Positional analysis: Tight ends

While there are no sure-fire Pro Bowl prospects among the tight ends in this year's draft, some of that could be due to injury and some of it could be the one-dimensional aspect or injury history of many of the prospects. It's an eclectic group, but some of them could develop into budding stars in the future.

VIKINGS TIGHT ENDS — Visanthe Shiancoe, Jim Kleinsasser, Jeff Dugan, Garrett Mills.

VIKINGS NEEDS — Although the Vikings have an emerging talent in Shiancoe, Kleinsasser is the last remnant of the Vikings team that went to the 2000 NFC title game. Mills hasn't lived up to the high expectations, but, for the most part, this looks like a position that is set for 2010 on the starting ranks. With the talent that runs through the Class of 2010, if a player they likes falls as early as the second or third round, the Vikings could jump on one of the talented TE projects in this class.

THE CLASS OF 2010 — A deep and intriguing group of prospects makes this one of the more interesting TE crops in years. That being said, injuries and character concerns leave almost none of the top prospects with at least some question marks, which could have a lot of teams balking at using a premium pick on the position.


Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma, 6-5¼, 261 — Fourth-year senior…Only a one-year full-time starter – in 2008, he set OU school records for receptions and touchdowns by a tight end, catching 66 passes for 950 yards and 14 touchdowns…Was viewed as a top basketball prospect in high school, but a family friend suggested football was his path to fame, not hoops…Missed the entire 2009 season with a right knee injury and had surgery to repair torn cartilage…An extremely gifted athlete with the speed to make plays deep down the field…Is a good hands catcher that plucks and tucks the ball away from his body and makes difficult catches look easy…Became a primary receiver in 2008 because he could take advantage of being faster than most linebackers in coverage and bigger than all safeties…Is a fiery competitor who plays to the whistle…Works hard and is a natural leader…Is a big strider and takes a lot of time to build up to full speed…Needs a lot of work to improve his in-line blocking at the pro level…Doesn't have great moves and typically doesn't gain significant yardage after the catch…Will drop some easy passes…Has trouble matching up one-on-one with aggressive defensive ends…Ran a 4.72 40 at the Combine with 20 reps of 225 pounds, a 35-inch vertical jump and a 9-5 broad jump. PROJECTION: Had he been healthy in 2009, he would have been a lock in the first half of the first round. But, after missing the entire 2009 season, there are a lot of questions as to whether he will even be the first tight end off the board on draft day. Has all the intangibles to be a big-time pro and likely will be in serious consideration in the final third of the first round.

Rob Gronkowski, Arizona, 6-6¾, 264 — Third-year junior…A two-year starter who started 18 of 22 career games, catching 75 passes for 1,197 yards (an impressive 16-yard average) and 16 touchdowns…Comes from a football family – his father played guard for Syracuse and his brother Dan is with the Lions…Was a standout basketball player who was highly recruited after averaging 21 points and 18 rebounds as a senior…Missed the entire 2009 season after undergoing back surgery to repair a herniated disc and nerve damage…Has good hands and holds on to passes even when he takes a big hit…Has good upper-body strength and is a willing in-line blocker…Is hard to bring down once he gets a head of steam…Is hard to jam when he lines up wide…Sustains his blocks well down the field…Doesn't have an explosive burst off the line and struggles to lose defenders once they lock on him…Doesn't have good catching technique, letting far too many passes get into his body…Is a little too cocky for his own good…Injury history is a big concern, especially given that he required back surgery in college…Didn't jump at the Combine, but ran a 4.75 40 with 23 reps. PROJECTION: Like Gresham, the other top TE in the college game missed the entire 2009 season, casting a pall on his NFL draft status. He has never played a full season in college and has a lot of durability questions that will scare off some teams. But he has all the intangibles that have already had him noticed and his potential is enough that, if he makes it out of the first round, he won't last much longer.


