Positional Analysis: Tight ends

The Vikings would appear to have a full allotment of tight ends on their roster and the 2009 draft features largely one-dimensional players at the position. Even so, John Holler executes his in-depth reviews on the top 10 tight ends in the draft.

Vikings Tight Ends – Visanthe Shiancoe, Jim Kleinsasser, Garrett Mills, Jeff Dugan.

Vikings Draft Outlook – Had the team not re-signed Kleinsasser, there may have been more of a need here, but with the emergence of Shiancoe as a receiving threat, the blocking ability of Kleinsasser and the high hopes for Mills, who missed much of the 2008 season due to injury, the team seems pretty set. It would take a player they really like to drop much further than expected for the team to make a move here because there simply aren't any roster spots currently available.

The Class of 2009 – This is a pretty decent class. Brandon Pettigrew has a good chance of being taken in the first round, and as many as three or four could go in the second round. The problem with the majority of the Class of 2009 is that they do one thing well, but not two – they either are excellent pass catchers who are blocking liabilities or solid in-line blockers who have trouble catching passes. There may be no true stars in this draft class, but there will be quite a few that make differences for NFL teams.

CREAM OF THE CROP

Brandon Pettigrew, Oklahoma State, 6-5½, 263 –
Fifth-year senior … Four-year starter who caught 112 passes for 1,450 yards and nine touchdowns … Arrested in 2008 and charged with felony assault and battery of a police officer, later pleading guilty to a reduced charge … Missed time as a senior with a sprained ankle and a dislocated finger … Has a big frame that can add more bulk in the NFL, as well as long arms and big hands to create mismatches … A vicious blocker who knocks defenders off their feet consistently … Gets a lot of yards after the catch … Averaged almost 13 yards per reception in his college career … Is adept at avoiding jams at the line … Not a great route runner … Does not have elite speed to test the seam … Seems to hesitate when the ball is in flight … Slows down when he makes his cuts and rounds off routes to allow defenders to get in better position … Had a disappointing Combine performance, running a 4.82 40 with 22 reps of 225 pounds, a 33-inch vertical jump and a 9-10 broad jump. PROJECTION: A dominating physical specimen, he could be one of the better blocking TEs in the league in a short period of time. His reception totals went up each year of his college career and he could be a solid receiving tight end as well as an intimidating blocker. Look for a team like the Eagles to jump on him late in the first round.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Jared Cook, South Carolina, 6-6¾, 246 –
Fourth-year junior … Played wide receiver and safety in high school and was moved from tight end back to wide receiver as a redshirt freshman because of problems with blocking defenders … Returned to tight end in 2007 … In his final two seasons, he caught 67 passes for 994 yards and six TDs … Has very long arms (35½ inches) and big hands … Catches passes outside of his body and looks very natural catching the ball … Will go over the middle and make the tough catch … Is an incredible leaper (see below) … Has very good speed to test the seam … Is able to get in and out of breaks quickly and not lose speed … Averaged 15 yards per catch in college and got a lot of those yards after the catch … Gets to top speed quickly for a big man … Is thinner than most NFL tight ends and may have trouble keeping defenders from getting a jam at the line … Was not used as a downfield threat often … Is aggressive in his blocking assignments, but doesn't have the lower body strength to seal off big defenders … Doesn't have many moves as a receiver and slows down when the ball is in flight, making it easier for defenders to get to him … Needs to work a lot on his blocking technique and not let defenders get inside his body … Had a phenomenal workout at the Combine, running a 4.50 40 with 23 reps of 225 pounds, a 41-inch vertical jump and a 10-3 broad jump. PROJECTION: Has a lot of work to do to excel at the NFL level, but his performance at the Combine likely will get some team to bet on greatness and grab him in the second round.

Cornelius Ingram, Florida, 6-4, 245 – Fifth-year senior … A high school quarterback who played basketball for the Gators during his redshirt season … Was never a full-time starter, catching 64 passes for 888 yards and eight touchdowns – seven of those coming in his final season of action … Tore his left ACL during preseason camp and missed all of the 2008 season … Has long arms and big hands … Catches the ball away from his body consistently … Is a hard-nosed player who isn't afraid to go over the middle and take a big hit … Has enough speed to be a downfield threat … Sells his routes well and consistently finds ways to get separation … Gets yards after the catch because of his balance and toughness … Is quick off the snap and hard to jam … Is a good leaper and will catch passes at their highest point … Is not naturally big or strong and will struggle against defensive ends and linebackers at the next level … Was not asked to be a multi-dimensional receiving threat … Is not a strong in-line blocker, which could prevent him from being a three-down TE … Played in a spread offense that didn't require him to block much, so his learning curve is pretty steep … Durability is a concern considering he hasn't played since 2007 with his torn ACL … Ran a 4.68 40 at the Combine with 21 reps, a 33-inch vertical jump and a 9-6 broad jump. PROJECTION: Arguably the tight end with the most upside as an offensive threat, the biggest question will be the condition of his surgically repaired knee. If he gets full medical clearance from team doctors, he could easily come off the board somewhere in the second round. If not, he will probably fall into the third round.

