Breaking Down the Combine TEs

Purdue tight end Dustin Keller put on quite a display for the scouts in Indianapolis. Does that put him on the radar for the Colts, who could be looking for a tight end? How does Keller stack up against the prospects they've already spoken with?

The lights came up in the RCA Dome and the tight ends showed scouts what they had to offer on Sunday.  Without a doubt, the star of Sunday's workout session was Purdue's Dustin Keller, who finished at the top of the list at his position in the 40 (4.55), vertical leap (38 inches), broad jump (10 feet, 11 inches), and short shuttle (4.14), while finishing in the top 10 in all categories for tight ends.

At the 2007 Combine, Miami's Greg Olsen turned heads with similarly impressive numbers and ended up being chosen in the first round by the Bears.

Missouri's Martin Rucker breaks a tackle vs. Texas Tech
AP Photo/L.G. Patterson

Keller was the only draft-eligible Mackey Award finalist to compete in all drills, since Southern Cal's Fred Davis elected not to run the 40 and Missouri's Martin Rucker sat out all drills due to an injury.

At this point, he has the most impressive offseason numbers of any prospect at his position.  Will all of these factors combine to vault him into the first round?

Anything is possible, but it's highly doubtful.  The book on Keller heading into the Combine was that he was a competent receiver with above-average hands, a feel for finding a soft spot in the underneath zones, and good, but not great speed — which will lead most to the logical conclusion that his stopwatch speed does not translate to the field.

He tends to shy away from contact in the open field, almost to the point of short-arming passes and is neither an accomplished nor an aggressive blocker.  At 6 feet, 3 inches, 240 pounds, he's a little small at the position for most teams, but fits the Indianapolis mold nicely.

The big issue is that he appears to be skittish on tape when he goes across the middle.  Anyone that has watched the Colts play the last few years knows that they use their tight ends primarily in the middle of the field and that there are tight windows — and big hits — waiting for any player that approaches that territory.

Dallas Clark has shown tremendous toughness in this area and the same would be expected of his successor.  Since Keller appears not to share this trait with Clark, that should be a big red flag for Bill Polian and his team.

Davis was the highest rated tight end entering the process and will most likely dazzle scouts with an excellent workout at Southern Cal's Pro Day on April 2nd.  He should maintain his stranglehold on the No. 1 tight end spot and be long gone by the time the Colts make their first selection towards the end of the second round.

Rucker, however, is a different story.  He needed a strong performance at the Combine to improve his standing as the fourth-ranked player at his position.  That performance, though, will need to wait until March 20th, when Missouri holds their Pro Day and Rucker should be healthy enough to fully participate.

The interesting thing is here is that Rucker — with a number of available veteran players on the market, few teams with a glaring need at the position, and a mixed tight end class in this year's draft — may find himself still waiting to hear his name called when Indianapolis picks in the third round.

Kentucky's Jacob Tamme
AP Photo/Ed Reinke

But the Colts could pass on Rucker and wait for two other prospects they've shown interest in — Kentucky's Jacob Tamme and Brad Cottam of Tennessee — to fall to them in later rounds, since Rucker is the safe pick and lacks the explosiveness and upside of Tamme and Cottam.

Tamme finished second to Keller in the 40 at 4.58 and Cottam was not far behind, finishing fifth with a time of 4.63.

Cottam has intrigued scouts with his athleticism, as it is very rare to find a man that is 6 feet 8 inches, 271 pounds that can run a 4.63 40 and has a 33-inch vertical jump.

Cottam performed very well at practices and in the game at the Senior Bowl and won over a number of doubters and may well end up being taken in the first two rounds based purely on potential.  The big red flag is his injury history, as he appeared in only 12 games over the course of his four-year career at Tennessee.

When he did suit up and play, he did very little with his opportunities, registering only 21 receptions in those 12 games.

Tamme is a safer pick than Cottam, as he accumulated 103 receptions during his time as a Wildcat, but still not as safe as Rucker.  Tamme fits the physical profile for the tight end position for the Colts at 6 feet, 5 inches, 240 pounds, but is also a player whose stopwatch speed does not translate onto the field.  He is very much in the mold of Ben Utecht, though, and is close enough to Clark to draw comparisons to him as well.

If Indianapolis allows Utecht to depart, Tamme would be a very suitable replacement, especially if Utecht does not leave the Colts until next offseason and Tamme has time to assimilate the system.

It will be interesting to see how everything plays out in the next two months but, as it stands right now, it looks as though Indianapolis will be staring at Tamme and Rucker towards the end of the third round with an interesting decision to make.

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