Positional Analysis: Tight Ends

The Vikings are pretty well loaded with solid tight ends after the re-signing of Jim Kleinsasser and acquisition of Jermaine Wiggins, along with younger prospects. Still, this year's draft class has some interesting tight ends, and we review the strengths and weaknesses of the top 11.

VIKINGS' TIGHT ENDS — Jim Kleinsasser, Jermaine Wiggins, Sean Berton, Steve Farmer, Richard Angulo, Kane Anderson.

VIKINGS' NEED — The Vikings made their tight end intentions clear when they re-signed Kleinsasser to a long-term deal and signed free agent Wiggins to a one-year deal — giving them the confidence to release Hunter Goodwin. The team is high on Berton, Farmer and Angulo — Berton and Angulo solid blockers and Farmer a better receiver — and anyone brought in would have one strike against him in the fight for a roster spot.

THE CLASS OF 2004 — The group is led by Kellen Winslow Jr., who may be one of the highest drafted tight ends in NFL history. With the proliferation of the West Coast Offense throughout the NFL, the tight end position has become much more popular on draft day — with one or more TE going in the first round each of the last three years and several going on the second round as well. As a whole, the group is deep, but only three — Winslow, Ben Troupe and Ben Watson — look to be instant impact players in the NFL.

THE CREAM OF THE CROP

Kellen Winslow, Miami, 6-4, 249 —
Third-year junior…Two-year starter who spent freshman year playing behind Jeremy Shockey (Giants)…In two years as a starter, he caught 117 passes for 1,331 yards and nine touchdowns…Won the John Mackey Award in ‘03, given to the top college tight end…Son of Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow…Has incredible pass receiving ability…Plays like a big wide receiver…Excellent blocker…Has speed to run away from linebackers and safeties…Played special teams for the Hurricanes…Isn't overly powerful and can improve…Biggest drawback is his attitude, which can come off as extremely arrogant…Did 24 reps with 225 pounds at the Combine, ran a 4.56 40 (second best among TEs), had a 33-1/2 inch vertical jump, a 10-1 broad jump and scored a 12 on the Wonderlic test — third worst among tight ends.

PROJECTION: Many believe his dad was the best ever and that Junior can be an even better pro — high praise indeed. He could go as high as the No. 2 pick to Oakland and shouldn't make it past Detroit at No. 6.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Ben Troupe, Florida, 6-4, 263 — Fourth-year senior…One-year starter, who caught 39 passes for 638 yards and five touchdowns last year…Excellent hands and has good speed after the catch…A natural receiver…Blocking needs work…A very hard worker who improved over time, but is still seen as a little raw with just one full season of experience…Has missed time with ankle and hand injuries — including having to skip the Senior Bowl…Did 17 reps at the Combine (the second lowest total among TEs), ran a 4.68 40, and his 38-1/2 inch vertical jump was tops among all tight ends.

PROJECTION: A player with an incredible amount of upside, he would seem to be an ideal fit in a West Coast Offense that wants a TE to stretch the middle of the field. He could go as early as late in the first round — with St. Louis being one team known to be interested.

Ben Watson, Georgia, 6-4, 257 — Fifth-year senior who enrolled at Duke as a freshman and sat out 2000 after transferring…Two-year starter who caught 54 passes for 665 yards and five touchdowns in those two seasons…A physical specimen who bench presses in excess of 500 pounds…Is an effective blocker who has a mean streak…Incredible speed for his size, he ran a 4.46 40 at the Combine — better than any other TE and better than most running backs and wide receivers…Played special teams in college…Made a lot of believers at the Senior Bowl…Is neither as good a blocker or route-aware receiver as he should be…Had a whopping 34 reps of 25 pounds at the Combine — nine more than any other TE who was tested — and had a 35-1/2 inch vertical jump — No. 2 among TEs — to go along with an amazing 41 Wonderlic score — seven points higher than another other tight end.

PROJECTION: There is a lot of upside to this guy and his intangibles he showed at the Senior Bowl and Combine should get someone to jump in the second round.

Ben Hartsock, Ohio State, 6-2, 263 — Fifth-year senior…Full-time starter the last two years, catching 50 passes for 427 yards and two touchdowns…Married…Good combination of size and strength…Solid receiver in an offense that is run-first…Has good run after the catch skills…Bench presses 400 pounds…Is decent in every facet of the game but not overpowering at any…Isn't a deep threat and, as his average-per-catch would indicate, he's used almost exclusively in the short game…Had a strong showing at the Combine, doing 23 reps, running a 4.78 40 and flashing a 35-inch vertical jump.

PROJECTION: He's going to be a blue-collar, lunch pail guy who can block, play H-back and catch some passes, but he doesn't stand out enough to deserve consideration before the third round.

