Colts Talking to Tight Ends

As the Colts continued their evaluations this week at the Senior Bowl, it appeared Indianapolis may have tight ends on its mind. The team met with a top tight end prospect and chatted with a couple more.

Missouri tight end Martin Rucker met with Indianapolis officials on Thursday in Mobile, AL.  They have also scheduled him to take a psychological evaluation test, which amounts to a questionnaire which helps to reveal their personality, attitude, temperament, and idiosyncrasies.  Every prospect that they are interested in analyzing is required to take the evaluation.

Dallas Clark and Bryan Fletcher
Andy Lyons/Getty

Since the Colts have Dallas Clark set to hit the unrestricted free agent market and two restricted free agents — Ben Utecht and Bryan Fletcher — at the tight end position, it certainly makes sense that they are taking a serious look at prospects in the months leading up to the draft.

While Bill Polian has assured Colts fans that Clark isn't going anywhere, it's unlikely that, after either placing the franchise tag on Clark or signing him to a lucrative contract, they'll have cap space that they're willing to devote to tendering qualifying offers to Fletcher and Utecht.

Rucker is the son of Missouri state representative Martin T. Rucker and the younger brother of Carolina defensive end Mike Rucker, who attended Nebraska.  He is certainly used to being in the public eye and being around the type of celebrity that accompanies an NFL athlete.

He was a finalist for the 2007 John Mackey Award — which goes to the best tight end in Division I — beating out teammate Chase Coffman, but eventually losing to Southern Cal's Fred Davis, who will also be participating in Saturday's game.

Despite the fact that he played a reception-light position in an offense that likes to spread the ball around, he still finished the season first in receptions (84) and second in touchdown catches (8).  His production has gone up in each one of his four seasons with the Tigers, with his biggest leap coming at just the right time — from his junior season to his senior season.

He is also holds the school record for receiving yards in a career for a tight end — and this on a team that has Coffman, a 2009 first round prospect on the roster, and Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow, Sr. as an alumnus.

At just a shade under 6 feet, 5 inches and weighing in at 247 pounds, Rucker has prototypical size at the position.  He has soft, reliable hands, an excellent feel for finding the open area in the zone, and is a mismatch for most linebackers because of his speed and most safeties because of his size.  Though he led Mizzou in catches, he was far from leading them in receiving yards and was the only player on the team with more than 45 receptions to average fewer than 10 yards per catch.

Martin Rucker
AP Photo/L.G. Patterson

He did have a 40-yard touchdown reception this season, so he does have the ability to break a big play, but he is primarily a possession receiver and would most likely become a safety blanket for Peyton Manning if Clark is out of the line-up.  In addition, his only 100-yard receiving efforts this season were in blowout victories over Western Michigan and Nebraska and he basically disappeared in the Cotton Bowl against Arkansas, with only three receptions for 19 yards.  He also has a great deal to learn as a blocker and tends to go too high and get overpowered too easily at the point of attack.

However, he is currently the fourth-rated prospect at the tight end position and is more of a known quantity with an established college resume than anyone in front of him.  He would be a safe pick for a team looking for a steady, reliable, productive target on third downs and goal-to-go situations.  There are plenty of teams that could use his services and he is projected to be a second round pick in April.

Rucker needs to take advantage of his favorable early ranking, the fact that he is viewed as a solid prospect by scouts, and the fact that Coffman decided to return to Missouri for one more season before entering the draft.

He has already shown in practices that he can catch the ball in any situation and that he can be deceptively fast when he gets a clean release at the line of scrimmage and can build up some steam.

He needs to show scouts at the Senior Bowl that he can not only hang with a higher level of competition, but that he can stretch the seam against that competition and strike for a few big plays.

If he can stay away from a poor 40 time at the Combine and his Pro Day, continue to impress in individual drills, and show that he's more than just a safe pick, he can solidify his status as a second round selection.

Even though the Colts are obviously interested in Rucker, they should think long and hard about whether or not they want to spend their first selection on someone that, essentially, is a taller, slower version of Dallas Clark when they've made it clear that Clark is going to be on the team next season — and hopefully beyond.  With needs in other areas, it will be interesting to see if Rucker is the direction they decide to go in.

Then again, with impressive workouts — a sub-4.7 40 time would be a great start — a big play or two in the Senior Bowl, improvement in his blocking skills, and what is sure to be an exceptional showing in individual drills, he may catapult himself into the first round or the first half of the second round.

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