First Overall Drafted Tight End Success Dating Back To 1990

Chris DiMarino and Cian Fahey have done a great job recently in justifying the notion that the Pittsburgh Steelers could possibly draft Stanford tight end Coby Fleener in the first round of the upcoming draft. While it is anything but a lock right now to take place, it certainly is a possibility when you factor in how General Manager Kevin Colbert likes to draft. Fleener is head and shoulders the best tight end in this draft class in my opinion and the Steelers could certainly use another legitimate threat in the passing game.

While Heath Miller is far from done, he will turn 30 years of age in October and the Steelers simply do not have a clear number two on the roster right now. While Weslye Saunders has plenty of potential, he will miss the first four games of the 2012 season due to his suspension. The only other options the Steelers currently have are h-backs in the form of David Johnson, Jamie McCoy and Will Johnson.

In this post I wanted to look at the first tight ends taken in drafts since 1990 to see how they have all performed. The table below shows their career stats as well as their first and second year stats.

2011 2 43 Vikings Kyle Rudolph 26 249 9.6 3 26 249 9.6 3 N/A N/A N/A N/A
2010 1 21 Bengals Jermaine Gresham 108 1067 9.9 10 52 471 9.1 4 56 596 10.6 6
2009 1 20 Lions Brandon Pettigrew 184 1845 10 11 30 346 11.5 2 71 722 10.2 4
2008 1 30 Jets Dustin Keller 213 2559 12 15 48 535 11.1 3 45 522 11.6 2
2007 1 31 Bears Greg Olsen 239 2521 10.5 25 39 391 10 2 54 574 10.6 5
2006 1 6 49ers Vernon Davis 304 3803 12.5 35 20 265 13.3 3 52 509 9.8 4
2005 1 30 Steelers Heath Miller 337 3864 11.5 31 39 459 11.8 6 34 393 11.6 5
2004 1 6 Browns Kellen Winslow 437 4836 11.1 23 5 50 10 0 N/A N/A N/A N/A
2003 1 24 Colts Dallas Clark 427 4887 11.4 46 29 340 11.7 1 25 423 16.9 5
2002 1 14 Giants Jeremy Shockey 547 6143 11.2 37 74 894 12.1 2 48 535 11.1 2
2001 1 31 Ravens Todd Heap 491 5775 11.8 42 16 206 12.9 1 68 836 12.3 6
2000 1 14 Packers Bubba Franks 262 2347 9 32 34 363 10.7 1 36 322 8.9 9
1999 2 42 Falcons Reggie Kelly 195 1767 9.1 5 8 146 18.3 0 31 340 11 2
1998 2 40 Saints Cameron Cleeland 131 1478 11.3 13 54 684 12.7 6 26 325 12.5 1
1997 1 13 Chiefs Tony Gonzalez 1149 13338 11.6 95 33 368 11.2 2 59 621 10.5 2
1996 1 9 Raiders Rickey Dudley 221 3024 13.7 33 34 386 11.4 4 48 787 16.4 7
1995 1 9 Jets Kyle Brady 343 3519 10.3 25 26 252 9.7 2 15 144 9.6 1
1994 2 61 Bills Lonnie Johnson 163 1587 9.7 6 3 42 14 0 49 504 10.3 1
1993 1 20 Saints Irv Smith 183 1788 9.8 15 16 180 11.3 2 41 330 8 3
1992 1 14 Giants Derek Brown 43 401 9.3 1 4 31 7.8 0 7 56 8 0
1991 2 30 Broncos Reggie Johnson 66 791 12 6 6 73 12.2 1 10 139 13.9 1
1990 1 21 Steelers Eric Green 362 4390 12.1 36 34 387 11.4 7 41 582 14.2 6

Going back to 1990 might be a little over the top in this post as the game has changed tremendously since that time, as have the tight ends. The last several years we have seen the athletic tights ends like Vernon Davis, Greg Olsen, Dustin Keller, Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham transcend the position. Is it the new rage? You\’re damn right it is.

