By Christopher DiMarino
The big question fans are wondering this offseason is what positions the Pittsburgh Steelers will go after in this draft. That is the big question to ask when analyzing tight ends for this draft. Keep in mind that Heath Miller is only 30 (in October) and David Johnson, Weslye Saunders and Jamie McCoy will all be reporting to camp. Heath isn’t getting any younger, and the Steelers power running could always use another tight end (to challenge the bottom 3). The Steelers are deep at wide receiver so grabbing a receiving tight end is hard because it means sidelining a guy like Emmanuel Sanders. But with blocking needs for tight end, I would expect the Steelers to seriously consider a tight end in the later rounds.
You can read my analysis of the tight end position for the Steelers by following this link. After reading that you’ll wonder what the Steelers will do regarding tight ends in this draft. Well I can see the Steelers possibly drafting 1 of 2 player types. I think they will draft a shorter, stockier type of tight end that is stronger and a good blocker. This type of player could likely also contribute at fullback and challenge Johnson for a roster spot. The other option would be to draft a tight end that is more of a receiving threat and develop him as a blocker. This would likely mean that they are looking for a replacement for Saunders. A receiving tight end in the later rounds is also very unlikely to make the 53 man roster in 2012. Not much is known about McCoy but he is 6’5 and the Steelers thought enough of him to put him on the practice squad. Whichever role Mike Tomlin thinks he could fill in 2012 may dictate which style of tight end they pursue in the draft.
Below I’ve compiled all of the combine results for the tight ends projected to get drafted. To see where these players are projected to fall and some measurables follow this link. I’ll start my analysis with Michael Egnew as the first tight end that has a decent possibility of being drafted by the Steelers. I assume this because I really don’t imagine them using anything higher than a 5th rounder on this position, and this would involve serious drop off on the part of some tight ends.
|Name||40 yd||Rk||Bench||Rk||Vert||Rk||Broad||Rk||Cone||Rk||Avg Rk|
One player that really impressed me was Eric Hanna. This guy had a knock against him that he might not be fast enough for the NFL. He was a guy on the bubble and needed a big combine. He definitely delivered with the highest average rank of this group. He ran the fastest 40 time (4.49s), and had strong showings in the jumps and bench. He had an impressive cone time to boot. He may not be 6’6 like Coby Fleener but his 6’4 frame and leaping ability are more than ample. He will have to prove that he can be a great blocker. His bench score was low, but few tight ends do well on the bench. His speed for his size reminds of a Fred Davis / Vernon Davis type (I should put the disclaimer that Vernon Davis’ combine was unreal and will likely never be repeated). Consider though that Fred Davis was a 2nd round pick yet his 40 time was 4.79. The root of this is that receiving experience and success in college is what separates the early round tight ends from the late.
Receiving tight ends that the Steelers may like in the later rounds are limited. If the Steelers want a player who can replace Saunders, Egnew is extremely similar to him. If they are serious about drafting a receiving tight end, it will likely either be Egnew or Hanna in the 5th round (if they make it there). Chase Ford will be a later round receiving option with average speed, good size but poor blocking.
George Bryan is a player that could very well be drafted by the Steelers. He has good size (6’5) and showed some good receiving ability at the East/West Shrine practices. He is considered one of the more polished blockers in this class. Corey Harkey is considered a blocking tight end, but did not do well on the bench and had an abysmal 40 at the combine. If they want a blocking tight end, they would likely grab David Paulson. He also had a slow 40 time but was much stronger. Kevin Koger from Michigan is a big unknown because of the style of offense Michigan ran but he could be a good project.
H-back is the term for a Fullback/tight end hybrid player. It is easy to look at a big guy who doesn’t have elite speed or hands and say he could be an H-back. However these types of players will need to have shown stronger than average run blocking ability. Deangelo Peterson is a great example of a college tight end that ran a slow 40 time and is now considered an H-back. But he also didn’t display the necessary strength to show he has the building blocks to be a good blocker. Evan Rodriguez fits this bill, but Drake Dunsmore is very similar, had a better combine and may be available in a later round. Igwenagu is small and had a slow 40 time so he likely won’t be considered too heavily.
There are a few players not on this list that are interesting and may be late 7th round picks or invited to the Steelers camp as undrafted free agents. Josh Chichester is a 6’8 giant that would intrigue any team. He is light at 240 but if he added some muscle could be a beast in the NFL. Rhett Ellison is considered an H-back and is 6’5. That combination could be attractive to the Steelers if he is available late.
I did some investigating into later round tight end draftees in the past few seasons. Mike Hoomanawanui was a 5th round pick (1st pick of the 5th) and fits a role well for St Louis. James Casey had a few splash plays on highlight reels and was also a 5th rounder (16th). Jacob Tamme was a late 4th (28th) and Kellen Davis who was going to visit the Steelers was a 5th (23rd). In 2007; Kevin Boss, Dante Rosario and Brent Celek all went in the 5th round. In 2005 Bo Scaife and Joel Dreesen were 6th rounders.
No late round tight ends have become star receivers, and outside of 2007, few are even receiving threats. However, several of these players are important roster contributors. The lesson of this analysis is that the 5th may be too late to take a tight end that may be called upon as a receiver. Also consider Antonio Gates who is a great example of an undrafted tight end who became a star. He does have a unique story and went undrafted because of his dedication to basketball.
Only time will tell if the Steelers select a tight end in this draft. There are some options that could do well as Steelers but each comes with many question marks. One thing for certain is that Tomlin doesn’t mind giving young tight ends field time. Combine that with the fact Saunders is suspended for 4 games and Johnson hasn’t impressed and it’s possible that one of these players will be moving the chains for the Steelers in 2012.