Position Analysis: Tight ends

While the crop of tight ends isn't great at the top of the draft, there is a lot of variety in the middle and late rounds. We review the strengths, weakness, production and analysis of 10 of the top options, as well as looking at the Vikings' situation at the position.

POSITION OVERVIEW: With the new emphasis being placed on tight ends thanks to the production of New England's Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, the copycat world of the NFL is looking for their own cloning of playmaking tight ends. Unfortunately, this is a weak class in that regard. There is a 50-50 chance that there won't be a tight end taken in the first round this year and there isn't a guaranteed difference-maker in the group, making it one of the weakest units in the Class of 2012.

VIKINGS TIGHT ENDS: Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson, Daniel Hardy, Mickey Shuler.

VIKINGS' NEEDS: Given that Carlson was the only significant signing the Vikings made in the early portion of free agency, it would seem clear he will take on the role that Visanthe Shiancoe had with offense, as the Vikings move forward with two athletic playmaking tight ends in Rudolph and Carlson. It will be virtually impossible to replace the role Jim Kleinsasser had as one of the most dominant blocking TEs in the game, but the Vikings went a long way to addressing that by signing fullbacks Jerome Felton and Lex Hilliard to handle those duties. With Shuler brought back after being a begrudging cut in 2010, the Vikings may be set at the position – barring a player landing to them that they can't pass up, like Rudolph was last season, only later in the draft.

THE CREAM OF THE CROP

Coby Fleener, Stanford, 6-6, 247 – Fifth-year senior…Started just 15 of 51 career games, but that was often due to the set on the first play of games…In four years, he caught 96 passes for 1,543 yards and 18 touchdowns, with his best season coming in 2011 (34-667-10)…His production increased each season of his college career...Has excellent foot quickness and can stretch the seam…Averaged 16 yards per catch, including a 19.6-yard average last year…Lined up all over the field…Elusive and is dangerous in space…Good hands and offers a big target…Very coachable…Reliable hands…Is not a natural blocker and will get overpowered at times…Loses speed when forced to cut or alter his route…A jack of all trades, but master of none at Stanford…Has a history of back injuries…Did not work out at the Combine because of a right ankle injury, but did 27 reps of 225 pounds. PROJECTION: For teams looking for a big-play TE, Fleener gets your attention. He's a borderline first-round pick, but whoever takes him will do so with the intent of using him considerably in the passing game.

Orson Charles, Georgia, 6-2, 251 – Third-year junior…Became a starter late in his true freshman season and started 26 of 27 games his last two seasons…In 40 career games, he caught 94 passes for 1,370 yards and 10 touchdowns, saving his best for last in 2011 (45-574-5)…A physical specimen who seeks out contact and likes beating up on defensive players…A solid run blocker who finishes off his blocks and is hard to shake once he makes contact…Has good burst off the snap and quick feet to get separation…Has experience lining up at several receiver positions…Is undersized for an NFL tight end and some will avoid him because he can be easily corralled…Inconsistent when blocking on sweeps and will get out of position…Needs some refinement to his game…Wasn't asked to run a very wide variety of routes…Chose not to work out at the Combine, but did a massive 35 reps in the bench press. PROJECTION: If he was two inches taller and 20 pounds heavier, he'd be gone in the first 10-15 picks of the draft. He's undersized by athletic TE standards, but whoever takes him will see him as a small version of Gronkowski. His tenacity and game-day mean streak make him a hot commodity, but likely not until the second round because of his size limitations.

