2012 Draft

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.

FIRST OVERALL TIGHT ENDS DRAFTED CAREER STATS ROOKIE SEASON STATS 2ND SEASON STATS
YEAR RND # PICK # TEAM PLAYER REC YDS YPR TDS REC YDS YPR TDS REC YDS YPR TDS
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.

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