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Hybrid tight ends a coveted prize in '06 draft

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; Hybrid tight ends a coveted prize in '06 draft April 21, 2006 By Pete Prisco CBS SportsLine.com Senior Writer Tell Pete your opinion! Some NFL people used to wonder why they bothered with a tight end. After all, when he ...

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Old 04-22-2006, 04:08 PM   #1
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Hybrid tight ends a coveted prize in '06 draft

Hybrid tight ends a coveted prize in '06 draft
April 21, 2006
By Pete Prisco
CBS SportsLine.com Senior Writer
Tell Pete your opinion!

Some NFL people used to wonder why they bothered with a tight end. After all, when he was on the field, he was usually the worst eligible receiver, and he was almost always the worst blocker on the line.

So why not just play a third receiver on passing downs and an extra tackle on run downs?

That thinking is gone.

The new breed of tight end, the guy who can stretch the middle of the field and take the pressure off the outside receivers, has amended it.

This new breed is athletic, long, fast and can catch. They're guys like San Diego's Antonio Gates and Baltimore's Todd Heap.

Coaches love them, quarterbacks rely on them, and defensive coordinators despise them.

That's why this year's draft class of tight ends is so exciting for coaches and front-office personnel. It's loaded, featuring a lot of this new-breed player who is far more receiver than blocker.

"There are a lot of teams going to get starting tight ends from this draft," said an AFC offensive coordinator. "And the thing is, they catch passes like receivers. It's not a good class of wide receivers, but it is for tight ends."

Maryland's Vernon Davis is the headliner. At 6-feet-3, 250 pounds, he wowed the scouts at league combine when he ran the 40 in 4.38, which is wide receiver speed. He also bench-pressed 225 a whopping 33 times.

Run like a receiver, strong like a lineman.

Welcome to the modern tight end.

"That guy is a freak," said one NFC scout.

He's not alone. As many as six or seven tight ends could be off the board in the first two rounds. Last year, there was one taken in the first two rounds: Heath Miller by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 30th overall pick.

In 2004, four tight ends went in the first two rounds with Cleveland using the sixth overall pick on Miami's Kellen Winslow. His career has been marred by injuries, but he has that talent to be an elite player. New England used a first-round pick that year on Ben Watson, who is developing into a big-play tight end.

"People see what the tight ends can do for your offense, so we're all looking for them," said the AFC coordinator.

What they do is become security blankets of sorts for their quarterbacks, a go-to guy in a tough situation, a safety valve when the protection starts to break down.

"That's the one thing about Drew Brees when he was with the Chargers," said another AFC offensive coordinator. "You don't know how much of his success came because he had that tight end he could always count on."

Creating mismatches has always been key for an offensive coordinator, and a tight end like Gates, Heap or Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez allows him to do that. Those players are tough covers for a linebacker or a safety, which is why they are usually doubled. That, in turn, helps opens things up for the receivers outside.

After Davis, the next group of tight ends in this class consists of UCLA's Marcedes Lewis and Georgia's Leonard Pope. Both are tall for the position, Lewis at 6-6½ and Pope nearly 6-7. Both play at around 260.

Lewis isn't as fast on the clock as some of the others, but he plays faster than his 40 times of 4.75. He won the John Mackey Award last year as the nation's best tight end, catching 58 passes, 10 for touchdowns. UCLA used him split out a lot, which allowed him to win mismatches with smaller defenders, particularly in the red zone.

Pope was used more as an in-line tight end at Georgia, although scouts don't think he will have a problem adjusting if a team wants to flex him off the line. He doesn't have blazing speed, either, but his 4.6 is a little better than Lewis.

The knock on all three of the top tight ends is their ability to block. Can they become good at it? Davis spent time at Maryland banging helmets with linebacker Shawne Merriman, a teammate who went on to be the Defensive Rookie of the Year for the San Diego Chargers last year, which should help his blocking ability.

"He got me better and I got him better," Davis said at the combine.

Pope and Lewis will fight the knock that their height will cause leverage problems. Good blocking usually means getting under an opponent. At nearly 6-7, that can be tough.

Some scouts have expressed that concern, which is why teams that draft those two might need some extra time working the blocking side of things.

A handful of the other tight ends who could go in the first two rounds: Colorado's Joe Klopfenstein, Notre Dame's Anthony Fasano, Western Michigan's Tony Scheffler and USC's Dominique Byrd.

With more teams looking to create mismatches in the passing game and find quality security blankets for their quarterbacks, these guys should all be gone by the third round -- many more for their receiving skills than what they can do as a blocker.

That's OK, too. Gates, Heap and Tony Gonzalez aren't notable for their blocking ability. It's their ability to get into the seam in the middle of the field and create troubles for a defense that makes them special.

There is no glitz or glamour in blocking, which is why we love this new breed, because in the end, it's another move toward more passing, and who doesn't like that?


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