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Billick evaluates tight end prospects

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Brian Billick

Brian Billick served as head coach of the Baltimore Ravens from 1999-2007, winning Super Bowl XXXV. He has also authored books, including More Than A Game: The Glorious Present and Uncertain Future of the NFL. Follow him on Twitter.

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Billick ranks the top tight end prospects for the NFL draft.

1. Kyle Rudolph | 2. Luke Stocker | 3. Lance Kendricks
4. D.J. Williams | 5. Jordan Cameron

 

Rudolph is top tight end


Despite Kyle Rudolph's injury plagued 2010 season, he is still the best available tight end is this year's draft.

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At the NFL Scouting Combine, he measured in at 6-foot-6 1/8 and 259 pounds but injuries limited his participation the remainder of the week.

Rudolph was a three-year starter at Notre Dame and holds the single-game receiving yards record, gaining 164 yards against Michigan. On tape, he shows soft hands with a natural ability to come down with the catch consistently. He goes up and battles for jump balls at their highest point and uses his 6-foot-6 frame to shield out defenders.

He is an excellent route runner for his size and makes sharp cuts to create separation from man-to-man coverage. Rudolph has the versatility to line up on the line of scrimmage, in the slot or even in the backfield to create mismatches.

He will need to continue to work on his inline blocking technique to stay balanced and hold the point of attack, but I do like the effort and competitive nature he brings to the blocking aspect of his game.

Overall, Rudolph is the best tight end in a fairly decent year of talent. He will give teams more of a well rounded option rather than a scheme specific tight end such as D.J. Williams or Lance Kendricks. I compare the potential and playing style of Kyle Rudolph to John Carlson or Rob Gronkowski, both of whom are the future of the tight end position.

Stocker will be solid contributor

Tennessee's Luke Stocker reminds me of another former Volunteer, Jason Witten. Witten may be a better athlete, but they have similar body types and playing styles.

Stocker isn't ever going to run by a defender, but he is an effective short yardage, move-the-chains type of receiver. He has surprisingly soft hands and is a reliable target. Similar to Witten, his routes aren't always going to be crisp with a snap in and out of the break, but he will use his body positioning to get the defender on his back and box him out for the catch.

He is a smart player who knows when he is the "hot" receiver and needs to turn quickly for the ball.

He also picks up stunts and blitz packages well in pass protection on the line of scrimmage. Stocker will make his money securing the edge and being a sixth lineman, but in turn, will be a huge factor in the play action game.

Stocker is probably the best all around tight-end in this draft, but isn't going to give you explosive plays like Kyle Rudolph. He isn't a down field threat in the passing game, but will be a consistent performer in all phases of the game. I look for him to be the second tight end selected at the NFL draft - most likely in the late second or early third round.

Kendricks still learning TE position

Wisconsin's Lance Kendricks is a versatile athlete who will provide plenty of mismatch opportunities for future opponents. As a tight end for the Badgers, he lined up all over the field: outside the numbers, in the slot, on the line of scrimmage and sometimes in the backfield.

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He is a former wide receiver who is still learning proper technique for an everyday tight end.

He is a scrapper on the line and fights hard to sustain the point of attack on the line of scrimmage. With that effort and improved technique, he could become an effective situational blocker in the NFL. Going into college, he was recruiter by SEC schools to run track, so you know he has great acceleration and top end speed. He had 78 college receptions for an average of 14.9 yards per catch.

At the next level, Kendricks will be an H-back/receiving tight end similar to the way the New York Jets use Dustin Keller and how the Houston Texans used Owen Daniels in 2009. I consider him to be the third best tight end in the draft and look for him to be selected in the third round.

Williams displays great hands

Similar to Kendricks of Wisconsin, D.J. Williams has the versatility to be a matchup nightmare for defenses. He, too, has lined up all over the field to create confusion within the secondary. Some talent evaluators are looking at him as a full-time H-back in the NFL, but I still think he has value in the right system to be a Dallas Clark-type receiver.

Williams was the 2010 Mackey Award winner and a favorite target of Ryan Mallett for the Razorbacks. He hauled in 54 receptions for 627 yards last season. At the NFL Scouting Combine, he showed up in tremendous shape with a chiseled body at 6-foot-2 1/8 and 245 pounds. He ran a 4.67 40, showing the type of speed that teams can use up the seam to stretch the middle of the field.

On tape and at the Senior Bowl, he made great catch after great catch displaying "stick em" like hands. He showed the ability to hold onto the ball going over the middle and taking a hard hit. He fought hard in blocking situations, but did best when delivering a block from pre-snap motion.

Cameron needs lots of development

USC's Jordan Cameron is a raw athlete who is still sharpening his football skills. Before transferring to USC, he was a basketball player for BYU. Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates are evidence that former basketball players make great NFL tight ends, but let's not compare this kid to a couple of future Hall of Famers. Instead, I compare his upside and potential to that of Jimmy Graham from the New Orleans Saints.

Last season, Cameron had only 16 catches for 126 yards and one touchdown, so you are definitely drafting him on potential more so than game tape. He shows the athleticism and ball skills that will translate very well into the NFL.

With his basketball background, you can imagine that his jump-ball skills and ability to attack the ball int he air will be very valuable. He shows good change of direction and quick cuts for a player of nearly 6-foot-6. He is aggressive in run blocking and gives great effort, but I see him fitting in with an offense that already has an established prototypical tight end, allowing Cameron to play situationally in a variety of sets.

Similar to the mold of the New England Patriots with Rob Gronkowski establishing himself as the more traditional on the line type tight end, and having Aaron Hernandez line up as a slot receiver or second tight end. I look for teams to start showing interest around the fifth round.

For more analysis, follow Billick on Twitter at @coachbillick.

Tagged: Patriots, Rob Gronkowski

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