Orson Charles goes downfield against Coastal Carolina. (AP)
With the 2011 NFL season in the books, it's time to turn our eyes to the pre-draft evaluation process. Right up to the 2012 NFL Draft, we'll be taking a closer look at the 50 prospects who may be the biggest NFL difference-makers when all is said and done.
We continue this year's series with Georgia tight end Orson Charles, whose college career got off to an inauspicious start. While touring University of Florida's trophy room during a recruiting visit, he bumped into Florida's 2006 National Championship Trophy while taking a picture of Tim Tebow's Hesiman trophy. A split-second later, the $35,000 crystal trophy was shattered. "The crystal ball looked like it was going to the ground in slow motion," said Robert Weiner, Charles' high school coach and an eyewitness. "It hit with a pretty good thud and exploded into a million pieces. It was a surreal scene."
Perhaps not surprisingly, Charles elected not to commit to Florida. At Georgia, he was reunited with Aaron Murray, his high school quarterback. Charles caught 94 passes for 1,370 yards and 13 touchdowns in three seasons before renouncing his senior season of eligibility. He was a first-team All-American and a finalist for the John Mackey Award.
Charles has a sculpted physique reminiscent of San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, and he was a team captain and an offensive focal point in his final college season. As for the Florida trophy, it was insured, and NFL teams have nothing to fear: the Lombardi is shatterproof.
Pros: Charles is a real tight end. He is not a spread-offense slot receiver who happens to be an inch taller and 20 pounds heavier than the other receivers. In Georgia's pro-style offense, he did tight end things, like lining up next to the right tackle and run blocking. He also motioned across the formation and lined up in the slot at times. His versatility and experience as a natural tight end will allow him to make a smooth transition to the NFL.
Charles releases from the line quickly and does not get tied up with linebackers when starting his routes: a major asset for a traditional tight end. He has enough speed to challenge the secondary on seam routes and was also effective on corner routes, bending away from safeties and catching passes along the sideline. He knows how to throttle down when running crossing routes and can find soft spots in zones. Charles has enough open-field running ability to turn upfield and generate yards after the catch, though he is not exceptionally powerful or nifty.
As a run blocker, Charles usually delivers a good pop, and he was often seen driving his defender back at the end of the play. Charles was sometimes used as a pass blocker, and he sets quickly and keeps his feet active in pass protection.
Charles has been a weight-room rat since his high school days and keeps himself in excellent condition. He received high marks for character throughout his Georgia career, despite some recent run-ins with the law.
Cons: Charles sometimes lunges when run blocking, either missing his target or getting tossed aside because his center of mass gets too far forward. Some defensive ends can beat him with pure size, and Charles has difficulty sealing the edge against bigger defenders. It is not unusual to see him deliver a fine initial blow, then lose control of his defender.
Charles does not have elite hands, and he also had some "concentration drops" on short passes. While he has sound athleticism and receiving skills, he is not an elite athlete in the Vernon Davis/Jermichael Finley class. Opponents are not going to have to gameplan to stop him.
Charles was arrested in March for driving under the influence.
Conclusion: Charles is a traditional West Coast Offense type of tight end, but his draft status may be hurt by the fact that a higher percentage of teams no longer covet that kind of player. Many are looking for a Finley-Davis type of deep threat from the slot, while a few teams like the Giants prefer 270-pound, thumping blockers. Charles falls somewhere inbetween, and he fits best in a system like that the Houston Texans or the Carolina Panthers, where he can block in-line and threaten the deep middle of the field. Charles is no 70-catch threat, but he can be a versatile starter who delivers 40-50 receptions and contributes to the ground game.
NFL Comparison: Owen Daniels, Houston Texans.