Ben Utecht, Minnesota, 6-6, 249 — Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who caught 75 passes for 1,083 yards and 13 touchdowns…Came to U of M as a 205-pound wide receiver…Despite gaining weight, he has the frame to get even bigger…Very good hands and a big target…Improving as a blocker but still doesn't have the consistent effort coaches want…Doesn't have great lower body strength…Has played with several nagging injuries, like a stress fracture in his left foot and an abdominal strain…Doesn't have much in the way of speed to be viewed as a deep threat…Didn't lift at the Combine, but ran a 4.84 40 and had a Wonderlic score of 22.

PROJECTION: He has the chance to be a decent pro, but won't be a Pro Bowler because he isn't the best at any facet of the game. But his combination of size and upper body strength will likely see him go off the board late in Day 1 or early in Day 2.

Chris Cooley, Utah State, 6-4, 263 — Fourth-year senior…Played defensive end as a freshman…Two-year starter and Mackey Award semifinalist in ‘03…In two years as a starter, he caught 93 passes (62 last year) for 1,232 yards and 10 touchdowns…Very good hands and catches just about everything thrown his way…Is versatile — has lined up at TE, H-back and fullback…Can create mismatch problems with size and leaping ability (his 35-1/2 inch vertical jump at the Combine was second best among tight ends)…Has never developed into an efficient blocker…Speed — or lack thereof — is a red flag for some teams…Much more adept in zone defenses than when playing man-to-man…Has yet to prove he can be a dominant open field blocker.

PROJECTION: He has the ability to be a pass-catching TE, but unless he improves his blocking, going on the first day of the draft will be a stretch.

DAY TWO PROSPECTS

Jason Peters, Arkansas, 6-5, 332 — Fourth-year junior…Two-year starter who caught 21 passes for 218 yards and four touchdowns in 2003…Best blocker among TEs, school stats had him with 87 knockdown blocks in ‘03…Has quick feet for a player so massive…Has very long arms and a strong upper body — his 25 reps at the Combine were second-most among TEs…Powerful run blocker…Looked like a solid receiver at the Combine…Isn't a deep threat because of his lack of speed and will have to be a Hunter Goodwin-type block-first, catch-second player at the NFL level…Has had problems with injuries and team rules violations…Ran a 4.87 40 at the Combine, with a 33-1/2 inch vertical jump, but just a score of 9 on the Wonderlic — the worst of any TE and among the lowest score of any player tested…Could be a Bubba Franks type Red Zone option, but has neither the speed nor skills of Franks, so he should slide into Day 2.

Kris Wilson, Pitsburgh, 6-2, 247 — Fifth-year senior who became a starter midway through his freshman year…In three years as a full-time starter, he caught 81 passes for 1,304 yards and 13 TDs — with 44-693-9 of that coming as a senior…Has as much experience as any TE in the draft and has been durable…Has good hands and is hard to bring down…Improved his stock at the Combine…Was the shortest and lightest TE to work out at the Combine…Isn't a great blocker, so he may be viewed as a H-back only by some teams…Did 24 reps at the Combine, as well as a 4.61 40 (third-best among TEs), a 35-inch vertical jump and a Wonderlic score of 31…He's a hard player to predict, because, as the smallest TE, some teams will overlook him, but those looking for someone with pass-catching skills may take a jump in the fourth round.

Sean Ryan, Boston College, 6-5, 267 — Fifth-year senior who started at DE for half of his freshman year before moving to TE…Three-year starter who caught 76 passes for 970 yards and 12 touchdowns (6 in ‘03)…Good blocker and receiver…Solid in clutch situations and in the Red Zone…Doesn't have speed — his 4.96 40 was third worst among TEs at the Combine…Lack of speed makes him a short receiver only…Did 22 reps at the Combine, along with a 31-1/2 inch vertical jump…Has experience and versatility on his size, but lack of functional playing speed makes him a one-trick pony and player who will still be available in the early part of Day 2.

Courtney Anderson, San Jose State, 6-6, 269 — Fifth year senior who spent three years at community college…Moved from WR to TE and caught 36 passes for 477 yards and seven touchdowns in two years…The tallest TE in the draft and third-heaviest, he has all the physical tools to be something special…A huge target with big hands…Can stretch the middle of the field…Very raw player…Despite his size, doesn't have great upper body strength — his 17 reps with 225 pounds at the Combine was tied for the second-worst among TEs…Has only played tight end for two years…Ran a 4.76 40 at the Combine, with a 30-inch vertical jump…Too raw to be counted on for anything soon, he will be a late-round prospect with more upside than anything else going in his favor.

Jeff Dugan, Maryland, 6-4, 263 — Fifth-year senior and four-year starter who caught 25 passes as a freshman and 30 passes in his final three years combined…Good combination of bulk and strength to push defenders around or knock them down…Lower body strength is exceptional…Durability isn't a question…Doesn't have good speed and was almost nonexistent in the passing game the last three years…Did 21 reps at the Combine, ran a 4.94, had a paltry 28-inch vertical jump and a Wonderlic score of 24…The team that takes Dugan will being doing so as a blocker, not a receiver, which will likely drop him into the sixth or seventh round.

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