Over the last 22 years there has been at least one tight drafted in the first round of the draft. 2011 was the first time in since 199 that one wasn\’t taken in round one and that likely was because the class did not offer up much in the form of an elite prospect.

Kyle Rudolph, who was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings 43rd overall, still managed to grab 26 receptions for 249 yards and 3 touchdowns in an offense that saw them slowly transition to rookie quarterback Christian Ponder. The Vikings only had one player catch more than 38 passes in 2012 and that of course was wide receiver Percy Harvin.

Jermaine Gresham was the first tight end drafted in 2010 by the Cincinnati Bengals and he certainly looks to be a keeper for them. He caught 52 passes in his rookie season and 58 in his second. If he stays healthy, he should have a prosperous career in front of him.

Dating back to just 2000, it is hard to find a tight end on this list that you would consider a miss. Kellen Winslow Jr. had the lowest output of the bunch as far as rookie seasons go, but that was because he suffered a broken right fibula in the second game of his rookie year. Winslow also missed his second season because of his infamous motorcycle shenanigans that resulted in a torn ACL.

Todd Heap had the second lowest output in a rookie season dating back 2000 as he registered just 16 catches for 206 yards as he was playing behind Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe that season. Sharpe left via free agency the next season and Heap more than filled his shoes with 68 catches for 836 yards to go along with 6 touchdowns.

When you look at the second year for each of these tight ends dating back to 2000 and throw out Winslow, the average production was 49 receptions for 543 yards and almost 5 touchdowns. How is that for a strong track record?

Basically to sum it all up, Fleener will probably be the safest value pick on the board at 24 when the Steelers pick and while it is not an extreme need, it is a peripheral one. Some will argue that he is a liability in the blocking department and while I agree he is no Miller, he does show the willingness and has shown he can set the edge a time or two. He also has the potential to improve in that area.

Fleener could start week one in the new Todd Haley offense and the ways he could be used are pretty limitless. He can line up on the end, in the slot or even out wide.

Chime in below.

  • I like Fleener a lot. He and Ben would make a great duo. Fleener has great speed in the open and is a great big red zone target. No doubt in my mind that the team would be settling for fewer field goals with a guy like him for Big Ben to throw to. The more and more I think about the Steelers taking Fleener, the more and more I think they should do it if he’s available and Cordy Glenn or Dont’a Hightower are not.

  • Plus the Cheatriots have gotten kind of ahead of the game in having a couple great targets at the tight end position in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The idea of having Fleener, who has legit 4.45 speed team up with Heath Miller is a very enticing one to me.

  • tony hipchest

    Matt Spaeth was the 2nd TE selected behind Greg Olsen in the 2007 draft. Unlike Arians, I’d like to see if Haley properly utilizes a 2 TE set before we spend a pick that high. I’d also like to see miller used more in the passing game. Sure he is a great blocker, but Ben was still one of the most sacked QB’s in the league and our running game was average at its best.

  • Grw1960

    Personally I don’t see it as a possibility.But I don’t know what Haley’s plans are for the Steelers offense.
    If Haley wants a Te mainly as a receiver than Fleeners your guy.
    But if you want a TE who can block, I would go with the # 2 guy Allen.

  • Although some team may reach for Fleener in the first round, he’s not first round talent. As far as the Steelers making a move for Fleener in the first round, I don’t see it. Fleener is not a Rob Gronkowski/Heath Miller/Jason Witten type TE, who are all guys who are excellent blockers, who happen to also be solid receivers.

  • Joe D

    I think your off on this one!!!
    As much as I respect your opinion Dave… I would bet my house Steelers don’t draft a TE!!
    Now, if this were 2013 or 2014 draft… perhaps.. But not 2012.


