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Maryland's Vernon Davis has no comparison among draft prospects at his position, and even wide receivers envy his speed and athleticism
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
By Mike Triplett
NFL defensive coordinators will be working overtime this season.
The early part of this draft is filled with offensive players -- Vince Young at quarterback, Reggie Bush at tailback and Vernon Davis at tight end -- who are redefining the way their position is played.
Davis, a physical specimen at 6 feet 4, 254 pounds, already was projected as a middle to late first-round draft choice when he left Maryland after his junior season.
He turned heads by catching 51 passes for 871 yards and six touchdowns.
Then at the NFL combine, he dropped jaws.
Davis ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds, which is thought to be the fastest time run by a tight end at a combine.
Scouts and offensive coordinators are drooling over the prospect of landing Davis, who is expected to go higher than any wide receiver in this year's draft.
Davis plays physical and is an aggressive blocker. But teams can also line him up as a receiver or send him in motion.
"I feel good about being labeled the new breed of tight end," Davis said. "That's what it is when you've got a guy who can do more than catch the ball, to get extra yardage after catching the ball and make guys miss. That pretty much speaks for itself."
Davis is not short on confidence. When asked about comparisons to San Diego Chargers Pro Bowler Antonio Gates, Davis said he likes the way he plays.
"But there are some things when I look at the guy, he does a little better than myself and things I do better than him as far as speed, things like that," he said.
Davis has also been compared to some of the best tight ends in NFL history, such as Keith Jackson, Shannon Sharpe and Tony Gonzalez.
Gates (a basketball player who didn't play football in college) and Sharpe (a seventh-round draft pick in 1990) were late bloomers. Jackson and Gonzalez were drafted 13th overall, in 1988 and 1997.
But Davis likely will top that. If he cracks the top 10, as expected, it will be the fourth time a tight end has been selected among the top-10 picks in the past quarter century.
The highest a tight end was drafted was fourth, where the Green Bay Packers selected Ron Kramer in 1957. Mike Ditka went fifth to the Chicago Bears in 1961.
Kellen Winslow Jr. went sixth to the Cleveland Browns in 2004. Rickey Dudley went ninth to the Oakland Raiders in 1996, and Kyle Brady went ninth to the New York Jets in 1995.
Dudley and Brady have carved out decent, if unspectacular, careers. Brady, primarily a blocker, still is a starter for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The jury is still out on Winslow, who has played two games in two seasons. He broke his leg early in his rookie season, then tore knee ligaments in a motorcycle accident last summer.
Teams won't shy away from drafting Davis because of his tremendous upside. The only problem will be coming up with different ways to use him.
"Well, my coach, he tried to find different ways to get me the ball," Davis said of his college offense. "Options, coming up with creative plays. But they were normally the seven routes, the post corners and the digs. You've got a tight end who can make moves like a wide receiver, when there is a linebacker on you, that's kind of a mismatch."
Beyond Davis, no other tight ends is expected to flirt with the first round.
UCLA's Marcedes Lewis, Colorado's Joe Klopfenstein, Georgia's Leonard Pope and Notre Dame's Anthony Fasano could all be second-round picks.
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