Draft's top tight ends

Top tight ends in 2008 NFL Draft:

1. Fred Davis, Southern California

Height: 6-3   Weight: 255
College stats: 26 starts, 117 receptions, 13 TDs
Vital numbers: 4.65 40-yard dash

Davis was the premiere tight end during the season, and looked like a complete player at the Senior Bowl. A former wide receiver who lived in the weight room until he was able to get 33 reps on the bench press test. His 40-yard times disappointed clubs, who expected a high 4.5 from him. Some teams believe he really is a 4.7-type athlete and that scares teams when it comes to presenting a vertical threat down the field, which has become a primary condition for a great draft grade. His game tapes indicate he can present a deep threat. Davis is a very solid route runner with fine body control near the sideline or reaching back for a bad pass over the middle. Davis should perform in pro football like L.J. Smith or Chris Cooley. Draft projection: Round 2.


2. Dustin Keller, Purdue

Height: 6-2   Weight: 242
College stats: 26 starts, 142 receptions, 16 TDs
Vital numbers: 4.55 40-yard dash

Keller has been rising up draft boards for the past month. He has production and really helped himself in his testing. A 41-inch vertical leap and 3.94-second short shuttle separated him from the other tight ends. When I spoke to him about his weight room numbers, he was even more impressive with a 635-pound squat and a 400-pound power clean. Keller has a burst and gets in and out of breaks well to separate from defenders. He will be thought of as a move tight end. Draft projection: Round 2.


3. Martin Rucker, Missouri

Height: 6-5   Weight: 251
College stats: 50 starts, 203 receptions, 18 TDs
Vital numbers: 4.71 40-yard dash

Rucker is a specialty player and most of his experience is in the slot and away from the box. He has the match-up skills teams are looking for, but his 4.71-second 40 at his pro day leaves some doubts about his ability to beat safety coverage or stretch an NFL field. When you go to the game tapes, you see a player who does play faster than timed speed and an athlete who understands coverage. His 50 starts in a spread offense have given him lots of experience against many coverages. A team with an established in-line tight end looking for a complimentary player will see him as a fit. Draft projection: Rounds 2-3.


4. Martellus Bennett, Texas A&M

Height: 6-6   Weight: 259
College stats: 24 starts, 105 receptions, 10 TDs
Vital numbers: 4.68 40-yard dash

Bennett would be the first to tell you he's the best tight end in the draft. He has the size, but his speed was a disappointment at the combine. Bennett's pedestrian short shuttle time also shows up on film, as he doesn't always look natural in and out of his breaks. He could struggle to get a clean release from an in-line position because he doesn't show great explosion or knee bend to release. He will struggle with a jam by a Sam linebacker. There are tight ends ranked below Bennett in this report that I like more as I continue to finish up the film studies. He reminds me of Mercedes Lewis when he's at his best. Draft projection: Round 3.


5. John Carlson, Notre Dame

Height: 6-5   Weight: 251
College stats: 31 starts, 100 receptions, 8 TDs
Vital numbers: 4.88 40-yard dash

Carlson looks the part of an old school tight end; a guy who should be a solid blocker and a capable short-area receiver. He looks better on tape as a receiver than a blocker. He will struggle to get movement drive blocking a big linebacker, and will drip off blocks because of technique issues. Spending his final season at Notre Dame without Brady Quinn didn't help his situation. Teams will struggle as to why they take Carlson. Is he powerful enough to be an in-line tight end? Is he fast enough to be a match-up tight end? I think he's a move tight end with good football intelligence that is not going to be a No. 1 tight end on a team. Draft projection: Round 3.


6. Kellen Davis, Michigan State

Height: 6-6   Weight: 262
College stats: 22 starts, 60 receptions, 9 TDs
Vital numbers: 4.60 40-yard dash

Davis is a former basketball player with size, speed and athletic ability. He has some off-the-field issues and some work ethic questions. He was easy to spot on the practice fields at the Senior Bowl as one of the best athletes in pads. There is risk and reward in this decision. His skill set reminds me of Jerramy Stevens. His contract should be structured to make him earn the big money and hold the carrot out in front of him until he proves he's a pro. He can also rush the passer as a defensive end, which makes him even more intriguing. He would be a big addition to a team such as Buffalo, but Dick Jauron isn't the type to ignore the off-the-field stuff. Draft projection: Rounds 3-4 (though some teams wouldn't draft him in any round).


7. Brad Cottam, Tennessee

Height: 6-7   Weight: 270
College stats: 21 receptions, 1 TD
Vital numbers: 4.63 40-yard dash

Cottam has had injury issues and lacks great production. He opened some eyes at the Senor Bowl in that there was more to this guy than originally believed. He impressed me getting down the seam and splitting safeties. He's the tallest tight end in the draft and has very respectable numbers from his workouts. The 4.27-second short shuttle for a player this tall is impressive, as well as the 36 ½-inch vertical. Any team looking for a tight end -- such as the Giants got when they picked Kevin Boss last year -- will like what they see in Cottam. He could easily play pro football at 285 pounds and still beat linebacker coverage. Cottam could be a surprise pick in this draft. Draft projection: Rounds 3-4.


8. Jacob Tamme, Kentucky

Height: 6-3   Weight: 236
College stats: 35 starts, 133 receptions, 11 TDs
Vital numbers: 4.58 40-yard dash

What you see is what you get in Tamme. He increased his receptions each year in college and has all the subtle techniques to release, separate, block at the linebacker level and catch a bad pass. He understands coverages and rarely makes a mental error. He isn't a great player, but he should never be a bad player. I could see him on every special teams unit and working into the two tight end package by his second year. Draft projection: Round 4.


9. Jermichael Finley, Texas

Height: 6-4   Weight: 243
College stats: 17 starts, 76 receptions, 5 TDs
Vital numbers: 4.66 40-yard dash

I spent some time talking with this young man, and my first thought was he should stay in school for another year. He seems to have a very high opinion of himself for a guy who caught only five touchdowns in his career. He told me he thought he was going in the first round of this draft. He's a red shirt sophomore with very good athletic ability and one great game film (Oklahoma), which I watched. In time, he may be a fine player in the NFL, but if he gets off the line of scrimmage next year, he will struggle to recognize the coverages in front of him. Let someone else coach him through the developmental phase that awaits him in the NFL. Draft projection: Rounds 4-5.


10. Gary Barnidge, Louisville

Height: 6-5   Weight: 243
College stats: 31 starts, 108 receptions, 17 TDs
Vital numbers: 4.65 40-yard dash

Barnidge is a four-year player who caught more passes each year of his career. His height and hands make him a good NFL prospect. Not physical enough for in-line duties like a Kyle Brady, but may have a chance to perform like Brent Celek did for the Eagles last year. Draft projection: Round 6.

There are interesting prospects still left on the board, and the late sixth round should see a run at the position lasting into the seventh round with the following guys getting selected for a specific tight end need along with their ability to help on special teams:

» Craig Stevens, California -- An in line blocker who had the most reps on the bench press test.
» Tom Santi, Virginia -- Another aggressive blocking type who would fit with the Dolphins or the Lions.

Other notable tight ends include Adam Bishop, Nevada; Darrell Strong, Pittsburgh; and Derek Fine, Kansas.

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