After the Daniel Graham and Ben Watson experiments didn’t pan out, Bill Belichick went back to the drawing board last year. He brought in veteran Alge Crumpler, who emerged as a great run blocker and team leader. However, his best work came in the draft when he stole two first-round talents with second- and fourth-round picks.
Former Arizona tight end Rob Gronkowski was a red-zone stud and played at a pro bowl level in the second half of the season.
And Aaron Hernandez, one of three Florida Gators selected in 2010, was a real matchup nightmare in the beginning of the season.
While I highly doubt the Pats address the tight end position in the draft, here are the top-five prospects in a weak tight end class:
1. Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame: Often compared to Todd Heap, Rudolph would remind many of Gronkowski. At 6-foot-6, 259 pounds, he is a big matchup problem for safeties and is fast enough to outrun most linebackers. While he has medical red flags because of a torn hamstring, he could be a steal in the second round similar to Gronk. He was a big weapon for Jimmy Clausen in 2009, catching 33 passes in only nine games while adding 28 in six games in 2010.
2. Luke Stocker, Tennessee: While he won’t blow anyone away with his timed speed, Stocker is more of a do-it-all type of player who would be a solid player at the next level. He has good size (6-foot-5, 258 pounds) and strength (27 reps) to go along with average speed (4.71). He is a good run blocker and decent pass catcher, improving his catch total every year. He is probably a third- or early fourth-round pick.
3. D.J. Williams, Arkansas: Playing in the SEC, speed is the name of the game. Although he’s undersized at 6-foot-2, 245 pounds, Williams is very athletic. He ran a 4.59 forty and compares to Hernandez and Dustin Keller as h-back types at the next level. He was extremely productive in the best conference in college football, finishing as the NCAA’s all-time leader in receptions (147) and receiving yards (1,817) by a tight end. He could come off the board in the third round.
4. Jordan Cameron, USC: A former basketball player, Cameron is the next high-upside conversion prospect to have scouts drooling. Like last year’s Jimmy Graham, Cameron only had one season of starting experience, but showed enough to have NFL people thinking he could be a big-time player. He backed that up with an impressive combine performance. The 6-foot-5, 254-pounder ran an impressive 4.53 forty, recorded a 37 ½ inch vertical jump and had 23 reps on the bench press. While he doesn’t have a lot of statistical production (only 19 catches), his upside is high. He should come off the board in the fourth round.
5. Virgil Green, Nevada: The star of the combine, Green might have outperformed 49ers Pro Bowler Vernon Davis’s historic 2006 combine. Measuring in at 6-foot-3, 249 pounds, he ran a 4.54 40-yard dash, had 23 reps on the bench, vertical jumped 42 ½ inches and ran a 6.90 in the three-cone drill. He isn’t just a workout warrior though, as he showed steady improvement as a pass catcher in his three years at Nevada, culminating in 35 catches for 515 yards in 2010. He should be off the board in the fourth- or fifth-round.