The 5 tight ends that GMs took instead of Julius Thomas in 2011
Kyle Rudolph -- 2nd round, 43rd overall
The Minnesota Vikings wanted to pair Christian Ponder with a receiving weapon, so the front office selected Kyle Rudolph in the second round. Although the Ponder-Rudolph combination never really came to fruition, he excelled regardless of his quarterback. He had a huge second year, logging career highs in receptions (53), receiving yards (493), and receiving touchdowns (9). In 2013, Rudolph was on pace to top his statistics from the previous year, but he was only able to participate in eight games due to a broken foot. Coming into this year, the Vikings were so infatuated with his potential in Norv Turner’s offense they offered him a five-year, $36.5 million contract extension. Now, Rudolph is the fifth highest-paid tight end in the NFL and has only played in three games after undergoing surgery for a sports hernia.
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Lance Kendricks -- 2nd round, 47th overall
The St. Louis Rams selected Lance Kendricks with its second-round pick. He benefitted from a solid senior season at Wisconsin, where he led the team in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. The Rams were enamored with his production and expected it to translate to the NFL. It did. Kendricks performed admirably during his rookie campaign but really broke out as a receiving threat in his second season. Sadly, he hasn’t been the same since. In 2013, Jared Cook left Tennessee to join his former coach Jeff Fisher in St. Louis. With the addition of Cook, Kendricks was relegated to the backup position, which resulted in a decrease in opportunities.
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Rob Housler -- 3rd round, 69th overall
The Arizona Cardinals (8-1) currently have the best record in the NFL and are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Can you name their starting tight end? His name is Rob Housler. He has been a member of the Cardinals ever since the team picked him in the third round in 2011. Housler isn’t the flashiest tight end, but he has proved that he can get the job done after two consecutive seasons with 400-plus receiving yards. The only knock on Housler’s game is that he really isn’t a red-zone threat, hauling in only one touchdown pass in his career. Imagine if the Cardinals had Thomas flanked next to Larry Fitzgerald and young wideouts Michael Floyd and John Brown. That would be a scary sight for defenses across the league.
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Jordan Cameron -- 4th round, 102nd overall
The Cleveland Browns are probably the only team on this list that doesn’t regret taking Julius Thomas. Similar to the Broncos, the Browns got a steal when they chose Jordan Cameron in the fourth round. The former Southern California product possesses a great blend of size and speed and, like Thomas, burst onto the national scene in his third season. He had career highs in receptions (80), receiving yards (917), and receiving touchdowns (7) last year. Entering this season, Cameron was looking forward to putting up monster numbers while fellow teammate Josh Gordon served his suspension. However, he has missed significant time due to a concussion. The Browns will certainly monitor Cameron’s health, but if he were to suffer another head injury, then the city of Cleveland might start to think about ways Julius Thomas would’ve contributed.
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Luke Stocker -- 4th round, 104th overall
With their fourth-round pick, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took Luke Stocker from Tennessee. Although he is still on the roster, Stocker has failed to develop into the pass-catching threat the team hoped he would become. During his four-year career, he only has one receiving touchdown. The Stocker experiment seems to be over after the Bucs selected rookie tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins in this year’s draft and brought in veteran Brandon Myers.