Dwayne Allen, Clemson, 6-3, 255 – Fourth-year junior…Became a starter midway through his redshirt freshman season and finished his career starting 33 of 41 career games…His production increased each of his three seasons, highlighted by a junior year in which he caught 50 passes for 598 yards and eight TDs (all school records for a tight end)…Won the Mackey Award in 2011, given to college football's best tight end…Was also recruited out of high school to play basketball…Has good burst off the line and is more of a prototype of the TE of the future in the NFL…A natural receiver who catches just about everything thrown his way…Uses his hands extremely well – both as receiver who catches passes away from his body and his ability to lock onto defenders as a blocker…A good route runner who cuts hard and creates separation…Rarely leaves his feet when blocking…Is inconsistent in his demeanor and intensity…Is a little high-cut and doesn't have ideal lower-body strength, which could be a problem at the next level if he doesn't improve his technique…At times has alligator arms when he knows a big hit is coming…Doesn't have a second gear in the open field and gets caught from behind too easily…Ran a 4.85 40 at the Combine, with 27 reps, a 32-inch vertical jump and a 9-2 broad jump. PROJECTION: Perhaps the most complete tight end in the draft, but his lack of elite speed and/or bulk strength will likely keep him on the board until the second round. But, he won't last long once the second day of the draft begins.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Michael Egnew, Missouri, 6-5, 252 – Fourth-year senior…Two-year starter…As a junior, he caught 90 passes for 762 yards and five touchdowns, being named team MVP and was a consensus All-America selection…His numbers declined in 2011 (50-523-3) as the Tigers made modifications to their offense that took his chances away…The eighth of nine kids in his family…Is a huge target and runs down the field like a huge wide receiver…Plucks passes and keeps them away from his body…Has good burst and acceleration off the line…Has good on-field awareness and makes the tough catch on the sidelines and in traffic…A sub-par blocker who wasn't used in-line at all in college…Lacks NFL-quality upper-body strength…Didn't run a full route tree, more often finding soft spots in the defense and stopping…Runs too high and is too easily redirected…Ran a 4.52 40 at the Combine with 21 reps of 225 pounds, a 36-inch vertical jump and a 10-11 broad jump. PROJECTION: A tall, thin tight end, he could develop into a passing threat if harnessed by the right coaching staff. However, because of his physical limitations, he most likely will still be on the board when Day 3 begins. He may end up being a one-trick pony, but in the modern NFL, being a downfield TE threat is a pretty good trick.

Ladarius Green, Louisiana-Lafayette, 6-6, 238 – Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who made starts in all 31 games he played in that span…In his final two seasons, he caught 95 passes for 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns…Grew eight inches from his senior year of high school…Has grown markedly without losing much if anything in the way of speed…Has the speed to create mismatches with linebackers and size mismatches with safeties…Shows no fear over the middle and will out-fight defenders for the ball in traffic…Has big hands and long arms (a whopping 82-inch wingspan) and gives a QB a big target to hit…A hard worker who has improved as much through dedication as natural ability…Didn't play against top competition and was often a man among boys…Is too easily re-routed by physical defenders and will need a lot of work in that area…Allows defenders into his body too often when blocking…Doesn't pile up a lot of yards after the catch…Ran a 4.45 40 at the Combine with just 16 reps, a 34½ inch vertical jump and a 10-4 broad jump. PROJECTION:A small-college prospect who looks the part, but will likely be a project type player who will contribute on special teams early. A mid-Day 3 type of prospect who will likely win a roster spot, but not a starting job early on.

Kevin Koger, Michigan, 6-3, 262 – Fourth-year senior…Was never a full-time starter (31 starts in 47 games)…For his career, he caught 59 passes for 756 yards and nine touchdowns…Has a big, athletic body with bulk growth potential…Has good concentration and makes most of his catches over the middle in traffic with few drops…Has a lot of upside potential…A good route runner who displays solid technique to get to his spot and clear a lane for the QB to get him the ball…A team player who didn't bail on the program when Rich Rodriguez was brought in and changed the Wolverine offense to a wide receiver-heavy shotgun spread…Is not a burner and takes way too much time to get up to full speed…Has a lot of improving to do in terms of being a functional NFL blocker…Has a hard time shaking off defenders when they get hold of him off the line…Did not have consistent production as a receiver and would disappear from the offense at times…Rounds off some of his routes and will need work…Was not invited to work out at the Combine. PROJECTION: A four-year contributor for a big-time program, he has some upside making the transition to the pros, but his career lack of production will likely drop him deep into the third day of the draft.

