Jimmy Graham, Aaron Hernandez and Five TEs Who Could Easily Play WR
The tight end position, like nearly every position in the NFL, is evolving, and players with different strengths than tight ends past are having monstrous success in the same role.
Jimmy Graham's numbers rival most of the true wide receivers' in the league, and Aaron Hernandez is basically uncoverable if he's matched up with a linebacker.
But although these two are the quickest names out of the bag when it comes to tight ends who could consistently line up wide, they're not the league's only TE weapons.
Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
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Graham leads the list, and it's not hard to see why.
Through 11 games, he's already hauled in 67 passes for 957 yards and eight scores. His yardage total ranks fifth in the league, making him one of only two tight ends in the league in the top 17 of that category.
But stats tell only part of the story here. Graham is still a somewhat raw athlete, having played only two full seasons of football in his life. When you look at what he's already done in that short time, leading one of the NFL's best offenses in nearly every receiving category, it's easy to see how much potential he's been given.
At nearly 6'6" tall, he has the body to post up against smaller corners on the outside, and his lateral agility and balance are good enough to create at least some separation out wide. His size will always be one of his biggest strengths, but Graham could transition easily to full-time receiver, considering his innate ball skills and soft hands.
Aaron Hernandez, New England Patriots
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Hernandez basically played receiver in college, so it's easy to see how he could transition to the same role in the NFL. It's even easier to see by turning on any Patriots game on any given Sunday.
Hernandez is listed as a tight end, but he does most of his damage in the way a receiver would, starting off the line and working the edges of the field. He's used to doing that after taking over as Tim Tebow's favorite college target when, wait for it, Percy Harvin left Gainesville.
Urban Meyer's goofy offense hides plenty of flaws, but you don't replace Harvin in any scheme without possessing the necessary traits to become a successful wide receiver.
Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers
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Finley is already trying to play receiver, so at least there'd be no motivational issues involved with a position switch.
Despite advice to the contrary, Finley dropped weight in the offseason in order to become a more fluid, lithe player, and so far, it's working.
Green Bay's receiving corps is full of talent and quicks, making it hard for even true receivers to grab the lion's share of catches. But despite the competition, Finley still ranks third on the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns.
He's quick and balanced enough in and out of his cuts to gain separation against corners, though like most of the players on this list, he'll always need to fall back on his size to beat the best coverage guys. Still, Finley possesses rare body control for his build, another trait that would ease his move.
Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers
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It might be tougher to make the switch at this point, after years of wear and tear playing for a team that emphasizes a strong, smashmouth ground game, but Davis still has the natural athleticism to beat corners instead of safeties and linebackers.
Coming out of college, Davis cemented his "freak" status by running a 4.38 40, benching 225 pounds 33 times and jumping 42 inches off the ground. Clearly, he possesses, or at least possessed, the base physical traits needed to beat corners down the field.
But that's not all. Davis, from the tight end spot, has been the Niners' most consistent receiving option for years. He's basically been a receiver who's also been asked to block in-line at times—not a tight end who's been asked to run routes.
His precision in and out of his breaks, his strong wrists and sure hands, and his fearlessness going high over the middle to make a catch are all attributes that would make a move to receiver go well.
Dustin Keller, New York Jets
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Keller, like Davis, impressed many with his timed speed and combine numbers when coming out of college.
And, again, like Davis, he's not a freak when it comes to height or overall size. He does, however, own a natural ability to feel coverage and settle into open spots against the zone without drifting back into danger.
Keller's ability to get up the field quickly and slip past coverage at the line makes him an ideal candidate to get down the sideline or the seam before the defense can make a play on the pass.
He's not the most fluid runner around, and he does lose acceleration when breaking in or out of his routes, but with his strength, high-end receiver size and underrated straight-line speed, he could separate on wide deep routes or drags across the field.