2009 NFL Draft Preview: Tight Ends

Peter BukowskiSenior Analyst IMarch 15, 2009

Take a look at the best offensive teams from the last several years and it is clear to see that having a quality tight end is paramount to offensive success. Some teams find quality tight ends in on the first day of the draft coming off of All-American college careers, while others pluck former basketball players from small programs.

The 2009 draft tight end class does not have a superstar, or a can’t-miss prospect.  These players are few and far between as far as tight ends are concerned.

However, had a few players stayed healthy through the season, we may have seen as many as three tight ends considered first round prospects.

This is a deep class of potentially productive players, and boasts a slew of first day picks.


1.) Brandon Pettigrew 6'5", 263lbs Oklahoma State

Unlike most elite tight end prospects, this former Cowboy can not only can block, but does so with the kind of passion and fire you like to see from someone with his size and strength. Pettigrew can be an enormous asset in the running game with his long arms and physical style of play.

Some scouts question his ability to stretch the field with only average speed (4.85 40 at the Combine).

However, he has very soft hands and is extremely fluid for a man of his size. He may not be an explosive playmaker, but we really don’t know for sure because he was not the top threat in the OK State offense.

Given the right opportunity he could be a tremendous NFL tight end, and one of the more complete players at his position to come out of college in some time.

It should be noted that Pettigrew was arrested in 2008 for assaulting a police officer, but later pleaded to a less charge. It doesn’t seem to have hurt his stock significantly however.

Pettigrew is a top 25 prospect, but perhaps not the kind of player who can be a go-to guy like Antonio Gates or Jason Witten. The talented senior will likely go in the 20’s come April to a team like Philly or Atlanta who could use his versatility as both an in-line blocker and receiver.


2.) Jared Cook 6'5", 246lbs South Carolina

One of the fastest risers in this year’s draft, Jared Cook wowed scouts at the combine with his speed and agility for someone 6'5" nearly 250 pounds. Cook’s game is significantly less physical than Pettigrew, as Cook is a much more natural receiver.

The junior Gamecock runs solid routes and has a knack for finding holes in zones. With some added strength, Cook will be able to get off the line against the jam, and absolutely kill team down the seam with his 4.5 speed.

His blocking must improve, but it is mostly just technique as Cook shows a willingness to at least attempt to block. Without consistent quarterback play for South Carolina, it is hard to tell just how good Cook is, but he has every physical tool you look for in a top level tight end.

Cook has moved into the top 40 prospects in this year’s draft and looks to be an early second round pick. The Bills ought to be thrilled if he is on the board when they pick at the top of the second round.


3.) Shawn Nelson 6'5", 240lbs Southern Mississippi 

A four-year starter at Southern Miss, Shawn Nelson has been a productive and reliable target at a school not known for producing top NFL talent. Nelson ran just a hair slower than Cook at the combine, but his 4.56 showing demonstrates Nelson’s ability to push linebackers over the top in coverage and should be able to separate at the next level.

Although not as solidly built as the players above, Nelson is very tough and has played through injuries.

At this point, he is a little lean to be a consistent in-line blocker against the kind of size he will see on NFL defensive lines, but his technique is solid and has the footwork to stay with quicker players in space.

Nelson is one of the more underrated prospects in the draft, but needs to get bigger and stronger to be a complete NFL tight end.

Not quite in the top 50, Nelson is still a likely second round pick, but could slip depending on how some of the injured players on this list test for teams. A team like Minnesota in the second round could really benefit from having a receiver like Cook to help their passing game.


4.) Cornelius Ingram 6'4", 245lbs Florida

Ingram did not play his senior season after tearing his ACL in August. Had he done so, playing next to guys like Percy Harvin and Tim Tebow, Ingram might be sitting at the top of this list.

He is an outstanding athlete for his size, and is really more of a receiver than true tight end, spending most of his time in Gainesville flexed out as a receiver. Ingram has played only two seasons as a tight end, coming to Florida as a quarterback.

Given the complexities of NFL offenses with reads and disguised defenses, some scouts question how quickly Ingram can adjust, particularly after being out for so long. Spending so much time at receiver has also limited Ingram’s blocking abilities, and his technique definitely needs work as both a blocker and a route runner.

I am not as high on Ingram as some, but he is still a outstanding athlete with plenty of upside at the position. He is a late second round talent, and I think Matt Ryan would really love throwing the ball to this guy in Atlanta (Even the Georgia fans would have to agree).


5.) James Casey 6'3", 246lbs Rice

Perhaps no one in this class is better suited for the H-Back role than James Casey. While at Rice, Casey lined up all over the field including at times in the wild-cat formation at quarterback.

He is certainly not a lead blocker, but he has the agility to adjust to moving targets and space and will only get better if he learns to play with better pad-level. Casey’s hands are outstanding and can make tough catches in traffic. While not supremely strong, Casey uses his hands well to fight off jams and stay on his routes.