THE BEST OF THE REST

Emil Igwenagu, U-Mass, 6-1, 249 – Fifth-year senior…Didn't become a full-time starter until his senior year – starting 19 of 42 career games…By far, his best season was in 2011, when he caught 38 passes for 375 yards and three touchdowns, which represented more than half of his career totals in all three categories…A versatile player who played running back, fullback, H-back and tight end…A team leader who was named a two-time captain…Has long 35-inch arms to keep defenders off his body…Has good speed and lateral agility to get into open space…A good technical blocker who keeps going until the whistle…Doesn't have the size or bulk to play tight end at the NFL level and will have to be a fullback/H-back type hybrid…Doesn't gain a lot of yards after the catch and gets wrapped up relatively easily…Faced sub-par competition and will have a long learning curve…Will need time to reach his true potential, something NFL teams don't always have the luxury to provide…Ran a 4.70 40 at the Combine with 19 reps of 225 pounds, a 34½-inch vertical jump and a 10-1 broad jump. PROJECTION: A versatile player who can be plugged in as a fullback or H-back, his lack of tangible experience at both positions will make him a project that will likely be on the board when the final couple of rounds begin.

Rhett Ellison, USC, 6-5, 250 – Fifth-year senior…A two-year starter who ended his career starting 31 of 47 games…In four years at USC, he caught 53 passes for 471 yards and six touchdowns…Has a football pedigree – his father Riki Ellison was a star at USC and played in the NFL…A versatile player who played TE, fullback and lined up wide in a WR position…Has good intelligence and understands defense…Has good hands and catches most passes thrown his way…Plays with fire and passion…Was a special-teams standout…Doesn't have the frame, power or bulk to be an effective in-line blocking TE…Isn't elusive and doesn't break many tackles when defenders wrap him up…Doesn't have elite speed or explosion…He does a lot of things well, but nothing to put him in the elite category…Marginal production for an offense that threw as much as USC did during his career…Didn't lift at the Combine, but ran a 4.78 40 with a 31½-inch vertical jump and a 9-1 broad jump. PROJECTION: He did a lot of little things for the Trojans, but never settled into a specific role that would more easily translate to the NFL. He will make a roster because of his special-teams ability, but players like that typically last until the latter stages of the draft.

Nick Provo, Syracuse, 6-3, 237 – Fifth-year senior…Didn't become a full-time starter until his senior season…In his last two years, he caught 84 passes for 902 yards and eight touchdowns, with much of his production (51-537-7) coming in 2011…Already earned his degree…A first-team All-Big East selection last year…Has good technique in finding soft spots in zones and reliable hands…Makes good adjustments and catches poorly thrown passes…Has good lower-body strength and holds up when asked to block and sustain…Doesn't have elite speed…Didn't run a NFL route tree and often simply went 10 yards down field, stopped and waited for the ball to come his way…Isn't elusive in the open field and gets swarmed over too easily…Average size for a tight end…Wasn't allowed to work out at the Combine due to a left shoulder injury. PROJECTION: He was a classic college overachiever who played in a pro style offense, so whoever drafts him will have a good idea what they are getting. But his lack of elite traits will make him a late-round pick who will have to fight to win and keep a roster spot.

Brian Linthicum, Michigan State, 6-5, 245 – Fifth-year senior…Originally signed to play with Clemson, but transferred to MSU after one year and had to sit out the 2008 season…In 25 games with the Spartans, he started just 13 games…Emerged as a senior, catching 31 passes for 364 yards but no touchdowns…In three years at MSU, he caught 69 passes for 850 yards and three TDs…Has good hands and catches most passes thrown his way…Has a big frame and the type of body that could add 10-15 pounds of muscle without losing a lot of speed or agility…Can make the difficult catch deep down the field…Has good vision and is effective blocking at the second level…Doesn't have great straight-line speed…Has trouble shaking off defenders when he gets jammed at the line…Is a willing blocker but doesn't have the functional strength to be an every-down TE in the NFL…Was arrested in March 2011 for assault and fleeing police following a bar fight and pleaded guilty to lesser charges…Was not among the 14 tight ends that worked out at the Combine. PROJECTION: Scouts differ greatly on his ability to make the transition to the NFL, because he only had one year of experience as a full-time starter. He has upside, which may get him drafted higher than we have him ranked, but he will need to go to a system ideal for his skill set to be a success and enjoy a career in the NFL.