Chase Coffman, Missouri, 6-5¾, 244 – Fourth-year senior … Son of Paul Coffman, who played 10 NFL seasons with the Packers and Chiefs … Despite not being a full-time starter until last year, he was used considerably in the passing game, catching 247 passes for 2,659 yards and 30 touchdowns in his career … Blew up as a senior, catching 90 passes for 987 yards and 10 touchdowns … Has a history of ankle and foot problems and needed surgery to remove bone spurs in 2008 … Shattered the Mizzou school record for touchdown receptions, previously held by Justin Gage (18), but surpassed by both Coffman and Jeremy Maclin last year … Rarely drops passes and catches just about everything thrown his way … Has good size … Is smart and finds openings and soft spots in defensive zones … Is dangerous in the red zone … Runs sharp routes and gains separation easily … Uses his body well to shield defenders … Adjusts well to poorly thrown passes … Played in a spread offense that didn't ask him to consistently block anyone … Doesn't have good speed or burst off the snap … Doesn't have good TE strength and gets shoved around too much … Doesn't gain a lot of yards after the catch and is usually brought down when a defender gets his hands on him … Did not work out at the Combine while recovering from a broken metatarsal bone in left foot. PROJECTION: Coffman comes from a good NFL bloodline, which should help his draft stock. He is a natural receiver, but his blocking deficiencies will make him a part-time player that won't have value to power rushing teams. That should be enough to drop him to the end of the second round or third round.

Travis Beckum, Wisconsin, 6-2¾, 239 – Fourth-year senior … A Parade All-American at linebacker in high school and never played tight end until he joined the Badgers … Moved to TE as a sophomore and became a starter immediately, catching 159 passes for 2,149 yards and 11 touchdowns … Broke the school record for receptions in a season by a tight end (75) as a junior and led the country in receiving yards for a tight end with 982 … Suffered a torn labrum against the Gophers in the regular-season finale as a junior … Played in just six games as a senior, suffering a broken left fibula that required surgery … Very athletic with good speed and measurable numbers (see below) … According to school records, he caught 90 percent of the passes thrown his way … Catches the ball away from his body and plucks passes with his hands … Willing and able to make plays across the middle of the field … Has good lower-body strength and will pick up extra yardage after being contacted by defenders … Doesn't have great bulk or a body that can add 20-30 pounds at the pro level … Doesn't take out defenders with his blocking, he tries too often simply to stand them up … With the seriousness of the injuries he has suffered, durability is a question mark … Doesn't always play with a lot of intensity or give his best effort … Had an impressive Combine performance, running a 4.61 40 with 28 reps of 225 pounds (tied for most among tight ends), a 38½-inch vertical jump and a 9-10 broad jump. PROJECTION: A versatile receiver who lined up both as an in-line tight end and as a standup wide receiver and slot receiver, he brings a lot of offensive potential to the table. But his deficiencies as a blocker and serious recent injury history could scare away teams and drop him into the third- or fourth-round range.

BEST OF THE REST

Shawn Nelson, Southern Mississippi, 6-5, 240 –
Fifth-year senior … Cousin of Chiefs' 2008 first-round pick DT Glenn Dorsey … A four-year starter who caught 157 passes for 2,054 yards and 16 touchdowns … Missed the Senior Bowl game after pulling his hamstring during practice … Has good speed and long arms to test the seam … Escapes press coverage with good initial burst … Gets from zero to 60 in just a couple of steps when not jammed … Is able to make plays down the field … Has good hands and keeps balls from getting into his body … Has progressed as a blocker, but still needs work … Is on the thin side for an NFL tight end and has been unable to add weight and bulk during his college years … Runs too upright and is subject to big hits over the middle … Doesn't have good upper body strength (see below) … Takes a lot of quick, choppy steps when he cuts and gives a clue to defenders before he makes his break … Typically goes down when he is contacted by defenders … Needs to refine how he runs his routes … Ran a 4.52 40 at the Combine with 19 reps of 225 pounds, a 33-inch vertical jump and a 9-7 broad jump. PROJECTION: Nelson turned a lot of heads at the Senior Bowl before going down to injury. He showed a lot of toughness as a blocker and gave many the impression that, with a patient position coach, he could become a well-rounded NFL tight end, which may get him off the board ahead of some of the players we have rated ahead of him.

