The Chicago Bears have a relatively tough decision to make at tight end. Should the club re-sign Kellen Davis, whose per-catch production was the best on the team last year, or bring in fresh blood to the position?
It's very possible the team will sign Davis to a one-year contract. They could then throw more than 31 passes his way – his number of targets in 2011 – and see if he can be a consistent threat down the seam.
In his post-season press conference, coach Lovie Smith said he'd like to see what Davis can accomplish given more looks.
"Kellen Davis can do anything the good tight ends in this league can do," Smith said in early January. "As a catcher if we focus in on him, we can make him more of a guy that people are talking about just based on throwing him the ball more. So I think we have an excellent tight end with good speed, size. I think we had a combination of as good a tight end, the makings of, as anyone around in Kellen."
Even if Davis is retained, there's no guarantee he'll meet the expectations of his coach. Which is why Chicago should consider bringing in a player that can challenge Davis for the starting spot, or at the very least be a threat on the opposite side of the field.
There are a number of very good options in free agency, yet in today's NFL, where the value of tight ends is as high as its ever been, there will be plenty of suitors for those veterans. On top of that, new GM Phil Emery plans on building through the draft, so it's unlikely the organization will shell out top dollar for a tight end.
That being the case, the club should look to the 2012 draft to find a young tight end with the potential to serve as a legitimate weapon in the passing game. Here are seven players the Bears should consider selecting in the year's draft.
Dwayne Allen, Clemson (6-4, 255)
Allen is arguably the best pass-catching tight end in the 2012 class. He runs good routes and has soft hands. He's a mismatch for most linebackers in man coverage and is hard to bring down after the catch. His in-line blocking needs some work. He compares favorably to Alge Crumpler. He's a borderline first-rounder and should be a consideration if he falls to Chicago in the second round.
Projected: Late 1st round – early 2nd round
Coby Fleener, Stanford (6-6, 248)
Fleener is comparable to Allen in most areas of his game. He has very good hands and is adept at making catches in traffic. His speed isn't elite but he's fast enough to make safeties work down the seam. He's not a great blocker but could be effective setting the edge if he gains a few pounds. Fleener is comparable to Greg Olsen, with less speed. He'll be a big, dependable target over the middle of the field, and a player the Bears should consider in the second round.
Projected: 2nd round
TE Orson Charles
Kevin C. Cox/Getty
Orson Charles, Georgia (6-3, 241)
Charles has a build more like a wide receiver than a tight end. He's arguably the most athletic tight end in the draft. He has good speed, good hands and presents major mismatch issues for opposing tight ends and safeties. He struggles as a blocker though and his route running needs work. He's still very raw but has loads of potential. Compares to Jermichael Finley.
Projected: 2nd round
Ledarius Green, Louisiana-Lafayette (6-6, 237)
Green is a tall, lanky target with soft hands and long strides. He shows good recognition against zone coverage and good moves in the open field. He can play anywhere on the field, often lining up in the slot and at H-back. He'll have to add bulk if he's to become a good blocker but the effort is there. Compares to Jimmy Graham.
Projected: 3rd – 4th round
Michael Egnew, Missouri (6-6, 245)
Egnew is another slim player that looks like a wide receiver. He's best used as a vertical route-runner, where he can use his size and good hands. He's able to make the tough grabs away from his body and shows good body control when the ball is in the air. He is not a good blocker and must improve that area of his game. He played almost exclusively out of a two-point stance in college and struggles with the jam coming out of a three-point. Compares to Jeremy Shockey.
Projected: 4th – 5th round
Evan Rodriguez, Temple (6-2, 242)
Rodriguez is a hybrid fullback/tight end that was a full-time H-back with the Owls. He's a solid in-line blocker and shows good awareness picking up defenders at the second level. He's built like a tight end and has good hands. He lacks top-end speed and is limited as a route runner. He had a solid East-West Shrine game. He's been called a poor man's Aaron Hernandez but he reminds me more of Jim Kleinsasser.
Projected: 4th – 5th round
David Paulson, Oregon (6-4, 241)
Paulson was underutilized in Oregon. His numbers don't stand out, which could make him a quality sleeper late in the draft. He doesn't have great speed but his long strides help him create separation. He has decent hands and runs good routes. He also shows well as a blocker. He worked out of both a two-point and three-point stance in college. Compares to John Carlson.
Projected: 5th – 6th round
BEAR REPORT PICK
The Bears would be wise to wait on tight end early and grab either Egnew or Green in the fourth round. Both need work as blockers but each has the potential to be a 50-catch player in the NFL. They are tall, relatively skinny players that do well working the seam and creating mismatches with linebackers and safeties.
Another good option is Rodriguez in the fifth. He has the blocking ability of a fullback with the receiving ability of a tight end. He could work as an H-back in Chicago's offense and be a multi-faceted contributor. In the fifth round, he would be a steal.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of Bear Report magazine and BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.