OTHERS TO WATCH
George Bryan, North Carolina State, 6-5, 265
Chase Ford, Miami, 6-6, 258
James Hanna, Oklahoma, 6-4, 252
Cory Harkey, UCLA, 6-4, 260
Eric Lair, Minnesota, 6-2, 238
David Paulson, Oregon, 6-3, 246
DeAngelo Peterson, LSU, 6-3, 243
Beau Reliford, Florida State, 6-5, 256
Evan Rodriguez, Temple, 6-1, 239


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.


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\r\n\r\n","mobileBody":" With the new emphasis being placed on tight ends thanks to the production of New England's Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, the copycat world of the NFL is looking for their own cloning of playmaking tight ends. Unfortunately, this is a weak class in that regard. There is a 50-50 chance that there won't be a tight end taken in the first round this year and there isn't a guaranteed difference-maker in the group, making it one of the weakest units in the Class of 2012. Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson, Daniel Hardy, Mickey Shuler. Given that Carlson was the only significant signing the Vikings made in the early portion of free agency, it would seem clear he will take on the role that Visanthe Shiancoe had with offense, as the Vikings move forward with two athletic playmaking tight ends in Rudolph and Carlson. It will be virtually impossible to replace the role Jim Kleinsasser had as one of the most dominant blocking TEs in the game, but the Vikings went a long way to addressing that by signing fullbacks Jerome Felton and Lex Hilliard to handle those duties. With Shuler brought back after being a begrudging cut in 2010, the Vikings may be set at the position – barring a player landing to them that they can't pass up, like Rudolph was last season, only later in the draft. Fifth-year senior…Started just 15 of 51 career games, but that was often due to the set on the first play of games…In four years, he caught 96 passes for 1,543 yards and 18 touchdowns, with his best season coming in 2011 (34-667-10)…His production increased each season of his college career...Has excellent foot quickness and can stretch the seam…Averaged 16 yards per catch, including a 19.6-yard average last year…Lined up all over the field…Elusive and is dangerous in space…Good hands and offers a big target…Very coachable…Reliable hands…Is not a natural blocker and will get overpowered at times…Loses speed when forced to cut or alter his route…A jack of all trades, but master of none at Stanford…Has a history of back injuries…Did not work out at the Combine because of a right ankle injury, but did 27 reps of 225 pounds. For teams looking for a big-play TE, Fleener gets your attention. He's a borderline first-round pick, but whoever takes him will do so with the intent of using him considerably in the passing game. Third-year junior…Became a starter late in his true freshman season and started 26 of 27 games his last two seasons…In 40 career games, he caught 94 passes for 1,370 yards and 10 touchdowns, saving his best for last in 2011 (45-574-5)…A physical specimen who seeks out contact and likes beating up on defensive players…A solid run blocker who finishes off his blocks and is hard to shake once he makes contact…Has good burst off the snap and quick feet to get separation…Has experience lining up at several receiver positions…Is undersized for an NFL tight end and some will avoid him because he can be easily corralled…Inconsistent when blocking on sweeps and will get out of position…Needs some refinement to his game…Wasn't asked to run a very wide variety of routes…Chose not to work out at the Combine, but did a massive 35 reps in the bench press. If he was two inches taller and 20 pounds heavier, he'd be gone in the first 10-15 picks of the draft. He's undersized by athletic TE standards, but whoever takes him will see him as a small version of Gronkowski. His tenacity and game-day mean streak make him a hot commodity, but likely not until the second round because of his size limitations. Fourth-year junior…Became a starter midway through his redshirt freshman season and finished his career starting 33 of 41 career games…His production increased each of his three seasons, highlighted by a junior year in which he caught 50 passes for 598 yards and eight TDs (all school records for a tight end)…Won the Mackey Award in 2011, given to college football's best tight end…Was also recruited out of high school to play basketball…Has good burst off the line and is more of a prototype of the TE of the future in the NFL…A natural receiver who catches just about everything thrown his way…Uses his hands extremely well – both as receiver who catches