James Casey, Rice, 6-3, 246 – Third-year sophomore … Was a star baseball player in high school who graduated in 2002 and spent three years in the Chicago White Sox organization before turning to football … Came to Rice as a defensive end, but switched to quarterback and moved to tight end only because of injuries at the position … A one-year starter who set a Conference USA record for receptions in a season, catching 111 passes for 1,329 yards and 13 touchdowns, as well as rushing 57 times for 248 yards and six touchdowns … Is a natural receiver who is adept at finding the soft spots in defensive zones … Has good hands and is willing to go over the middle to make catches … Is a good leaper and uses his body to shield defenders on contested passes … Makes plays down the field … As a former quarterback, he is good at reading defenses and cutting off his routes when needed … A very hard worker … Excellent upper-body strength (see below) … Is a willing blocker, but still needs work … Has very short arms (30½ inches) … Is undersized and may not be able to get much bigger than he is now … Doesn't have good blocking technique and isn't viewed as being an in-line run blocker … Doesn't have great burst and has a tough time separating himself from defenders … Played in a pass-happy spread offense that didn't give him much in the way of blocking responsibility … Ran a 4.74 40 at the Combine with 28 reps of 225 pounds (tied for most among tight ends), a 36-inch vertical jump and a 9-3 broad jump. PROJECTION: He will be 25 years old during the season and the clock is already ticking. He is far from a prototypical tight end, but his receiving skills and massive production last season turned a lot of heads. He will likely be on the board heading into Day Two, but won't remain there too long.

John Phillips, Virginia, 6-5½, 251 – Fourth-year senior … Caught just 19 passes in his first three seasons before becoming a full-time starter in 2008, catching 42 passes for 385 yards and two touchdowns … Is a sound blocker who has good balance and drives defenders away from the ball … Has long arms and a body type that could add 20 pounds of bulk with relative ease at the pro level … Is quick off the line as both a receiver and a blocker … Is a hands catcher who rarely lets a pass get into his body … Has good football intelligence … Played in a pro style offense so his transition to the NFL will be smoother than most … Is not a natural athlete … He doesn't have elite speed or strength … His lack of upper-body strength allows defenders to move him around too easily … Needs to refine his route running … Has limited experience as a receiver … Doesn't pick up a lot of yards after the catch and too often is brought down almost immediately … Ran a 4.79 40 at the Combine with a 33½-inch vertical jump and a 9-4 broad jump. PROJECTION: He has all the makings of a decent No. 2 tight end who does several things well, but doesn't excel at any aspect of the game. He will likely be a mid-round pick that will have to compete for a roster spot early on.

Richard Quinn, North Carolina, 6-4, 264 – Fourth-year junior … Redshirted in 2006 after playing as a true freshman due to a fractured scapula suffered during preseason camp … Didn't become a starter until 2008 … In three years, he caught just 12 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns … Is big and strong … Has the power to push defenders where he wants them to go … Has good footwork and balance to drive defenders away from the play … Can stand up both defensive ends and linemen in pass protection schemes … Was not used as a receiver for the Tar Heels because the team had three wide receivers that are going to be drafted in the early to middle rounds … Does not have a lot of moves to pick up many yards after the catch and doesn't make tacklers miss … Has had a number of small injuries that will have some questioning his durability … Is slow by NFL tight end standards and will have a hard time getting separation in the passing game … Has never been asked to run a variety of receiving routes and will have to learn on the job … Ran a 4.88 40 at the Combine with 24 reps, a 32½-inch vertical jump and a 9-11 broad jump. PROJECTION: After a strong Combine performance in which he displayed his ability to catch just about every pass thrown to him, his stock is on the rise. But his lack of use as a receiver in college and some durability questions will drop him into the middle rounds. He clearly passes the eyeball test but will be a risk pick that will based more on potential and upside than production, which will likely drop him well into the second day of the draft.

Anthony Hill, North Carolina State, 6-5, 262 – Fifth-year senior … Attended Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia in 2003 because he needed to get academically eligible … Missed the 2007 season with a torn ACL in his left knee that required reconstructive surgery and missed five games in 2008 with a strained chest muscle … In three years as a starter, he caught 79 passes for 852 yards and five touchdowns … Has ideal size for a tight end and has long arms to hook defenders off the snap when asked to block … Is a decent route runner who finds ways to get open over the middle … Seems to enjoy his blocking assignments and doesn't let up until the whistle, often driving opponents into the ground … Is a hard worker who is very coachable … Will make the difficult catch in a crowd, absorb a big hit and hold onto the ball … Seemed to regress as a senior, catching just 19 passes in nine games before being injured after pulling in 45 passes in 12 games as a junior in 2006 … Does not have the speed to be a downfield threat that can beat linebacker coverage consistently … Will lose his focus at times and drop too many passes … Wasn't asked to do a lot of the things in college that tight ends are expected to do in the pros … His injury history may be a red flag for some teams … Ran a 4.86 40 at the Combine with 21 reps, a 30½-inch vertical jump and an 8-11 broad jump. PROJECTION: He put himself squarely on the map at the Senior Bowl and the Combine, putting in strong performances at both. That being said, he doesn't have good speed and has an injury history that will make quite a few teams wary. He has the potential to be a mid-round pick, but may never be more than a No. 2 tight end in the NFL.

OTHERS TO WATCH

Kevin Brock, Rutgers, 6-5, 253
Tripp Chandler, Georgia, 6-4½, 264
Cameron Morrah, California, 6-3½, 244
Rob Myers, Utah State, 6-3¼, 243
Bear Pascoe, Fresno State, 6-5¼, 251
Ryan Purvis, Boston College, 6-3¾, 255


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