Aaron Hernandez, Florida, 6-2½, 245 — Third-year junior…Two-year starter who caught 102 passes for 1,231 yards and 10 touchdowns in that span…A decorated high school athlete who set a national record for yards per game receiving (180.7) for a tight end as a senior in a season in which he caught 24 TD passes on offense and had 12 sacks as a defensive end…Won the Mackey Award in 2009, given to college football's top tight end in a season in which he caught 68 passes for 850 yards and five TDs…Led the nation in receptions by a tight end in 2009…Has extremely good hands and can catch just about anything thrown his way and plucks the ball away from his body…Has the quickness to gain yards after the catch…Catches the ball well in traffic…Can beat the jam at the line and get separation…Because of the Gators' offensive scheme, not only was he not asked to be an in-line blocker, he rarely ran routes farther than five or 10 yards on most plays…Comes off the snap high and could struggle at the next level to get quick separation…Doesn't have great natural strength or significant growth potential…Isn't a natural pass catcher when he's wide open and will drop passes and bobble others…Didn't work out at the Combine. PROJECTION: He could have helped his stock significantly with an impressive Combine workout, but some think he may have exposed too many deficiencies in his game. But, like his QB Tim Tebow, Hernandez has a lot of skill and his talent is likely to win out with a team that specializes in drafting athletic talent over experience red flags, which should take him off the board in the second round.

Ed Dickson, Oregon, 6-4¼, 249 — Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who caught 120 passes for 1,512 yards and 12 TDs in that span…Played defensive end in his freshman season after volunteering to help out when the Ducks were besieged with injuries at the position and wound up seeing time on defense, special teams, tight end and wide receiver…As a sophomore, set a school record for receptions by a tight end with 43…Has near-prototypical size for an NFL tight end…Gets into and out of his cuts very sharply…Is a solid in-line blocker and consistently holds his ground against defensive ends…Gets to full speed in a hurry and can create linebacker mismatches…A versatile player who is very coachable…Has excellent durability in comparison to the other top TE candidates…Doesn't have great lower-body strength…Doesn't play with consistent intensity from game to game…Comes out of his stance too high too often and will get neutralized by NFL linebackers…Falls off a lot of blocks if asked to hold them too long…Ran a 4.67 40 at the Combine with 23 reps of 225 pounds, a 34-inch vertical jump and a 9-7 broad jump. PROJECTION: A pass-catching tight end who has a ways to go to make the jump to the next level, but given the health uncertainty of the top two prospects and Hernandez not working out at the Combine, his stock may be as high as No. 1 on some teams' depth chart.

Dennis Pitta, Brigham Young, 6-4½, 245 — Fifth-year senior…Came to BYU as a 190-pound walk-on…After playing one season, he went on a two-year Mormon mission…Became a starter midway through his sophomore season and, in his final three seasons, caught 204 passes for 2,725 yards and 19 touchdowns…Finished his career as BYU's all-time receptions leader with 221 catches…Is an excellent athlete who looks the part of an NFL tight end…Doesn't lose speed when making a catch and it leads to a lot of yardage after the catch…Had a great Combine with the best times in the short shuttle and three-cone drill…Also had a great week of practice and turned heads at the East-West Shrine Game…Will absorb the big hit over the middle and hold on to the ball…Is dangerous in the red zone…Doesn't have great speed or burst off the snap as he tries to get into his route…Is thin for his size and will have to add some bulk to be what he can in the NFL…Will be a 25-year-old rookie in an era when many of the top prospects are 20 or 21…Has trouble getting out of his stance when lined up with a hand in the ground…Ran a 4.73 40 at the Combine with an impressive 27 reps, a 34-inch vertical jump and a 9-5 broad jump. PROJECTION: Made himself a lot of money after BYU's season ended. He is a solid, safe pick in the second or third round and, while he may never be a superstar, he has a chance to be a solid contributor in the right system.


Tony Moeaki, Iowa, 6-3, 245 — Fifth-year senior…Became a starter in his third year, but suffered a dislocated left elbow and broken left wrist and was granted a medical redshirt…Had another surgery in the summer of 2008 to repair a broken foot…Missed time in 2008 with not only the foot injury, but calf and hamstring problems…Missed three games last year with a high ankle sprain…In five years, he caught just 76 passes for 953 yards and 11 touchdowns…Has good speed and finds seams in defenses to rack up yards after the catch…Plucks the ball with ease away from his body…Is a very strong in-line run blocker…Played in a pro-style offense that makes him more NFL-ready than a lot of the top tight ends…Is a solid blocker that can take his assignments well to the second level of the defense…Doesn't have the big base weight most NFL tight ends possess…Has an incredible laundry list of injuries, including concussions as well as elbow, wrist, calf, hamstring, ankle and foot injuries, which in the end could be his draft weekend downfall…Has average to below-average size and strength and didn't help either cause at the Combine…Never caught more than 30 passes in a season and had just one with 15 or more…Ran a 4.69 40 at the Combine with just 18 reps of 225 pounds, a 34-inch vertical jump and a 9-5 broad jump. PROJECTION: A versatile player who has the chance to be a solid TE/H-back hybrid, but his unreal injury history will likely keep him on the board well into the middle rounds.

