Good -- But Not Perfect -- Time to Draft TE

Jim Wexell continues his draft series by examining the Steelers' needs and wants at tight end.

With Matt Spaeth looking at free agency, now might be the right time to draft a tight end.

Of course, most Steelers fans would agree that any time's the right time to replace the oft-criticized Spaeth, but it's really not the perfect time.

First of all, Spaeth may have caught only 9 passes last season but he never blocked better. That's what will make it so difficult to use a use a first-round pick on a similarly built player like Kyle Rudolph or a third-round pick on a Spaeth-clone such as Luke Stocker.

No, grabbing another in-line, traditional style tight end would be a waste of a pick when the Steelers could simply re-sign Spaeth to an economical contract.

There are other tight ends in this draft who'd fit the Steelers' need for an H-back/fullback type at the position, but there's another problem: Each of the move tight ends who'd fit the bill will likely be drafted a half round before or after the Steelers' selection.

For instance, if the Steelers don't draft Lance Kendricks of Wisconsin in the first round, he'll be gone by the time their next pick rolls around. The same can be said (but in later rounds) for Virgil Green and D.J. Williams.

Kendricks (6-2.7, 243, 4.75) is my favorite. He played in a similar system as the one used by Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, and Kendricks was sensational as a pass-catching threat who also lead-blocked as a fullback and sealed the edge while on the line.

Kendricks, with his surprising strength, was able to block defensive ends in college, but will need to add weight and strength to do so in the NFL. It's the reason he's not considered a first-rounder.

However, his competitiveness should improve his odds and perhaps entice Mike Tomlin to either reach a few picks early for Kendricks or trade down with Kendricks in mind as a part of a target group.

Williams (6-2.1, 245, 4.67) won the Mackey Award after catching 54 passes last season at Arkansas. He did less of the tight end's "dirty work," but when asked to block he was more than capable, which can't be said of most H-back types.

Even though his father's in prison for attempted murder and aggravated assault of a public servant, Williams's character is considered exemplary, if a bit loud, as he served as the Arkansas captain last season.

Williams lacks the frame that gives Kendricks an opportunity to add size, but Williams, in spite of his poor shuttle and 3-cone times at the combine, explodes into and out of his cuts a bit better than Kendricks and has been a better runner after the catch.

Ranking just ahead of Williams is Nevada's Green (6-3.3, 249, 4.64), who oozes athleticism and has the blocking skills that are making pro personnel men take him seriously. Green is said to possess a tremendous work ethic, while position-best jumps of 42.5 (vertical) and 10-10 (broad) at the combine showed off his athleticism.

A player could be groomed from a trio of later-round prospects: Andre Smith (6-4.4, 269) of Virginia Tech is an outstanding blocker; Julius Thomas (6-4.5, 246, 4.68) of Portland State showed great athleticism at the combine following his first year of the sport after spending four years as the school's power forward; and Lee Smith (6-5.6, 266, 5.01) of Marshall is a two-time captain, long-snapper, and has the blocking skills that could one day make him an NFL offensive tackle.

Value Board

Second round – Lance Kendricks.

Third round – Virgil Green.

Fourth round – D.J. Williams.

Favorite late-round sleeper: Julius Thomas.


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