    At first glance, I would never have thought that no team used their first pick on a TE more than the Steelers. The way our TEs have been utilized leaves them in relative obscurity. I was initially repulsed by the thought of drafting Gleener when the talk started about a month ago, but he probably is the safest pick if Martin and Glen are not available. Still unsure on Hightower’s coverage abilities. Alabama tended to use him as a pass rusher on 3rd downs.

  • TrueSteelerForLife

    I would hate picking Fleener at 24. Heath Miller is already underused as a receiving threat and in my opinion Heath still has quite a few good years left. Depending on the players available I would rather pick Barron or another player at a less dire position of need at 24

  • Bleebo77

    I’ve definitely come around on Fleener and would be excited to see him as the pick at 1.24. I suppose it’s easy to let imaginations go a little wild this time of year about impact, but it does seem like he’d immediately add a lot to the offensive and be able to be on the field in week one. Also, I’ve commented elsewhere that Fleener might be a 2-for-1 value in the sense that he’s a TE who might relieve the Steelers’ need to draft or bring in an additional WR. I could see them taking Fleener, drafting a WR in the mid-to-late rounds, signing Cotchery or another value veteran, and letting Wes Lyons and others fight it out for the #5 WR.

    Dave, do you think they’d carry fewer WRs if they add Fleener? Might open up a roster spot elsewhere.

    All this said, I’m still quite worried about the OL, and only the Steelers know if they like what they see in Martin or Adams if they’re available at 1.24. They can obviously get guard help in later rounds, but there won’t be quality at OT, and I’m nervous about Gilbert, Colon and Scott as week one OTs.

  • Bleebo77

    P.S. Part of me hates to pass on Hightower if he’s there, but it seems like there’s value at ILB in later rounds (i.e., JMJ). With TE and OT, it seems a lot less likely you’ll get a game-changer later on. The Steelers are better than any team in the league at not missing on 1st round players, probably in part b/c they draft BPA. Will that be Fleener? His grade varies depending on who you’re reading. We’ll see…

  • Clintmartin

    There are to many other needs and better ranked players on the board before him. If they would move up in the second if he is still there giving up more draft picks. I think they don’t NEED this position at the present time.Wes lyons is 6’8″ and listed now at Tight end.

  • Ryan B.

    When we retain Wallace, he will be getting double-teamed as usual, and the defense will keep an extra eye out on Brown too after his break-out season, the middle of the field is open almost every play. Remember the Pats game?? Fleener and Miller could have great games!
    He could at least somewhat help seal the edge in the run game and help out our tackles. And I just can’t ignore that 4.45 speed.. He is a great talent at 1.24, and it will be difficult if Hightower, Glenn, Adams, and other decent O-Line prospects are there. If I had to choose, I think you can’t miss with Fleener. I think that there will be no real O-Line prospect at 1.24, and Colbert does not like to reach for players that are out of that round talent wise. There is decent prospects at O-Line and D-Line in the 2nd-4th rounds. It will come between Fleener or Hightower in the 1st. Both could add solid depth, and you can’t miss with either really. But Fleener could contribute immediately on offense and special teams. And I would like to see the Steelers go after Manti Te’o from Notre Dame next year. He might be gone by the time he falls to the Steelers, but this guy might be worth trading up for.. This guy is a monster at ILB. But we will just have to see if the Steelers have Sylvester prepared or not for the starting job there this season. If they don’t believe that he will, then Hightower will get selected. Otherwise, I am completely sold on Coby Fleener!!

  • Derick

    ILB is bleak this year for the draft. So is TE but relying a later round ILB would be a mistake imo when a guy such as Hightower could be available.

  • Jprankster2005

    Could you imagine what our offense could do if we had Fleener and could score alot more because that would leave other reciver open also…… I think when u score alot of points u don’t have to have the best defense….. But we still can get good players to contribute in later rounds

  • Bleebo77

    Interesting… just watching some draft ranking video shorts on, and Tony Pauline lists Fleener as his #4 in his list of best WRs in the draft. He loves the mismatches Fleener creates.