passes away from his body and his ability to lock onto defenders as a blocker…A good route runner who cuts hard and creates separation…Rarely leaves his feet when blocking…Is inconsistent in his demeanor and intensity…Is a little high-cut and doesn't have ideal lower-body strength, which could be a problem at the next level if he doesn't improve his technique…At times has alligator arms when he knows a big hit is coming…Doesn't have a second gear in the open field and gets caught from behind too easily…Ran a 4.85 40 at the Combine, with 27 reps, a 32-inch vertical jump and a 9-2 broad jump. Perhaps the most complete tight end in the draft, but his lack of elite speed and/or bulk strength will likely keep him on the board until the second round. But, he won't last long once the second day of the draft begins. Fourth-year senior…Two-year starter…As a junior, he caught 90 passes for 762 yards and five touchdowns, being named team MVP and was a consensus All-America selection…His numbers declined in 2011 (50-523-3) as the Tigers made modifications to their offense that took his chances away…The eighth of nine kids in his family…Is a huge target and runs down the field like a huge wide receiver…Plucks passes and keeps them away from his body…Has good burst and acceleration off the line…Has good on-field awareness and makes the tough catch on the sidelines and in traffic…A sub-par blocker who wasn't used in-line at all in college…Lacks NFL-quality upper-body strength…Didn't run a full route tree, more often finding soft spots in the defense and stopping…Runs too high and is too easily redirected…Ran a 4.52 40 at the Combine with 21 reps of 225 pounds, a 36-inch vertical jump and a 10-11 broad jump. A tall, thin tight end, he could develop into a passing threat if harnessed by the right coaching staff. However, because of his physical limitations, he most likely will still be on the board when Day 3 begins. He may end up being a one-trick pony, but in the modern NFL, being a downfield TE threat is a pretty good trick. Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who made starts in all 31 games he played in that span…In his final two seasons, he caught 95 passes for 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns…Grew eight inches from his senior year of high school…Has grown markedly without losing much if anything in the way of speed…Has the speed to create mismatches with linebackers and size mismatches with safeties…Shows no fear over the middle and will out-fight defenders for the ball in traffic…Has big hands and long arms (a whopping 82-inch wingspan) and gives a QB a big target to hit…A hard worker who has improved as much through dedication as natural ability…Didn't play against top competition and was often a man among boys…Is too easily re-routed by physical defenders and will need a lot of work in that area…Allows defenders into his body too often when blocking…Doesn't pile up a lot of yards after the catch…Ran a 4.45 40 at the Combine with just 16 reps, a 34½ inch vertical jump and a 10-4 broad jump. A small-college prospect who looks the part, but will likely be a project type player who will contribute on special teams early. A mid-Day 3 type of prospect who will likely win a roster spot, but not a starting job early on. Fourth-year senior…Was never a full-time starter (31 starts in 47 games)…For his career, he caught 59 passes for 756 yards and nine touchdowns…Has a big, athletic body with bulk growth potential…Has good concentration and makes most of his catches over the middle in traffic with few drops…Has a lot of upside potential…A good route runner who displays solid technique to get to his spot and clear a lane for the QB to get him the ball…A team player who didn't bail on the program when Rich Rodriguez was brought in and changed the Wolverine offense to a wide receiver-heavy shotgun spread…Is not a burner and takes way too much time to get up to full speed…Has a lot of improving to do in terms of being a functional NFL blocker…Has a hard time shaking off defenders when they get hold of him off the line…Did not have consistent production as a receiver and would disappear from the offense at times…Rounds off some of his routes and will need work…Was not invited to work out at the Combine. A four-year contributor for a big-time program, he has some upside making the transition to the pros, but his career lack of production will likely drop him deep into the third day of the draft. Fifth-year senior…Didn't become a full-time starter until his senior year – starting 19 of 42 career games…By far, his best season was in 2011, when he caught 38 passes for 375 