongst the best at his position in the draft. Unfortunately, he’s also very green. The transition to tight end was made late in his career, so he’s still learning the nuances of the position. He lacks great run-blocking technique and didn’t even catch a pass until his senior year. He also struggles at times to get off the line and has a tendency to round off his routes as he fatigues. It’s all coachable, but the body of work isn’t that big to scout from either.
The Best of the Rest:
6.) Virgil Green, Nevada- Could be a much better version of Jordan Cameron, two inches shorter but has similar speed and elusiveness. Better route-runner, but lacks great blocking ability and possesses questionable desire to do the dirty work. More of a pass-catcher at the next level.
7.) Andre Smith, Virginia Tech- Outstanding blocker and a very physically impressive player all-around. Difficult match-up for defenders despite not having great speed. Catches the ball out away from his body with good agility to make tough grabs. Was rarely featured in the Va-Tech passing game though and will struggle against speedy NFL linebackers.
8.) Weslye Saunders, South Carolina- Was suspended all of 2010 for taking improper benefits from an agent. Could be a great compliment to Kellen Winslow though, very talented and physical blocker who, despite great speed, is a handful after the catch. Has big frame with soft hands, can get lazy with route-running but could still develop into an excellent second tight end. Good late-round fit for the Bucs.
9.) Rob Housler, FAU- At 6’5, 248 with a 4.46-40, Housler may look the best of any of these players on paper. Very good receiving ability but lacks the bulk and strength to be an every down in-line tight end. He struggles with getting off the jam and run-blocking, but split out is as talented as any tight end in the country. Not a great fit in Tampa.
10.) Julius Thomas, Portland State- 6’5, 246 with a 4.64-40. Thomas was a basketball player who played one year of college football as a senior. Very inexperienced but athletically about as gifted as a tight end comes. Definitely a project for the mid-to-late rounds but an intriguing one for sure.