To play the tight end position in the NFL, you need to be able to block in the running game and catch in the passing game. Tight ends will line up outside to try and create matchup problems in pass coverage. They will also line up in the backfield and force coverage by linebackers or to help block blitzers.
Here are my top five junior and senior prospects.
5. George Bryan, North Carolina state, 6.5″, 265lbs, Junior.
One of the few bright spots in what was an overall disappointing 2009 campaign for the Wolfpack was the development of Bryan. He displayed some flashes in his red-shirt freshman season, but really started coming into his own during his sophomore campaign; he tied with wide out Owen Spencer for second on the club in touchdown receptions. Bryan is the perfect complement to receivers Spencer and Jarvis Williams, providing quarterback Russell Wilson with another option in the passing game. The North Carolina native has solid hands and above average quickness for a man of his size, and continues to improve his route-running skills. He can be a real weapon in the middle of the field and is especially dangerous in the red zone. Bryan (6’5” and 265 pounds) is blessed the type of size NFL teams crave in their tight ends and is far from a one-dimensional player. While he has room to grow as a receiver and a blocker, Bryan was a first team All-ACC performer in his first full season as a starter. That growth is expected to continue during his junior season and he will be a key cog in what could be the conference’s top passing attack.
4. Weslye Saunders, South Carolina, 6,6″, 273 lbs, Senior.
I had Saunders ranked second in this list about a month ago but Saunders was interviewed earlier this summer by NCAA investigators regarding a trip he took to Miami and whether it was funded by agents. He’s also one of at least nine South Carolina players who was living at the Whitney Hotel, which has come under NCAA scrutiny. So I had to re evaluate his off field mind set. Saunders played as a true freshman in 2007 and has started 13 games going into the 2010 season. He is a very difficult matchup in the passing game because of his size and speed. Saunders has the toughness needed to be a good blocker in the running game so on the field he is very impressive.
3. D,J Williams. Arkansas, 6,2″, 251 lbs, Senior.
Williams is more of an H-back than a tight end. He’s not the type of blocker you need to be successful in the running game. Much like Colts TE Dallas Clark, Williams lines up all over the field and uses his speed (4.55 40-yard dash) and hands to create matchup problems for the defense. He could eventually be a first round pick if he works hard on his blocking skills. Great athlete.
2. Luke Stockar, Tennessee, 6,5″, 253 lbs, Senior.
A fifth-year senior who will be starting for the third consecutive year at the tight end position, Stocker has improved a great deal over the last three seasons. He is more of a blocker than a receiver, but he has athletic ability. A former defensive lineman in high school, Stocker is tough and smart; very smart. He’s a great prospect and should be a great player in the NFL. I think he could go in the first round but like Williams he has to continue to get better.
1. Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame, 6,6″ 260 lbs, Junior.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have a long history of developing high draft picks at the tight end position. Most recently John Carlson (2008) and Anthony Fasano (2006) were second round picks, and in 1992 and 1993 they produced back-to-back first-round selections in Derek Brown and Irv Smith, with Monty Stickles going in the first round back in 1960. The next in line figures to be Rudolph, who combines the prototypical size (6’6” and 265 pounds) and brute strength of an in-line blocker with the skill of a pass-catcher. The Cincinnati native can be a true weapon through the air with his soft hands, ability to make catches on the run, and the toughness to secure the football in traffic. His wingspan also provides the quarterback with a big target as he is able to make plays on passes that are wide as well as high. The security blanket is at his best in third-down situations. Despite missing the final three games of the 2009 season due to a shoulder injury, Rudolph was the lone sophomore to be a John Mackey Award semifinalist and is the only nominee to return in 2010. So he is not only the top junior prospect at the tight end position, but many believe he will be the first tight end selected should he declare for the 2011 NFL Draft. To do so, he will have to build on his sophomore success and recover fully from the shoulder injury, which needed off-season surgery. If Rudolph has the type of year he is capable of as the Irish’s second option behind Michael Floyd, the versatile tight end could vault into the first round.
By Rhodri Jones.
Tredegar, Wales, U.K.