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NFL GMs, coaches believe Pettigrew could be next great tight end

INDIANAPOLIS -- Few players arrive here at the NFL combine minus warts real or perceived. Few enter without the risk of tumbling like a boulder if their workout numbers are poor.

Include Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew in that minute mix.

Whether we are talking about Pettigrew's size (6-5, 263 pounds), his encompassing ability to block, run and catch, his proven performance or his upscale upside, this player induces rare drooling among NFL personnel executives and scouts.

An NFL general manager shared with me several days before the combine that Pettigrew had indeed earned this reputation among them. That after analyzing tape of his senior season, he said Pettigrew was not only the real deal but a player teams trust in this draft more than most because of the consistency and prime athletic ability he showed on the field last season.

This despite the player missing four games last year due to an ankle injury. This despite him catching only 43 balls for 472 yards as a senior -- with no touchdowns. And all of this despite an off-field incident in January of 2008 where he was charged with assaulting a police officer outside a party.

The bottom line is NFL teams believe his lone, off-field incident was an aberration. His talent, they say, is not.

He could have entered last year's draft and likely would have been a first-day selection. But Pettigrew returned to Oklahoma State to grow his game and grow his mind. Looks like a good decision now.

Walking through the combine setup here at Lucas Oil Stadium, I wondered if the general manager I had spoken with prior to the combine was simply a lone wolf. It did not take long to learn that he was without question among a unified pack.

A sampling:

Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis: "We had the chance to coach him at the Senior Bowl. This is a big-time receiving tight end. More than just a good prospect. He has a chance to be very good in the NFL."

Tennessee Titans executive vice president and general manager Mike Reinfeldt: "Usually you come here wanting questions answered about a player. With this player, all of the answers are already there."

Finally, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris: "Brandon Pettigrew? Wow, you're hitting me right out of the box on somebody I think anybody can be excited about. A lot of times players just give you elements of the game you need. They become situational players. Especially tight ends. He is not going to come out on any down in the NFL. You pop in the tape on this kid and he shows a winning mark in every area."

Other NFL personnel executives here said similar things, in private, not wanting to tip their hands. Several of those people were from teams drafting in the top 10 slots.

Could Pettigrew rise into that bunch? Only two tight ends in recent drafts have soared into that stratosphere -- Kellen Winslow at No.6 with the Browns in 2004 and Vernon Davis at No.6 with the 49ers in 2006.

"I don't know if I can fall in that group, but that's what I'm shooting for, to be the best," Pettigrew said. "I'm faster than people think I am. I got stronger going back to school for my senior year. I want to be as complete a player as possible."

What helps make him enticing, even to teams that do not have tight end listed as a priority need, is his ability to create mismatches and to play aligned wide like a receiver. Inside, Pettigrew would be a nightmare matchup for a linebacker. Outside, he would be a tough matchup for a short cornerback. And he has the agility to line up outside and be as effective as some wide receivers.

Add to that some scouts' description of Pettigrew as a "devastating" blocker and it is easy to see why this player will likely turn heads at his combine workout.

Especially considering that well before it, he already has.

"I'm not going to take anything for granted," Pettigrew said. "I'll give my best here. I'm excited to show everybody what I can do."

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