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NFL draft preview: tight ends
NFL draft preview: tight ends
01:39 AM CDT on Wednesday, April 23, 2008
There may not be a first-round tight end but there is solid depth at the position. Pass catchers abound, but there is only a small handful of blockers. Offensive weapons can be found well into the second day.
STRENGTH: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Spotlight on ... Jacob Tamme, Kentucky
Where Jacob Tamme goes, winning follows.
Tamme played wide receiver on a Boyle County High School team that won four consecutive state championships in Kentucky. He was an all-state selection as a senior and a finalist for Kentucky's Mr. Football Award. Boyle County compiled a 58-2 record with Tamme in uniform, and he was the MVP of the last two state title games.
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"The winning never got boring," Tamme said. "But losing that first game was a new feeling. We went 47-0 and didn't lose until the start of my fourth year. We went from 47-0 to 3-2. It was almost devastation. We didn't know what to do. To come back and end up winning the state championship taught me a lot. It helped me at Kentucky in helping to turn that thing around – keep fighting, keep fighting, keep fighting and eventually things work out for people who work hard."
Kentucky had not been to a bowl in four years before Tamme arrived on campus. The Wildcats went 4-8 in his redshirt season, then 2-9 and 3-8 in his first two seasons on the field.
But Tamme earned first-team All-SEC honors his final two years as Kentucky posted back-to-back eight-win seasons. The Wildcats won the Music City Bowl both seasons – the first time Kentucky had gone to back-to-back bowls since the 1951-52.
Tamme leaves Kentucky as the school's all-time leading receiver among tight ends with 133 catches.There may not be a first-round tight end but there is solid depth at the position. Pass catchers abound, but there is only a small handful of blockers. Offensive weapons can be found well into the second day.
Throwback player: Michigan State's Kellen Davis is a throwback – he plays on both sides of the ball. On offense, he posted a 100-yard receiving game against Penn State and caught two TD passes against Notre Dame as a tight end. On defense, he was posted sacks against Alabama-Birmingham and Bowling Green and was credited with tackles against Michigan, Notre Dame and Ohio State as an end. "To have an opportunity to play both in the NFL would be amazing," Davis said. "But it doesn't matter to me if it's offense, defense or both. I wouldn't let the position define me. It doesn't matter where I play – just as long as I'm playing on Sundays." The last player to show up on an NFL draft board as a tight end/pass rusher was Brian Waters of North Texas in 1999. He wound up as a Pro Bowl guard for the Kansas City Chiefs. "I don't think I can get big enough to play guard," Davis mused.
ERICH SCHLEGEL / DMN
Texas A&M's Martellus Bennett is expected to go first among tight ends from the state.
View largerMore photos Photo store Hardcourt duo: If Texas A&M's Martellus Bennett and Texas' Jermichael Finley hadn't stopped growing, they might be preparing for the NBA draft in 2008 instead of the NFL draft. Bennett averaged 23 points and eight rebounds per game as a senior at Alief Taylor and Finley averaged 24 points and 20 rebounds as a senior at Lufkin Diboli. Finley was an all-state small forward at 6-4½. Bennett played a season for A&M but topped off at 6-6. "I thought about playing one year of basketball in college and then coming out," Bennett said. "But I started playing football and fell in love with the game all over again. Football is my first love. I was just playing basketball, so I gave it up."
Staying put: Bennett and Finley are the only two underclassmen who applied for early admission to the draft. Notre Dame's John Carlson faced the same decision in 2007 and decided to stay in school. But the fortunes of the Fighting Irish dipped, as did his draft stock. "I still believe I made the right decision," Carlson said. "Obviously, I didn't want to go 2-9. None of us did. I was disappointed in our record but impressed with the way the guys stuck together. There was no finger-pointing. There was no one throwing in the towel. We practiced hard the entire way. Even though the product on the field was not up to our standards, we showed a lot of character." Carlson earned his degree in history, graduating with a 3.6 GPA.
Brain game: Jacob Tamme leaves Kentucky with more than a couple of bowl rings. He left with a degree. Tamme finished work on his bachelor's degree in integrated strategic communications in three years. He spent his last two seasons on campus working toward a master's degree in business. "I was raised by two great parents who taught me academics are important, too," Tamme said. "To have a chance to play college ball and get your education for free, I figured it was in my best interests to do as much as I can as well as I can. That's my overall philosophy in life – take advantage of your opportunities."
Century club: With the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots leading the charge back to the multi-receiver, spread-the-field type of offense, the NFL is again turning to the Jay Novacek/Brent Jones-type tight ends of the 1990s. Tight ends with more speed than bulk are coming back in style. There are several on this draft board with value as pass catchers. Here are the tight ends on this board who know how to run routes – players who caught 100-career passes:
Name School Rec.
