By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff
The Patriots were fortunate to select two tight ends who could play and play very well last year in Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski because this year’s draft looks exceedingly weak. And that is even assuming the best player, Kyle Rudolph of Notre Dame, comes out after his Junior year. If he doesn’t, the class of tight ends gets even weaker. There are some decent players here, but a lot of second or third tight end types make the bottom of the top 10 list. Some are developmental projections, in other words they have been okay players so far but have talent to get better. The Patriots could be interested in a late round pick who is a project to develop as a third tight end, but that is likely all they’ll be looking for at this position. Lets look at my top 10 list.
1.) Kyle Rudolph (#9), Notre Dame: If you watched the exciting Notre Dame-Michigan game earlier this year, you saw Notre Dame complete a great comeback on a long pass to Rudolph down the seam (only to subsequently lose the lead again and the game in the final seconds). And that play typifies Rudolph, the most complete tight end in college football right now. Only a junior, its uncertain he’ll come out. But its clear the transition from Charlie Weis’ offense to Brian Kelly’s hasn’t hurt Rudolph as he is still putting up excellent receiving numbers. A big guy at 6’6″ 265, Rudolph is also fast and has soft hands. Weis made him a starter from the moment he showed up in South Bend as a freshman. Rudolph would surely be a first round pick if he came out and has already proven himself in college. With him going so high, its unlikely the Patriots will be involved. But you can watch his excellent all-around game tonight on NBC versus Stanford on NBC at 3:30 PM EST.
2.) Luke Stocker (#88), Tennessee: Stocker is an excellent tight end in his own right, but just a slender notch below Rudolph. While good in the passing game, he is probably a step slower and not as natural a catcher. But he is still very good in that aspect of the game and a plus blocker as well. A possible first round pick, Stocker will be a long-time NFL starter and perhaps one of the top ones in the league in time. Watch him do his thing next week, October 2nd, when Tennessee and Stocker visit LSU in Baton Rouge at 3:30 PM EST on CBS.
3.) Lance Kendricks (#84), Wisconsin: Kendricks is a smaller tight end who is an excellent receiver. He is coming off a huge week in which he nabbed 7 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown in Wisconsin’s 20-19 win versus Arizona State last Saturday. Kendricks is 6’4″ 241 and while not overly fast, he is quick, runs good routes and has superior hands. Kendricks should be a 2nd or 3rd round choice who is a good move tight end and can catch passes. With the drafting of Aaron Hernandez, its unlikely the Patriots will be looking for this.
4.) Weslye Saunders (#88), South Carolina (kicked off team): Saunders is an interesting case who could end up being a steal in next year’s draft due to the classic “character questions” issue. On the field, Saunders is a massive 6’5″ 270 blocker who rivals an extra tackle on the field. While not a speedster, in the passing game he displays good hands, physicality and is a real chore to bring down with the ball. He is good around the end zone. Last year he caught 32 passes for 353 yards and 3 touchdowns. However, this year various questions arose regarding Saunders that led them to first suspend him, then remove him from the team altogether in recent weeks. The allegations include inappropriate dealings with a sports agent, improper receipt of benefits and attendance at parties outside of team rules. While nothing too serious seems to be included, the end result leaves one with the question whether Saunders cares more about himself than following rules and his team. Assuming he doesn’t transfer and play a final year elsewhere, he’ll face important questions in the interview segment of the Combine. He could slip below where he is warranted to go in the draft and as a similar player to the Patriots Alge Crumpler (who is aging), its possible they see him as too much value further down the draft and have interest.
5.) Schuyler Oordt (#87), Northern Iowa: Oordt is a small school tight end with excellent size (6’7″ 250) who has displayed great athleticism, hands and blocking combination versus a lower level of competition. This is a projection pick as he shows the ability to be an all-around tight end who can play in-line and one the move and who helps in both the passing and running game. When he gets the ball, he shows good power, speed, acceleration quickness and ball protection. He’ll get a chance to play against better competition in post-season all-star games, but also at the combine and that could send him soaring up the draft charts.
6.) Charlie Gantt (#83), Michigan State: Gantt is a big tight end who caught the winning touchdown last week versus Notre Dame in overtime. He has shown excellent ball skills and has the size to be an effective blocker. He is not a great athlete, but knows how to produce at the college level. He is not particularly fast and will be unlikely to be the pass catcher in the NFL that he is in college, but he is a solid player who’ll find a role as a tight end who can do multiple things in solid, if not spectacular fashion. Watch Gantt dominate the college level when Michigan State faces off versus Northwestern on October 23 at Noon on ESPN or ESPN2.
7.) D.J. Williams (#45), Arkansas: Some observers have Williams rated higher. To be sure, he puts up excellent receiving numbers for a tight end. But there are a couple issues I have with him. First, he plays in a bit of a funky offense. They feature him a lot, but there isn’t currently a real similar offense in the NFL. He’s a bit short and his speed is not terrific. His blocking average. What he has are great hands and a solid ability to haul the ball in on the move. Obviously he’s been productive in the NFL. I think he can play as a move tight end and pass catcher, h-back type. But I don’t see him as an all-around in-line tight end who can help in the running game. Watch Williams today against excellent competition as Arkansas takes on Alabama on CBS at
8.) Konrad Reuland (#88), Stanford: Reuland is a talented guy just getting regular reps this year as the main tight end with Stanford. So far, so good. He’s been productive this year. He has the tools and frame at 6’6″ 257. Last year he averaged 23.7 yards on 6 catches. This year he’s starting and catching more balls. This is somewhat of a projection pick, but Reuland is talented and could be a good all-around tight end. He may be the type the Patriots like, smart, still evolving, big and talented and good in lots of areas as a late round project. Reuland originally started out with Notre Dame under Charlie Weis but transferred to Stanford. So he has experience in the Patriots offense. You can do a little tight end scouting by watching Rudolph and Reuland today at 3:30 on NBC as Stanford takes on Notre Dame.
9.) Joe Torchia (#83), Virginia: Torchia is another big tight end at 6’6″ 260 who is an excellent blocker and a hard-working, blue collar type player. He became a starter as a Junior and caught 15 balls. He is looking to become more involved in the passing game this year, but is already a very good blocker. Late round type who will help any team with hard work, solid play as an extra tight end and some special teams ability.
10.) Zack Pianalto (#17), North Carolina: A averaged sized tight end who makes good plays in the passing game, albeit rarely downfield. He doesn’t have the speed to stretch a defense, but has good hands and can position himself to make short catches, particularly near the endzone. Hard worker and leader type who gives it his all as a blocker. Not particularly talented or athletic, but works at it and can make a 53-man roster or perhaps even be a decent 2nd tight end with further work. Does everything decently, nothing great, other than work hard. Perhaps could bulk up a bit more. Second day draft pick type. Watch him in action today versus Rutgers at 3:30 PM EST on ESPNU.