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NFL Combine Observations: Tight Ends

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FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) - With all the spread offenses in high school and college football, it probably should come as no surprise that there seems to be a great shortage of quality tight ends at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine, or perhaps this year is just an aberration.

New England’s great success with the two-tight end tandem of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez last season has certainly prompted other teams to seek traditional in-line tight ends as well as big slot receivers and H-Back types to use in the passing game.

I believe that Jason Garrett had every intention to use Martellus Bennett as a second receiving tight end threat alongside Jason Witten when the Cowboys drafted Bennett in the second round in 2008.

However, Bennett’s receiving skills never developed.

So, here we are four years later. Bennett is an unrestricted free agent, and the Cowboys are left with Witten and 2009 6th round pick John Phillips as the only tight ends on the roster.

Dallas definitely needs to replace Bennett, but they may have to do it in free agency rather than in the draft just judging by what I observed during the tight end workouts at the combine on Saturday.  Some observations:

James Hanna – Oklahoma – 6-4, 252:  No one made more money on Saturday than this Flower Mound High School product.  While most expected Hanna to run in the 4.8 range in the 40, he posted a scorching 4.49, the 4th fastest time by a TE prospect at the combine since 2000.  Those who were surprised by this obviously didn’t see Hanna score the game clinching TD against Oklahoma State in 2010 on an 80 yard pass where he ran away from the OSU secondary.  Hanna probably improved from a possible 6th or 7th round pick to at least a 4th, maybe a 3rd now.  I’ve always liked him and thought he was under-utilized by OU coaches in the passing game.  However, after seeing him in drills, he was inconsistent catching the football….looked smooth in the straight line gauntlet drill, not so much at other times.  Hanna is definitely a player the Cowboys should consider if they still have a TE need come draft day.  One remarkable aspect to his 40 time is the fact that Hanna is probably 10 pounds heavier than his playing weight at OU, and yet he has maintained, if not improved, his speed….really looks sculpted….a testament to his work ethic…24 bench reps not bad either.

Dwayne Allen – Clemson – 6-3, 255:  No one lost more money on Saturday… he was the #1 rated TE on many analysts’ lists, with a heavy emphasis on the word “was”….a brutal 40 time (4.89) will surely cost Allen tons of money.  He was projected as perhaps a late 1st round draft pick but now, unless he clocks in the 4.75 range at his Pro Day, Allen’s stock may have plummeted to the 3rd round at best.  Allen won the Mackey Award as the top college tight end in the nation.  I really like his receiving skills.  He looks very polished whether coming off the line of scrimmage or out of the backfield as an H-Back, but the 4.89 40 time will give plenty of team’s pause.  I liked Allen so much prior to the combine that I had the Cowboys actually picking him in the 2nd round in my latest Cowboys mock draft.  Not anymore.

Orson Charles – Georgia – 6-2 ½, 251:  Charles elected not to run the 40 at the combine, a decision Dwayne Allen wishes he had made.  That decision by Charles to wait until his pro day to run will not set well with a lot of NFL scouts and coaches.  However, Charles may have made up for it with the way he performed in drills.  I like his athleticism and love his strength….35 bench press reps (Martellus Bennett had 18 in his combine workout; Jason Witten 25, John Phillips 20).  I also like his gregarious nature during drills.  He looks like he’d be a good teammate, one who keeps things loose during the long season and has an air of confidence about him that might be infectious.  Like with Allen (33 inch arms), Charles does not have the height or long arms (32 ½ inches) you usually look for in a tight end.  Charles probably would best be used off the line of scrimmage, in the slot or as an H-Back, something the Cowboys like to do with their tight ends….have to see more but if the Cowboys take care of other needs in free agency, I wouldn’t be opposed to taking Charles in the 2nd round.

Coby Fleener – Stanford – 6-6, 247:  unable to work out due to a minor foot injury.  He did 27 bench reps of 225 pounds, same as Dwayne Allen and 8 fewer than Charles’ 35….very intrigued by this player…averaged 20 yards a reception and had 10 TD catches from Andrew Luck in 2011 (18 in his career)….he’s the only other TE in this draft that would merit 2nd round consideration….one of the very few with the height the Cowboys usually like…probably will be able to put on another 10-15 pounds and be a mirror image of Witten (6-6, 265).

Ladarius Green – La-Lafayette – 6-6, 238:  very productive in college (149 receptions, 22 TDs) but also very lanky…good speed (4.53)…a raw prospect who’s more an oversized wide receiver than a tight end.

Michael Egnew – Missouri – 6-5, 252:  appears to be another one of those highly productive Mizzou tight ends whose game won’t transfer to the NFL…unimpressive workout…ran the gauntlet slow…I’ll pass.

Cory Harkey – UCLA – 6-4, 260:  Please!  Picture Robert Brewster at tight end.

Intrigued a little bit by Northwestern’s Drake Dunsmore (6-3m 241) and Oregon’s  David Paulson (6-3, 246) but only as 7th rounders or priority free agents.

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