yards and three touchdowns, which represented more than half of his career totals in all three categories…A versatile player who played running back, fullback, H-back and tight end…A team leader who was named a two-time captain…Has long 35-inch arms to keep defenders off his body…Has good speed and lateral agility to get into open space…A good technical blocker who keeps going until the whistle…Doesn't have the size or bulk to play tight end at the NFL level and will have to be a fullback/H-back type hybrid…Doesn't gain a lot of yards after the catch and gets wrapped up relatively easily…Faced sub-par competition and will have a long learning curve…Will need time to reach his true potential, something NFL teams don't always have the luxury to provide…Ran a 4.70 40 at the Combine with 19 reps of 225 pounds, a 34½-inch vertical jump and a 10-1 broad jump. A versatile player who can be plugged in as a fullback or H-back, his lack of tangible experience at both positions will make him a project that will likely be on the board when the final couple of rounds begin. Fifth-year senior…A two-year starter who ended his career starting 31 of 47 games…In four years at USC, he caught 53 passes for 471 yards and six touchdowns…Has a football pedigree – his father Riki Ellison was a star at USC and played in the NFL…A versatile player who played TE, fullback and lined up wide in a WR position…Has good intelligence and understands defense…Has good hands and catches most passes thrown his way…Plays with fire and passion…Was a special-teams standout…Doesn't have the frame, power or bulk to be an effective in-line blocking TE…Isn't elusive and doesn't break many tackles when defenders wrap him up…Doesn't have elite speed or explosion…He does a lot of things well, but nothing to put him in the elite category…Marginal production for an offense that threw as much as USC did during his career…Didn't lift at the Combine, but ran a 4.78 40 with a 31½-inch vertical jump and a 9-1 broad jump. He did a lot of little things for the Trojans, but never settled into a specific role that would more easily translate to the NFL. He will make a roster because of his special-teams ability, but players like that typically last until the latter stages of the draft. Fifth-year senior…Didn't become a full-time starter until his senior season…In his last two years, he caught 84 passes for 902 yards and eight touchdowns, with much of his production (51-537-7) coming in 2011…Already earned his degree…A first-team All-Big East selection last year…Has good technique in finding soft spots in zones and reliable hands…Makes good adjustments and catches poorly thrown passes…Has good lower-body strength and holds up when asked to block and sustain…Doesn't have elite speed…Didn't run a NFL route tree and often simply went 10 yards down field, stopped and waited for the ball to come his way…Isn't elusive in the open field and gets swarmed over too easily…Average size for a tight end…Wasn't allowed to work out at the Combine due to a left shoulder injury. He was a classic college overachiever who played in a pro style offense, so whoever drafts him will have a good idea what they are getting. But his lack of elite traits will make him a late-round pick who will have to fight to win and keep a roster spot. Fifth-year senior…Originally signed to play with Clemson, but transferred to MSU after one year and had to sit out the 2008 season…In 25 games with the Spartans, he started just 13 games…Emerged as a senior, catching 31 passes for 364 yards but no touchdowns…In three years at MSU, he caught 69 passes for 850 yards and three TDs…Has good hands and catches most passes thrown his way…Has a big frame and the type of body that could add 10-15 pounds of muscle without losing a lot of speed or agility…Can make the difficult catch deep down the field…Has good vision and is effective blocking at the second level…Doesn't have great straight-line speed…Has trouble shaking off defenders when he gets jammed at the line…Is a willing blocker but doesn't have the functional strength to be an every-down TE in the NFL…Was arrested in March 2011 for assault and fleeing police following a bar fight and pleaded guilty to lesser charges…Was not among the 14 tight ends that worked out at the Combine. Scouts differ greatly on his ability to make the transition to the NFL, because he only had one year of experience as a full-time starter. He has upside, which may get him drafted higher than we have him ranked, but he will need to go to a system ideal for his skill set to be a success and enjoy a career in the NFL. 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