2012 NFL Draft Preview: Tight Ends

Posted Apr 16, 2012

Last year in the NFL was the year of the tight end – the new age tight end that is as the likes of San Francisco’s Vernon Davis, New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham and New England’s Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were game changers. They are examples of how the position has evolved from a complimentary piece of the offense to a focal point, which was never clearer than in the NFC Championship when Davis and Graham were the leading receivers.

The 2012 draft class has a smattering of tight ends that fit the old school mold of tall and thick in order to be an extra blocker and catch passes like Michigan’s Cory Harkey and North Carolina State’s George Bryan. But the tight ends garnering the most serious interest from scouts and general managers are the ones like Clemson’s Dwayne Allen, Georgia’s Orson Charles, Stanford’s Coby Fleener, Ladarius Green of Louisiana-Lafayette and Oklahoma’s James Hanna. They are productive wide receivers first and blockers second, consistent with the direction that position is headed.


Allen won the Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end last year and used that as momentum to declare himself eligible for the draft early. He opened some eyes for the wrong reason at the Combine in the 40-yard dash when he struggled to a time of 4.89 seconds, but his strength was on display with 27 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press. He also had top-10 performances in the 3-cone drill (7.12 seconds) and 20-yard shuttle (4.37 seconds) and on film it was easy to see why he’s projected to go high in the draft. Allen runs crisp routes, separates from coverage and appears to have game speed that allows him to play faster than his 40 time showed and also is an above average blocker, which makes him a combination of old school and new school at the position.

Based on how he’s played the last two seasons as a key starter for the Bulldogs, Charles has become someone to pay attention to alongside Allen and Fleener when evaluating the tight end position. He is big, athletic, and flexible and polished enough in the passing game to be able to transition immediately to the NFL, but his blocking definitely needs some work. After choosing only to do the bench press in Indianapolis and leading all tight ends with 35, Charles saw his stock drop a little at his Pro Day after a slow 40-yard dash. He ran a 4.9 into the wind and a 4.75 with the wind at his back. He looked fluid in the passing drills and with lots of film of him going up against SEC defenses, Charles is hoping he still will grade out high.

Fleener was in the biggest spotlight catching passes from the projected first overall pick of this draft, Andrew Luck, and will draw obvious comparisons to Gronkowski because of their similar size. He was Luck’s primary target because of the lack of depth at receiver for the Cardinal and is a technically sound route runner with the speed to separate himself from defenders, especially on deep balls down the middle. Fleener’s sure hands are a big asset but if he does have a weakness it’s with his blocking and his tendency to get jammed at the line of scrimmage, so if he can add a little more bulk to his frame that will help. Thanks to the successes of Gronkowski and Graham, Fleener should benefit by perhaps going in the first round next week.

Every year some small school players step into the light at the Senior Bowl and the Combine and rocket up the draft boards and Green is one of those players this time around. He’s hard to miss on the field at his height and he really stood out in Mobile on the practice field and in the game, following that up with a solid showing in Indianapolis. Green ran a 4.53 in the 40-yard dash, had a 341/2-inch vertical leap and a broad jump of 10 feet, 4 inches, confirming his athleticism. His basketball-like skills in using his feet and frame to box out defenders come in handy in the Red Zone. The fast transition made by Graham should lead to Green going higher than originally predicted.

Hanna is someone who truly helped himself at the Combine by turning in top-10 performances in four of the seven drills – the 40-yard dash (4.49), 3-cone drill (6.76), 20-yard shuttle (4.11) and 60-yard shuttle (11.43). He has a thick frame and can adjust to poorly thrown balls without sacrificing his route down the seam, but he wasn’t asked to run real complex routes by the Sooners so there could be a learning curve at the next level. If there is one criticism that will stand out to scouts it’s that despite his size, Hanna shies away from contact over the middle and tends to short arm the ball if he senses a collision, and that tendency has shown itself in his blocking at the line as well.


George Bryan
6-5, 265
N.C. State
331 YDs \ 4 TDs

Michael Egnew
6-5, 252
523 YDs \ 3 TDs

Cory Harkey
6-4, 260
10 YDs \ 0 TDs

Brian Linthicum
6-3, 245
Michigan State
364 YDs \ 0 TDs

Deangelo Peterson
6-3, 243
Louisiana State
179 YDs \ 1 TDs

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