Martin Rucker Missouri 200
Dustin Keller Purdue 142
Jacob Tamme Kentucky 133
Fred Davis Southern Cal 117
Chris Hopkins Toledo 115
Gary Barnidge Louisville 108
Martellus Bennett Texas A&M 105
John Carlson Notre Dame 100
Rising stock: As college teams turn to spread offenses, you see fewer conventional blocking tight ends showing up on NFL draft boards. But there's still a need for blockers in the NFL, and Craig Stevens is the best in this draft class. He earned his keep at Cal blocking the last two years for All-Pac 10 tailbacks Marshawn Lynch (2006) and Arlington Grace Prep product Justin Forsett (2007). "Marshawn has the great vision and that great speed," Stevens said. "He's great side-to-side. Forsett gets up the field. He gets right behind you and finds the hole, whether it's really small or not." Other blockers who could have value late in this draft are Keith Zinger of LSU, Matt Mulligan of Maine and Joey Haynos of Maryland.
Flexibility: Speaking of Haynos, he's another of the power-forward types who have turned to football. He received basketball scholarship offers out of high school from Catholic University and Towson, but opted to walk on in football at Maryland. He earned a scholarship during his sophomore season and finished his career as the starting tight end. Haynos filled out from 225 as a freshman to 259 as a senior. "I had a dream of playing Division I football, Maryland was close to home so I decided to take a chance," Haynos said. He hopes he gets the same opportunity to prove himself now in the NFL. "I'm willing to do whatever I need to do to become an NFL tight end," he said.
All in the family: Missouri's Martin Rucker is the brother of veteran Pro Bowl defensive end Mike Rucker of the Carolina Panthers. Having a brother in the NFL has driven Rucker onto an NFL draft board. "It gives you something to strive for and something to follow," Martin said. "My brother was a great role model." Martin finished as Missouri's all-time leading receiver.
Fred Davis, USC: Davis won the Mackey Award as the best tight end in the nation. He became Southern Cal's first All-American at the position end since Jim O'Bradovich in 1974 and the first to lead the Trojans in receiving yards (881) since 1980. He also became the first tight end to lead the Trojans in receptions (62) since 1985 and the first to lead in touchdown catches (8) since 2000. He set school records for a tight end, both season and career, in receptions, yards and touchdowns.
Brent Miller, Arizona State: Miller started with his younger brother Zach in Arizona State's two-tight end offense in 2006. Then Zach decided to skip his senior season in 2007 and became a second-round draft pick of the Oakland Raiders. The two Millers are about the same size (6-4, 250) and speed. But Zach was more productive, catching 144 college passes to Brent's 43. The older brother is worth a look, though.
Best of Texas
1. Martellus Bennett, Texas A&M: Bennett started three seasons at A&M before deciding to skip his senior season. He led the Aggies with 49 catches in 2007 and set a school record with at least one catch in 29 straight games. Draft projection: 1-2 rounds.
2. Jermichael Finley, Texas. Draft projection: 4-5 rounds.
3. Joe Jon Finley, Oklahoma (and Arlington). Draft projection: 6-7 rounds.
THE TOP 15
Player School Ht. Wt.
Fred Davis Southern California 6-3 255
Noteworthy: Three 100-yard games in 2007
Dustin Keller Purdue 6-2 242
Noteworthy: 4.55 speed in the 40
Martellus Bennett Texas A&M 6-6 259
Noteworthy: 1,246 career receiving yards
John Carlson Notre Dame 6-5 251
Noteworthy: Academic All-American
Brad Cottam Tennessee 6-7½ 270
Noteworthy: 16.2 yards per career catch
Craig Stevens California 6-3 254
Noteworthy: 4.59 speed in the 40
Jermichael Finley Texas 6-4½ 243
Noteworthy: Caught 45 passes in 2007
Kellen Davis Michigan State 6-6½ 262
Noteworthy: 16 yards per catch in 2007
Martin Rucker Missouri 6-4½ 251
Noteworthy: Caught 18 career TDs
Mike Santi Virginia 6-3½ 250
Noteworthy: 1,184 career receiving yards
Jacob Tamme Kentucky 6-3½ 236
Noteworthy: 4.58 speed in the 40
Gary Barnidge Louisville 6-5½ 243
Noteworthy: Caught 17 career TDs
Joe Jon Finley Oklahoma 6-6 254
Noteworthy: Former high-school hurdler
Adam Bishop Nevada 6-4½ 248
Noteworthy: 2-time academic All-WAC
Derek Fine Kansas 6-2½ 251
Noteworthy: Two-time team captain
(Potential first-rounders in bold)