Draft day hinges for UW Tight End

If it is Tuesday, this must be New England. At a dizzying speed, football players criss-cross the country like animated lottery balls, jutting and jostling about as they wait to be sucked into the Diaspora tube of new homelands. Jones to Arizona, Sharpe goes who-knows-where, Sloan becomes a Saint, Alexander the Charger.

And, on an upcoming Saturday, college prospects will have their lives altered in a big way. How on earth do players find themselves in this situation? For a specific position, the answer is simple--and quite complicated.

Averaging 6'4" and 259 pounds, theirs is the behemoth transformer position in the National Football League. Using incredible size to block on most running and pass plays, they also possess the athletic ability and soft hands to drift into the flat or take the pass (and the hit) over the middle.

They are the tight ends (TEs) - one on every offensive line, sometimes two. And there are 19 NFL teams that use their tight end effectively; the remaining dirty dozen will look to the upcoming April 20-21 draft for a premium player to help deliver them from the desert of also-rans and into the oasis of playoff mathematics.

And where better to look for a tight end than the University of Washington? Last year, three TE starters were once Husky Dawgs: Cameron Cleeland (New Orleans Saints), Mark Bruener (Pittsburgh Steelers), Ernie Conwell (St. Louis Rams) and one backup--Jeremy Brigham (Oakland Raiders). So who will draft the newest U Dub debutante to the tight end ball, Jerramy Stevens? Choosing the correct answer is a path fraught with great peril.

There is a lot at stake when choosing a tight end. The top 19 pass-catching TEs (one per team) totaled 849 receptions, 9366 yards and 115 touchdowns (average: 45 catches, 492 yards, 6 TDs). In contrast, the bottom 12 pass-receiving tight ends (one per team) garnered 209 catches, 1966 yards and 23 TDs (average: 17 for 164 yards, 2 TDs). Surprisingly, seven of eight top pass-receiving tight ends in 2001 played for teams that did not make the playoffs--and the Baltimore Ravens were bounced in the second round. But five of the next six TE teams (Philadelphia, San Francisco, St. Louis, Green Bay, NY Jets)--ranked nine through 14--made the playoffs. If one were to combine and average this group, the prototype tight end would catch 40 passes a year for 311 yards and 4 TDs. Of the 12 teams that made the playoffs, 8 (66%) had tight ends in the top 19. Of the four playoff teams which were in the bottom 12 (Chicago, Miami, New England, Pittsburgh), only the Bears employed a substitute TE which--when combined with his starter brethren--would have lifted them out of this dubious echelon. Oakland and Tampa Bay had TEs at the nadir of the top 19; curiously, these were the only playoff coaches replaced at season's end.

The question remains: how does one statistically quantify a tight end's contribution to an offensive effort? Mark Bruener of Pittsburgh caught only 12 passes for 98 yards and no TDs before he was injured, yet he was considered a Pro Bowl candidate due to his unselfish blocking. And New England's Jermaine Wiggins gathered in only 14 catches for 133 yards, but he will receive a Super Bowl ring for his efforts. Faced with these imponderables, the only criteria one can use in assessing tight end needs are receptions, yards gained, tight end TDs, team TDs, team rankings and won-loss record.

For better or worse, in this analysis no team was considered from Texas (there is no law), Florida (there is no justice) or Seattle (it is time to move on). Therefore, with caution to the wind, charity accorded pundits and malice toward the third round, here are the Top Ten teams to pick Jerramy Stevens on April 20th.
                                                         Rec
Team (Won-Loss)   TDs Name            Exp Rec  Yds   Ave TDs Draft
Arizona (7-9)     33  Tywan Mitchell   2   25  196   7.8  2   12
Baltimore (10-6)  31  Shannon Sharpe  12   73  811  11.1  2   24
Carolina (1-15)   27  Wesley Walls    12   43  452  10.5  5    2
Chicago (13-3)    37  Fred Baxter     10   22  148   6.7  2   29
                      John Davis       6   11   68   6.2  0
Cincinnati (6-10) 25  Tony McGee      10   14  148  10.6  1   10
Cleveland (7-9)   31  O.J. Santiago    5   17  153   9.0  0   17
New Orleans (7-9) 36  Cameron Cleeland 5   13  138  10.6  4   13
NY Giants (7-9)   32  Dan Campbell     4   13  148  11.4  1   14
Oakland (12-4)    46  Roland Williams  5   33  298   9.0  3   23
Washington (8-8)  25  Walter Rasby     9   10  128  12.8  2   18
Arizona (27th Run, 15th Pass): Tywan Mitchell would have had more passes thrown to him last year, but he recently angered management by actually observing Martin Luther King Day. The team responded by picking up a free agent with a more white-Anglo-Saxon name: Fred Jones.

