Adding weapons to the offense has been the main focus of Carolina's off-season so far. With the recent signings of Jake Delhomme, Stephen Davis and Ricky Proehl, GM Marty Hurney has been hard at work acquiring players that can solidify the offensive attack. One position that hasn't been properly addressed yet is tight end. With the release of veteran Wesley Walls, the starting spot is now up for grabs.
Here are a few of the prospects that will most likely be available:
Dallas Clark (Iowa) – Clark really came on this past season as one of resurgent Iowa's main weapons. A former linebacker, Clark made the switch to tight end two years ago and has flourished. He does not have ideal size, but shows a commitment to blocking. Clark is an excellent receiver, and catches the ball away from his body. In the open field he is very quick and can gain yards after the catch. Overall, Clark is one of the top three players at the position and should go in the second round.
Robert Johnson (Auburn) – A player with immense physical tools, Johnson could be special with the proper coaching and dedication. Despite his size (6-5, 278), Johnson shows agility in the open field and has soft hands when he concentrates. However, his blocking leaves something to be desired and he needs to work harder at his technique. There are some doubts about his work ethic and he remains an inconsistent performer on the field. Johnson would have benefited from another year in college, but he's still too good of a prospect to pass up in the mid-rounds.
Donald Lee (Mississippi State) – A very intriguing player, Lee is not a typical tight end. His frame and size (6-3, 248) are a bit small for the position, and he seems better suited in a 3rd down or H-back role. Although he didn't run too well at the combine, he is deceptively fast. He moves well and is quite athletic for his size. Lee is a hard worker and a feisty blocker, but he will have to adjust to more of a situational role in the NFL.
Mike Pinkard (Arizona State) – Another former defensive player, Pinkard is a talented prospect who needs some work. He has good size and shows the ability to run past defenders. A physical runner after the catch, Pinkard uses his excellent body control to shield defenders and get separation. He doesn't run the most exact routes and needs to adjust to zones better. Many times Pinkard shows an unwillingness to finish blocks and can be very careless with his technique. If he finds the right situation, Pinkard has the tools to be surprisingly good.
Bennie Joppru (Michigan) – Has possibly the best hands of all the tight ends this year. Joppru made several outstanding catches this past season, and seems like a natural receiver. More of a finesse player and simply lacks the overall strength to become a dominant blocker. Had a sensational senior campaign and has increased his stock with solid workouts. His receiving abilities will get him drafted and while he may never be an every-down player, he would be an excellent addition to a team looking for another 3rd down weapon.
Aaron Walker (Florida) – Walker is an athletic player who is not exceptional in any area, but has shown the ability to become a complete tight end. Has the size and speed to contribute at the next level. He has slightly above-average receiving skills, and is an adequate blocker. Walker has a trim build with room to add more bulk. He shows power after the catch and will not go down without a fight.
Mike Seidman (UCLA) – Seidman has been a valuable receiver during his career as a Bruin, and had his best season last year. More of an intermediate route-runner, Seidman lacks the burst and overall speed to stretch defenses downfield. He has dependable hands and runs precise routes. Like many receiving tight ends, needs work as a blocker. Is not much of an open-field runner, and lacks elusiveness after the catch.
George Wrighster (Oregon) – A very athletic and at times explosive player, Wrighster is a very raw talent. He probably should have stayed in school for his senior year and developed his skills as both a blocker and route-runner. Wrighster is very quick and can stretch defenses with his speed. Although he has a slender base, Wrighster can become an efficient blocker in space if he learns to use his leverage better.
Zach Hilton (North Carolina) – Great size for the position (6-7, 276). Hilton is a sleeper pick, a player who has the potential to be a solid starter in the league. Although he is a massive player, Hilton has been a better receiver than blocker over the course of his college career. He has the size to be a dominating seal blocker, but needs to play lower and get his pad level down. Hilton runs decently considering his weight, but he doesn't possess the quickness out of breaks and is not a very fluid route-runner. If he can improve his blocking technique, Hilton could be an excellent option in short-yardage situations.
Kevin Ware (Washington) – Ware is a little smaller than desired, but could be a serviceable player in the NFL if he continues to develop. He is not very fast but is excellent at finding holes in coverage. He loses focus at times and drops easy passes. Gives a good effort during games and is actually a very capable blocker who can drive unsuspecting opponents off the line. Ware's size will not do him any favors on draft day, but if he has the right attitude he will more than likely find a spot in the league.
Trent Smith (Oklahoma) – As far as receiving tight ends go, Smith ranks as one of the best in the draft. However, he is arguably one of the worst blockers in this year's class as well. Smith is an excellent pass-catcher who can make the acrobatic catch through traffic and has soft hands. He runs well after the catch and fights for extra yards. What's troubling is his build, which is very thin and long. He looks like a wide receiver more than a tight end and will have to adjust to much more physical and faster NFL defenses. Smith will need plenty of weight added to his frame for him to compete as blocker. Despite his physical limitations, Smith could see time in an H-back role.
Lorenzo Diamond (Auburn) – Diamond is a hustle player who gives his total effort during games. Although he was a highly-regarded prep player, he saw his playing time decrease when fellow tight end Robert Johnson came to the team. Despite the drop in receptions and involvement in the passing game, Diamond showed his willingness to work by becoming a better blocker. He is a solid blocker who shows aggression and persistence when finishing his assignment. Diamond has reliable hands and is at his best in short-yardage situations. He doesn't excel in any one area and lacks the physical upside of other tight ends in this class. Despite his shortcomings, Diamond's dedication will give him a chance to compete for a roster spot.
Jay Riemersma – Riemersma, a seven-year veteran, saw his role in Buffalo's offense take a steep drop this past season. Thought to be a cap casualty before last season even started, Riemersma is a solid player who has very soft hands. He has been known to make an extraordinary catch now and then. Riemersma has had a few nagging injuries bother him during his career, but he has not missed many games as a result. For the right price, Riemersma would be a veteran presence and reliable 3rd down option.
Aaron Shea – Originally drafted by the Cleveland Browns, Shea performed well in his rookie season. His numbers took a drop the following year, and he missed the final four games due to a shoulder injury. This past season, Shea injured his ankle and was out for most of the year. His health is certainly a concern for any team that may pursue signing him. Should he remain healthy, Shea is a young player who fills more of an H-back role and catches the ball well. Although he might be a solid acquisition, the fact he is a restricted free agent (meaning any team signing him would owe the Browns a 4th round pick) will probably keep him from receiving much interest.
Cam Cleeland – The long-time Saint signed on with the Patriots last year, and found himself lost in a crowded group of tight ends. Cleeland has always shown flashes of brilliance throughout his career, but injuries have plagued his development. When healthy, Cleeland is a force that can get down the seam and make the tough catch. It seems many teams are tired of his constant injury problems and there is not a huge market for his services. If Cleeland could ever stay on the field for a whole season, he might finally fulfill his potential and give a team a legitimate threat in between the hashes.
Rickey Dudley – A first round pick by the Raiders in 1996, Dudley performed quite inconsistently over the next few years. After a brief stint in Cleveland, Dudley joined his former coach Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay this past season and played decently. However, he was not a factor in the playoffs and has yet to be resigned. Dudley seems to have all the physical tools, but many question his work ethic. For the veteran minimum, Dudley may be an intriguing option for the Panthers.