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Tight ends in demand in current NFL

Posted Feb 23, 2012

No team possessed a pair of pass-catching tight ends that matched New England’s in 2011, but a good portion of the league is using two downfield threats at the position. Top-notch athletes with good hands and large bodies are in demand.

INDIANAPOLIS – Nine years ago, Antonio Gates went undrafted as an unpolished, athletic, former basketball-playing tight end.

In today’s golden era, even raw potential has become worth a mid-round pick.

That’s where Cleveland selected BYU basketball player turned USC tight end Jordan Cameron last year, and where some scouts project Ladarius Green of Louisiana-Lafayette, one of 14 tight ends invited to the Combine this year.

Gates, Rob Gronkowski, Jason Witten and Dallas Clark are household names. And the league is fraught with guys like Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis, Jermichael Finley and Aaron Hernandez, elite athletes with enormous bodies who make first-rate passing targets. It’s difficult to win without a top tight end who can stretch the middle of the field.

“I feel like it’s a great time for tight ends to come out because tight ends are doing so well right now in the NFL,” said Green, who measured taller than 6-foot-5 and weighed 238 pounds. “It’s just a great time to be a tight end right now.”

Green, who lined up in the slot at times, caught 95 passes for 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns his final two seasons, including five catches for 121 yards in the R L Carriers New Orleans Bowl against San Diego State. Players like Green now are generating buzz despite needing to improve their blocking skills.

“I believe my biggest strength is my athletic ability, stretching the field, catching passes and creating mismatches,” Green said. “I believe I’ve still got to work on blocking and being able to put my hand in the ground and come off the ball.”

Many teams are having success with multiple pass-catching tight ends. The most famous, Gronkowski and Hernandez, helped New England to a Super Bowl appearance.

The Patriots topped Baltimore in the AFC Championship, but the Ravens got a combined eight touchdowns and more than 90 catches from Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta this season.

Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen excelled in Carolina, helping Cam Newton as a rookie quarterback. Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler exploited the holes in coverage created by Detroit’s Calvin Johnson.

“I’d be foolish to say I didn’t want to be like Gronkowski or Graham or one of those guys catching long balls,” Missouri tight end Michael Egnew said. “It’s incredible what tight ends are doing this past year. It’s a real dynamic position. I really like what I’m seeing around the league and it’d be an incredible opportunity.”

This year’s potential draft picks have visions buoyed by the recent flood of prominence and success in the NFL.

“I feel like I can add to an offense, period, because I feel like I can stretch the field,” Georgia’s Orson Charles said. “You know, if (we are in) 22 personnel, then who is going to cover me? Is a Will (linebacker) going to cover me if I split outside?”

Gates is signed through 2015. Still, tight end isn’t a position like quarterback or punter, on which the Chargers are highly unlikely to spend a high-round pick.

“You can always have depth,” director of college scouting John Spanos said. “There’s no doubt tight end will be a position we’ll look at, as well as lots of other positions.”

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