Top fantasy prospects: Tight ends

BY foxsports • April 14, 2011

The 2011 NFL Draft weekend is always a captivating period.

We watch as the lives of hundreds of people are changed forever. We celebrate our favorite team’s new additions, deride the selections of our foes and absorb a year’s worth of human interest stories. This year’s draft experience will be different because of the labor impasse, but our passion will be stoked nonetheless.

Debates are already raging over the NFL-readiness of the top quarterbacks. Players who excelled as running backs and the high-flying wide receivers get their just due. Most others don’t get the hype until their highlight packages are shown during the ample television coverage. That’s certainly true when discussing the tight end position. A “Golden Domer” is the consensus No. 1 on the board, but the field is wide open thereafter. Let’s break down my top 10.

1. Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame

Rudolph has all of the physical tools to become a dominant contributor in the NFL. He stands 6-foot-6, runs good routes and has the foot speed to create matchup problems downfield. At 265 pounds, Rudolph possesses the size to be an effective blocker, and he engaged as such at Notre Dame.

Unfortunately, Rudolph does not come to the NFL without questions about his durability. He missed two games in 2009 because of a separated shoulder that ultimately required surgery. Rudolph then missed six games because of a hamstring injury and needed surgery to reattach tendons to the bone.

2. D.J. Williams, Arkansas

Williams was a two-time All-SEC performer at Arkansas and won the 2010 John Mackey Award. He demonstrated great hands and field vision to find pockets in coverage and run after the catch. Most importantly, Williams runs with authority after the catch to finish plays.

There are some concerns about Williams being undersized when compared to the prototypical tight end (he stands 6-foot-1). However, Williams proved a versatile and durable performer at Arkansas. He’s a playmaker with tremendous upside and can develop into a game-breaker.

3. Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin

Kendricks was buried on the depth chart early in his career and recovered nicely from a broken leg to become an All-Big 10 performer in 2010. He caught 43 passes for 663 yards with five touchdowns in his second year as a starter.

Kendricks gets off of the line quickly and has the strength to create separation from defenders. His foot speed and ability to operate downfield creates matchup problems and, at times, makes him appear to be more of a wide receiver than tight end. To that end, he compares favorably with fantasy favorite and former Badgers star, Owen Daniels.

4. Rob Housler, Florida Atlantic

Housler is an accomplished pass-catcher and exhibis great hands, burst off the line and a willingness to give up his body to make a play. He knows how to use his 6-foot-5 frame to create space and has the speed (ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash) to create mismatches.

Housler’s blocking stands as his major roadblock. He’ll fit well on a squad looking to add a pass-catching tight end that can be split out wide.

5. Weslye Saunders, South Carolina
 

Saunders is one of the players to put a star next to as you sit down to watch the draft. He has all of the physical tools to be a dominant force over the middle and in the red zone. Saunders stands 6-foot-5 and 271 pounds, so engaging as a blocker, creating space in routes and going over defenders is not a problem.

The issue that needed to be addressed during the NFL Combine and all subsequent team research concerns Saunders’ dismissal from South Carolina in 2010. There’s definitely upside for him, as his aptitude as a blocker could translate into immediate playing time.

6. Luke Stocker, Tennessee

Stocker was a strong all-around and durable performer for the Volunteers. He played through injuries, and grew as a receiver and blocker during his three-year run as a starter. Stocker used his 6-foot-5 frame effectively to create space and sit down in zone coverage. He also didn’t shy away from contact and gave himself up to make plays in traffic.

7. Daniel Hardy, Idaho

Hardy established himself as a strong receiver in his final two seasons (averaged 17 yards per reception) for the Vandals. He stands 6-foot-4 and excelled as a route-runner with great hands, good burst off the line and an ability to work in traffic.

The Vandals’ level of competition stands as an area of concern to some degree, but Hardy has the physical makeup and fundamental skills to be a playmaker at the next level.

8. Virgil Green, Nevada

Green possesses the speed of a wide receiver and a 6-foot-5 frame. His role increased year over year, and he produced a strong 43-reception campaign with five touchdowns in 2010. Green is lauded for his speed off the line and his field vision as a runner after the catch. He has good hands, and his height could create mismatches on the edge.

9. Mike McNeill, Nebraska

The Cornhuskers worked McNeill as both a wide receiver and tight end during his career. As such, he’s fundamentally sound as a route-runner and knows how to find space in coverage. McNeill stands nearly 6-foot-4, and possesses the speed to be split wide, create mismatches and stretch the field. He doesn’t have the bulk to excel as a blocker, but should be able to find playing time as a possession option.

10. Jordan Cameron, USC

Cameron is a raw talent, having started his career as a basketball player at BYU. He recorded 16 receptions in 12 games for the Trojans in 2010, so fans will not see a ton of highlights on him.

The 6-foot-5 leaper ran a 4.59-second 40-yard dash, thereby creating potential mismatches on the edge. He’s a work in progress, still working to refine his route-running and blocking techniques.


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