Cream of the Crop
Coby Fleener, Stanford
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Fleener is another in the recent new wave of tight ends being developed for National Football League teams. Gone are the slow, prodding blockers with minimal pass-catching skills. What teams are searching for is a player in Fleener's mold — a player who has the size, reach and leaping ability to combat for the ball in a crowd, or simply line up wide and create mismatches vs. smaller cornerbacks or slower safeties when challenging the deep part of the secondary.
When running pass patterns, you immediately can notice Fleener has the long limbs and well-distributed balance to get off the line of scrimmage in an instant. He is a threat escaping second-level defenders with his sudden burst after the catch and easily can threaten the seam going after the long ball. He remains a work in progress as an in-line blocker, but plays at a proper pad level and strikes with authority when stalking second-level defenders when blocking for the running game. His big problem as a blocker is an obvious lack of lower-body strength, as bull rushers regularly walk him back into the pocket.
As good as his average per catch numbers are (19.62 in 2011, 16.07 ypc for his career), he started just 16-of-51 games and averaged only 1.88 catches and 30.25 yards per game as a collegian. Among the five top-rated tight ends, he finished last with an average of 2.62 catches per game in 2011 and last in first downs (24), but led that group in percentage of receptions that gained at least 20 yards (14-of-34; 41.18 percent) last season.
Best of the Rest
Dwayne Allen, Clemson
While most scouts are hesitant to call this group of prospects a banner crop, Allen is by far one of the elite performers in this draft class, much like he was when he was a coveted high school recruit being pursued by numerous major colleges. What talent evaluators recognize is that the Clemson standout not only has been productive, but he has that well-built frame and receiver-like qualities that could see him rival Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski for All-Pro honors shortly.
Allen might not have the suddenness like Louisiana-Lafayette's Ladarius Green, but he has the acceleration to get to the top of the route, along with the long arms and leaping ability to extend for the ball outside his frame and reach for it at its highest point. Where he is most effective is securing the pass in the short-to-intermediate area and then utilizing an array of head fakes and quick-twitch moves to break open.
Where teams might be concerned is a feeling he was more concerned about getting the ball rather than working on other aspects of his game. He is strong enough to beat jams, yet fails to utilize that skill or show much desire as an in-line blocker. He lacks the speed to accelerate out of his breaks and has to work harder staying lower in his pads when asked to block.
By the numbers, Allen is coming off his finest statistical season, having caught 50 passes and setting the school tight end record with 598 yards and eight touchdowns. He is not really a table-setter, as just four of his 42 non-touchdown grabs helped set up other scoring drives in 2011. Only 23 of 50 catches gained at least 10 yards, and with a 79 1/2-inch wingspan, he should get to balls at their high point better than he has. Last season, opponents caught him behind the line of scrimmage twice and deflected 13 balls thrown to him. Among the five top-rated tight ends, he had the worst percentage for catches vs. passes targeted to him (54.95 percent, caught 50 of 91 throws).
Cory Harkey, UCLA
Brian Spurlock/US Presswire
In 51 games for the Bruins, Harkey had just 28 receptions, so he's not one that can be relied upon as a safety-valve pass catcher. In 2011, he had 14 passes targeted to him yet finished with one grab for 10 yards.
Ladarius Green, Louisiana-Lafayette
Allen, Fleener and Orson Charles are the names mostly heard by the media during discussions of the tight end crop. But, much like a few years ago when a dark horse emerged from the pack and the New Orleans Saints unearthed an All-Pro in Jimmy Graham, the buzz among professional scouts is that Green could be this year's version of that former Miami Hurricane.
If your favorite team is looking for a quality pass catcher, Green might be the best in the major college ranks at this position. Looking for a blocker? You are better off looking elsewhere, as Green lacks the weight preferred at the position.
Green has those large, soft hands and an impressive wingspan to get to the ball at its highest point. He is athletic getting to top speed and shows crisp cutting agility coming out of his breaks. He displays good pad level getting into his routes and the body control to squeeze into tight areas and find the soft spots in the zone.
When looking at the comparison chart, you can see Green pulled in 51 balls last year. But it was the second half of the schedule, with 37 grabs in his final six contests, that he emerged. A shoulder injury had wrecked the first half of his final campaign, but in the second half, fully recovered, he found the end zone seven times (scored eight for the year). One area of concern is his timing and elevation skills, as opponents did knock away 14 of 82 balls thrown to him in 2011, worst among the top five tight ends in this class.
On the Bubble
Orson Charles, Georgia
Touted by the scribes as the best tight end in this draft class when he declared for the 2012 phase in January, Charles has done all he can to hurt his draft stock reputation. Those newspaper "experts" cite his 45 receptions and being a finalist for the John Mackey Award (best tight end in the nation) as some of the reasons for that assessment, but what concerns teams is his mind-set (or lack of) and off-field issues.
Dale Zanine/US Presswire
In a Yahoo! sports report, Miami booster Nevin Shapiro alleged that Charles, his high school coach and some of his high school teammates toured Shapiro's home in 2008. University of Georgia officials later issued a statement saying there were no issues with the school or eligibility regarding Charles.
After deciding to not work out for teams in the agility tests at the Scouting Combine, he ran two pedestrian 40 times at his pro day in Athens, Ga., on March 6, with his best a 4.83 40-yard clocking (other was 4.88). Three days later, the headlines read that the tight end was arrested for drunken driving.
While the off-field problems are going to hurt his pocket on draft day, let's take a real look at his 45 receptions to refute those that say he's the best tight end in this draft. Of the 45 grabs, just three were caught in the red zone, an area where tight ends are supposed to thrive. That's the fewest by any of the top five tight ends. He also dealt with a lot of mental issues, as he was penalized an incredible nine times and fumbled twice.
Derek Carrier, Beloit
Scratching your head and wondering who this guy is? Most scouts were doing the same after seeing his dazzling agility performance when he attended Wisconsin's pro day in early March. The collegiate split end more than likely will bulk up and play tight end in the NFL, as he looms as a masterful project for the New York Giants, who have had great success developing tight ends but are facing serious injury question marks on their depth chart.
A three-sport star in high school and college, Carrier is an excellent intermediate area receiver with the hands and speed to beat second-level defenders heading up field. He runs crisp routes and has the second gear to separate, along with good awareness to uncover. He plays with good toughness and will compete for jump balls as a receiver. He shows good alertness when the pocket is pressured to work back to the ball and has yet to reach his full potential in his ability to be a bona fide playmaker.
Few NFL tight ends can get in and out of their cuts as cleanly as he does, sort of watching a version of Tony Gonzalez at his prime. He shows good awareness to adjust and uncover, sinking his pads properly when settling in zones. He has the natural hands to go with good toughness battling for the ball over the middle. He plays with a physical nature working the short area, yet is quick enough to get open on deep patterns.
In comparing his numbers from 2011 to the four top-rated tight ends, you have to consider the level of competition (or lack of) that he faced regularly, but they are impressive enough to garner him a long look in training camp. His one deficiency is ball concentration skills, as his five dropped balls were the most among the five tight ends in our aforementioned comparison charts. As a playmaker, he had few peers, as he accounted for 12 of the team's 15 touchdown receptions, setting up 14 other scoring drive with his non-touchdown grabs, as 60 percent of his snatches gained at least 10 yards.
Dave-Te Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.