Baltimore (11th Run, 17th Pass): This would seem an ideal fit for Stevens. A playoff team with an offense geared toward tight end, looking to fill the chasm left by departed Shannon Sharpe. And 6'6" Jerramy would blend when wearing a yarmulke in the Reisterstown Road neighborhood. But the Ravens will break in a new QB this year, and Todd Heap will step into the starting tight end role.

Carolina (29th Run, 27th Pass): Somewhere in the Tar Heel hills of Carolina there lived a young boy named Jerramy Steeeeevens. Although Wesley Walls had a productive year, he is old by tight-end standards and the Panthers scored the third-fewest NFL touchdowns (27). New coach John Fox will look to run the ball, but he is not going to get much help from the tired legs of Lamar Smith. Sounds like a job for Mr. Touchdown.

Chicago (17th Run, 28th Pass): With 33 receptions between two TEs and an NFC Central crown, this position is probably locked up. But their combined 6.5 yards per catch indicates the tight ends mistakenly wore escalators onto the field instead of football shoes. Jerramy the Bear could turn up field after the catch.

Cincinnati (20th Run, 23rd Pass): What is with this franchise? Nine years ago, they used their #1 pick to draft David Koresh as QB, and today they are still trying to fill the same position. There is talk of a two tight-end offense, and the Bengal's league-worst 25 TDs would benefit from Stevens' propensity to find the cone.

Cleveland (17th Run, 28th Pass): This is the franchise that gave us Ozzie Newsome (662 career receptions) but now employs a city (O.J. Santiago) and a Canadian Mountie (Ricky Dudley) at the position. 26 receptions between them indicate they are blocking TEs, yet the team's 1,351 rushing yards was last in the league. So what are these guys doing other than packing their wallets?

New Orleans (19th Run, 9th Pass): The Saints get the prize for wanting a tight end the most. From 1996-98, they picked a TE in three successive drafts. In the last two years, they traded for two more. With Cleeland off to New England, David Sloan has stepped into the starting tight-end slot, and N.O. has run-blocking Lamar Hunt (who once caught two passes as a Clemson freshman) and Boo Williams (6'4", 255 lbs. soaking wet with rocks in his pocket) in reserve.

New York Giants (15th Run, 10th Pass): Is it okay to pray that this team drafts Jerramy so that I can see a Saturday matinee of The Producers? Certainly any Giant fan that watched TE Dan Campbell this past season is praying that they get a real tight end.

Oakland (24th Run, 6th Pass): Jerramy Stevens' favorite team. Unfortunately, Al Davis is the antithesis of Will Rogers: he only met one tight end he ever liked (Raymond Chester). The rest can eat cake. Perhaps it is a good omen that Jerramy likes cake.

Washington (8th Run, 30th Pass): After tying for the NFL's lowest touchdown total with 25, new coach Steve Spurrier has brought in every Florida Gator possible, placed an ankle bracelet on Rex Grossman and soon will propose changing the Redskin team colors to royal blue and orange.

And now, the team that will pick Jerramy Stevens as tight end.

"Start spreading the news, guess who's back in town...."

NEW YORK, NEW YORK, 2nd round, 46th pick.

If football entails the art of what is possible, then the tight end is a hinge that opens the door. Down blocking on running plays is a given, but pass plays provide an opportunity to distinguish oneself for the talented few. How exciting is a tight end grabbing a pass on the exact spot where a blitzing linebacker stood moments before. John Mackey, Mark Bavaro, Jay Novacek, Shannon Sharpe. For the beer swilling, couch-potato football fan these names conjure visions of grace, power and the Promised Land. It is the dream of Jerramy Stevens that he will contribute to his team's success in the same manner as the Magnificent Four.

This is a position all tight ends would be proud to hold.

Any day of the week.

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