He plays football the way it was meant to be played and is not afraid to throw his body around. With some added strength and some technique work, Casey could become a solid offensive contributor for a team not looking for a go-to receiver from the tight end position.

Casey remains a somewhat unknown prospect to the average NFL fan, but scout have certainly noticed. He looks like a late second or early third round pick which will likely depend on the system those teams run offensively.  


6.) Travis Beckham 6'3", 243lbs Wisconsin

Say what you want about his lack of ideal bulk, his blocking, or the injury that cut his season short, Travis Beckham is the only player on this list who was “the guy” in college.

He has been one of the most versatile and dangerous receiving threats in the Big 10 ever since 2006 when he moved from defense to offense. Scouts question his strength, then at the combine he put up a position best 28 reps of 225 pounds.

Until this season, injuries had never been an issue, but a leg injury derailed his senior season. Certainly his blocking is a problem, but technique work could certainly help. Beckham is the most proven big-play receiver on this list and is one of the few players who can be a game changer on the next level with his size and speed.

Had he stayed healthy, people were projecting Beckham as a first round pick, even a top 15 player. His stock is up after a solid combine and looks like a late second or early third round pick.

That would be a steal for a guy with this much potential.  


7.) Chase Coffman 6'6", 244lbs Missouri

In terms of production, there are receivers in this draft who can’t even come close to Chase Coffman who notched 90 catches for nearly 1000 and 10 touchdowns as a senior for Mizzou.

His hands are excellent and he finds holes in the defense effectively. His big frame should allow him to develop more strength, but his blocking is marginal at best right now.

Additionally, Coffman does not have a second gear to beat defenders down the scheme, or the elusiveness to make anyone miss in the open field. He is experienced flexed out off the line of scrimmage so his effectiveness as an in-line blocker as well as his ability to beat linebackers off the line remain in question.

Coffman is not a player who is going to wow you with his physical abilities, but he is a hard worker and a reliable receiving target. Although his stock has fallen somewhat, he remains a top 75 player and is in the mix for an early third round selection.


8.) Bear Pascoe 6'5", 251lbs Fresno State

This is the proverbial drop in the tight end talent pool, just don’t tell a guy named “Bear.” Pascoe has been that for the Bulldogs in his career. A tough, physical player, Pascoe excels as a blocker and will finish with the ball in his hand running through would-be tacklers.

Unfortunately for him, Pascoe possesses below average speed and will not be a scheme buster at the next level. He does have soft hands, but does not consistently make difficult catches both in traffic or over his head given his limited athletic ability.

Luckily, Pascoe knows his game is about strength and would rather run through you than over you. He also shows a knack for finding creases on coverage and using his body to get in position to make a play.

Route running through tends to be somewhat lazy making cuts and lacks any suddenness to create separation.

Much like at any position, once the top tier or two of talent has passed, opinions tend to differ in a more drastic manner. Pascoe could be as high as a mid-fourth-round pick, or he could fall to the mid-to-late fifth, even early sixth.  


9.) Anthony Hill 6'5", 262lbs North Carolina State

If you’re looking for a guy on this list who looks the part of an NFL tight end, look no further. Anthony Hill has ideal size and strength to play on the next level, and was dominant at times blocking smaller defensive ends in college.

As an in-line blocker, his technique is solid and he can be an asset in the running game as well as in max protect type protection schemes against rush ends. Hill’s hands are good, but not great as he lets the ball get to his body too much at times and can struggle making catches fully extended.

Because he lacks outstanding top-end speed or quickness in and out of breaks, he will struggle to beat man coverage. However, he recognizes zone coverages well and has a knack for sitting and finding open spots to make plays.

Injuries are a question here as well, as Hill lost his 2007 season to a torn ACL. In 2008, Hill had just 19 receptions, but four were for scores. Hill may not be an Antonio Gates, but a three-year starter in the ACC is nothing to scoff at and Hill has the ability to be a contributor on an NFL roster.

He should come off the board in the fourth round, no later than the early fifth.


10.) Cameron Morrah 6'3", 244lbs California

Of the bottom half of this list, this junior from Cal has the most potential. Another year in school may have helped Cameron Morrah, but Morrah has what NFL teams are looking for as a versatile receiver and more than capable blocker. 

Tenacious at the point, Morrah will not shy away from contact on the line and uses his quickness to get in position on defenders. Also, his ball skills are above average and is one of the more deft pass-catchers on this list using his hands and long arms to reach out and pluck the ball from the air.

While he ran a solid 4.66 40 at the combine, the film shows a player who struggles at times to separate from defenders and does not have excellent route-running abilities. He does though, get open when it is most crucial, scoring eight times on just 27 receptions (that is about once every three catches) as a junior for Cal.

Morrah would be higher on this list had he waited until 2010, but still has plenty of potential for a team to take a risk on a relatively unproven player. A team somewhere in the fifth or sixth round is getting a project, but one that could pay big dividends down the line. 


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