Anthony McCoy, USC, 6-4½, 259 — Fourth-year senior…Two-year starter who had 44 catches for 713 yards and two touchdowns in that span…Was limited as a freshman after having shoulder surgery as a high school senior…Was suspended twice – during the 2009 spring practice and the Trojans' Emerald Bowl game to close the 2009 season – for academic reasons…Has very good burst off the line…Has excellent knee bend and is a good positional in-line blocker…Has good acceleration after the catch to get as many yards as possible…Is fearless over the middle and will take a hard hit and hold onto the ball…Can create height mismatches…Extremely low production (just 46 catches in 40 career games and 22 starts)…Has the reputation of having problems with authority and his academic suspensions speak poorly to his demonstrated commitment…Struggled at the Combine and hurt his stock…Doesn't have the sustained speed to consistently test the seam despite initial quickness…Ran a 4.79 40 at the Combine with 19 reps, a 35½ inch vertical jump and a 9-5 broad jump. PROJECTION: He does a lot of things right, but doesn't have elite speed to be a big-time playmaking tight end. He has a lot of red flags, but, if you watch him on film, he does a lot of fundamental things well and will likely come off the board in the third or fourth round.

Jimmy Graham, Miami, 6-6¼, 260 — Fifth-year senior…Played power forward for the Hurricanes basketball team for four years and only played football in 2009…Was a multi-sport athlete in high school, but didn't play football after his freshman season…In his only season of football, he caught 17 passes for 213 yards, but five of them were touchdowns…Has long arms and excellent burst from his basketball experience…Often lined up in the slot and a very good first couple of steps off the line…Can create mismatches with his size and speed, especially in the red zone – as evidenced by his touchdown numbers…Made himself some money at the Combine by looking as polished as veteran receivers in the gauntlet drill…Is incredibly raw, having played just 13 games since he was 14 years old…Isn't a willing blocker and has a very long learning curve to become more than a situational pass-catching TE…Has trouble getting away from defenders when they get their hands on him and is to easily re-directed…Takes jams at the line too easily…Doesn't have great upper-body strength…Didn't lift at the Combine, but ran an impressive 4.56 40 with a 38½ inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: Given the unquestioned success of NFL tight ends with extensive college basketball backgrounds like Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez, every NFL team is on the lookout for the next big thing. With Graham's limited experience, he will be a project for sure, but don't be shocked to see somebody like the Raiders jump when it gets to the late-third or early-fourth round.

Clay Harbor, Missouri State, 6-2¾, 252 — Fifth-year senior…Became a starter late in his sophomore season…In his final three years, he caught 144 passes for 1,833 yards and nine touchdowns…His 150 career receptions set a school record and his best season was in 2009 – when he caught 59 passes for 729 yards and four TDs…Can make big plays and gets to top speed in a hurry…Often lined up in the slot…Good upper-body strength and an excellent leaper (see below)…Makes a lot of yards after the catch and has excellent hands…A versatile player who was a special teams standout as well as a tight end threat…Faced low-level competition for his entire college career…Doesn't have great size and looks like a blown-up wide receiver…Comes out of his stance high and will get drilled by linebackers at the next level…Despite good strength, he doesn't have a mean streak and often looks to cut defenders rather than meet them head up…Doesn't have a lot of natural moves and is often limited in yards after the catch…Blows too many blocking assignments…Made a huge impression at the Texas Versus the Nation game and the Combine week, turning heads by running a 4.69 40 with a position-best 30 reps of 225 pounds with a 40-inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: Prior to the Combine, only a few scouts had Harbor locked on their radar. After an eye-popping Combine performance, he went from being a late-round pick to someone who could easily go in the fourth round and perhaps even slip into the third. One of the fast risers to monitor on draft weekend to see where and when he lands.

Nate Byham, Pittsburgh, 6-4, 268
Dorin Dickerson, Pittsburgh, 6-1½, 226
Brody Eldridge, Oklahoma, 6-3¾, 261
Garrett Graham, Wisconsin, 6-3¼, 243
Michael Palmer, Clemson, 6-5½, 236
Colin Peek, Alabama, 6-5¼, 254
Andrew Quarless, Penn State, 6-4½, 254

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.

Viking Update Top Stories