Rating SEC tight ends

Like NFL clubs, Southeastern Conference football teams seem to be evolving toward athletic tight ends who catch better than they block.

The conference lost two such players, Kentucky's ultra-productive Jacob Tamme and Tennessee's injury-plagued Brad Cottam, to the recent NFL Draft. The rest of the league's top tight ends return for 2008, however, giving the SEC tremendous depth at the position.

Here's one man's ranking of the 12 projected starters:

1. Jared Cook, South Carolina: Does he benefit from playing in Steve Spurrier's system? Sure. But the 6-5, 242-pounder junior's 2007 stats – 30 catches for 421 yards (14.0 per catch) and 3 touchdowns – are still imposing. I'm giving him a bonus point for having a first-rate backup in 6-5, 273-pound sophomore Weslye Saunders, who chipped in 12 catches for 151 yards last fall.

2. Cornelius Ingram, Florida: Widely considered the SEC's best tight end, Ingram is built more like a slot receiver at 6-4 and 223 pounds. He's one productive pass catcher, though, converting 34 receptions into 508 yards (14.9 per catch) and 7 touchdowns a year ago. Still, I'd rather have the tandem of Cook and Saunders than Ingram.

3. Tripp Chandler, Georgia: Do the Dawgs ever NOT have a quality tight end? The latest is Chandler, a 6-6, 263-pound senior who caught 21 balls for 283 yards (13.5 per catch) and 2 TDs last fall.

4. Richard Dickson, LSU: A tad undersized at 6-3 and 237 pounds, this athletic junior is quite a receiving threat. He proved as much in 2007, recording 32 catches for 375 yards (11.7 per catch) and 5 touchdowns.

5. Andrew Davie, Arkansas: Utilized primarily as a blocker under run-oriented Houston Nutt last year, the 6-5, 266-pound junior should double his 2007 receiving totals – 14 catches, 115 yards, 3 touchdowns – under Bobby Petrino in '08.

6. Nick Walker, Alabama: A 6-5, 255-pound senior, Walker started all 13 games for the 2007 Tide, finishing with 23 catches for 204 yards (8.9 per catch) and 2 touchdowns.

7. Gabe McKenzie, Auburn: This 6-4, 253-pounder showed some flashes in a largely anemic 2007 Tiger offense by catching 13 passes for 117 yards (9.0 per catch) and a pair of TDs.

8. Jeff Cottam, Tennessee: After starting six games as a sophomore, this 6-8, 265-pound junior should significantly improve on last year's totals of 4 catches for 19 yards and a touchdown. He'll split time in 2008 with Luke Stocker and, perhaps, Brandon Warren.

9. Jake Bradford, Vanderbilt: A 6-6, 270-pound junior, Bradford converted four catches into 80 yards and a touchdown last fall as chief backup to the departed Brad Allen.

10. T.C. Drake, Kentucky: Stuck behind Tamme, Drake caught just one pass for two yards as a sophomore last season. Oddly enough, though, the 6-6, 230-pounder scored a touchdown on the play.

11. Brandon Henderson, Mississippi State: A 6-1, 250 sophomore, he did not catch a pass last fall.

12. David Traxler, Ole Miss: A spring convert to the tight end, this 6-6, 255-pound senior played offensive tackle his previous three seasons.

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