Draft preview: Tight end analysis

The Packers don't really need a tight end, but one of these playmakers could be too good to pass up. There's only one complete tight end, Oklahoma State's Brandon Pettigrew. Chase Coffman is just one of the other pass-catching talents.

Editor's note: This is Part 7 of our 14-part position-by-position breakdown heading to the April 25-26 NFL Draft. We continue with the tight ends. The prospects are listed in order based on analysis by Scout.com draft expert Chris Steuber and Packer Report, with the comments that follow them based on the beliefs of league experts and insiders.

The Packers' perspective:

With starter Donald Lee, potential-packed Jermichael Finley and holdover Tory Humphrey in the fold, tight end does not appear to be a position of need for the Packers.

Except Lee's production plunged last season. Except Finley didn't do a thing until the bitter end of his rookie season. Except Humphrey is nothing more than a role player. Except Packers general manager Ted Thompson preaches picking the best player available, and it's hard to ignore the production and possibilities in this year's class of tight ends.

Cream of the crop:

— Brandon Pettigrew, Oklahoma State: The only true tight end in a class of players who piled up spectacular statistics playing in spread offenses. In a group of tight ends who can either catch or block, Pettigrew is the only one who can do both with aplomb. At 6-foot-5 and 257 pounds, he's an imposing target with soft hands and good blocking skills. Not real athletic, so his playmaking ability is limited. Some teams picking late in the first round were hoping he'd test poorly at the Scouting Combine so he'd fall into their laps. Comparison to Bubba Franks makes sense.

First-round prospects:

Only Pettigrew.

Just a notch below:

— Jared Cook, South Carolina: The 6-foot-5, 246-pound Cook showed stunning athletic ability at the Combine. His 4.50 in the 40 would have ranked fifth among running backs and 15th among wide receivers. Stunning 41-inch vertical. Production (37 catches, 573 yards, three touchdowns last year as a junior; just six catches in final five games) wasn't as impressive as the physical talent, but it's not like he had a quarterback. Like many of the players that follow him on this list, he was a tight end in name only in college. Spent most of the time split out wide and has almost no in-line blocking experience.

— Shawn Nelson, Southern Mississippi: Trailed only Cook among tight ends in the 40 at the Combine. A four-year starter who caught 53 passes for 557 yards and three touchdowns last year. Like Cook, his combination of size (6-5) and speed makes him a tough matchup.

— Chase Coffman, Missouri: The son of Packers Hall of Fame tight end Paul Coffman, Chase Coffman (6-6, 245) saw his draft stock fall because a broken foot sustained in a bowl game wasn't healed early enough to have him work out for scouts at the Combine or at Missouri's pro day. Off-the-charts production, however, as the all-time NCAA leader among tight ends with 247 catches. Not a great athlete but might have the best hands in the entire draft. Great skill at making leaping catches.

— James Casey, Rice: Casey (6-4, 230) pitched in the minors for the Chicago White Sox for three years but gave up baseball because he couldn't control his 90 mph fastball. Did practically everything at Rice, from tight end to quarterback. A creative offensive coordinator's dream. Caught 104 passes last season. Second-best vertical jump and tied for third-fastest 40 among tight ends at the Combine.

— Travis Beckum, Wisconsin: A broken fibula ruined his senior season. Beckum (6-4, 233) was practically unstoppable as a junior, with 75 catches for 982 yards. Strongest tight end at the Combine with 28 reps on the 225-pound bench press but isn't a blocker.

— Cornelius Ingram, Florida: Ingram (6-4, 245) surpisingly entered the draft despite missing all of last season with a knee injury sustained in fall camp. Just seven starts in his career. Was second-team all-SEC as a junior with 34 catches for 508 yards and seven touchdowns. Chiseled physique but isn't a blocker.

Others to remember:

— Ryan Purvis, Boston College: Production plunged as a senior after Matt Ryan departed. Purvis (6-4, 258) went from 54 catches to 20. Not real athletic but knows how to get open and is a good-enough blocker.

— Cameron Morrah, California: Tied for the third-fastest 40 time at the Combine. He's 6-4 and 244 pounds but isn't a blocker. Caught 27 passes for 326 yards and eight touchdowns last season as a junior.

— Bear Pascoe, Fresno State: The 6-foot-5, 257-pounder resembles the tight end of a decade ago. A block-first player who is adept at finding holes in a defense to move the chains. His 40 time was the slowest and his vertical jump the lowest among tight ends at the Combine. Had 85 catches the past two seasons, and has appeal with six blocked kicks for his career.

— Davon Drew, East Carolina: At 6-foot-4 and 258 pounds, Drew is an intriguing talent after spending his first two seasons at quarterback. He caught 43 passes for 695 yards and three touchdowns as a senior, so the receiving skills are there. And he's got the size and strength to turn into a good blocker.

— Anthony Hill, North Carolina State: A big man at 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds. A blocker who presents a nice target on bootlegs. A torn ACL during his junior season held him out of four games as a senior.

— John Phillips, Virginia: Phillips (6-6, 250) is a decent blocker and receiver, making him a fine NFL backup. Caught 48 passes for 385 yards and two touchdowns as a senior.

— Jared Bronson, Central Washington: A big target (6-foot-4, 254) with very good speed. Dominated Division II competition, then acquitted himself nicely in the East-West all-star game. Caught 28 passes for 502 yards and six touchdowns despite missing five games as a senior.

Chris Steuber's sleeper:

— Richard Quinn, North Carolina: Quinn (6-4, 264) entered the draft following his junior season. A good blocker with hands better than his 12 career catches would indicate. Wasn't a favored target on an offense with three receivers who will be drafted in a week. More of a move-the-chains guy than a playmaker. A definite mid-round draft choice.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport

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