A conference-by-conference look at the top senior NFL tight end prospects.
Joey Haynos, Maryland – A former walk-on who has turned himself into a bona fide NFL prospect thanks to his size, improved receiving skills and ability to get off the line and into his blocks. Haynos is a self-made player who has just seven catches for 64 yards, but provides a huge target at over 6-foot-7, 260 pounds. Scouts like that he is a hard worker who has steadily improved over each of the past two years. He should continue to get stronger, but his overall upside potential is average at best.
Marcus Stone, N.C. State – Stone was originally a highly recruited quarterback prospect who played his first few years at that position before converting to tight end last season. He does not have great height, but is a solid athlete who has shown positive results as a receiver and could develop into a quality H-Back type.
Darrell Strong, Pittsburgh – Of all the prospects at this position that I graded outside of the top 5, this is the one guy who could make the biggest leap. Strong has very good speed and athleticism for his size, but has found a way to get into the coaches' or team's doghouse on more than one occasion. He leads the team in receiving with 14 catches for 180 yards despite the fact the team has used three different quarterbacks over the first five games. His body type, long dreads and athletic frame will remind you of Vernon Davis, so while he might not run 4.4's like Davis, he has the skill set to run in the 4.6's at 265 pounds.
Gary Barnidge, Louisville – He has raised his level of play to the point where he could now be considered as a possible mid-to-late round prospect. Barnidge has scored touchdowns in three of five games this season and showcased his ability to get downfield against Middle Tennessee State. His frame (235 pounds) will allow him to bulk up over time. He can find the open hole in zone coverage and can outrun most linebackers in 1-on-1 situations.
Dustin Keller, Purdue – Keller continues to be one of the most productive tight ends in the country. He is among the Big Ten leaders with 20 catches for 319 yards and five touchdowns. He lacks great size in terms of being a firm blocker at the line of scrimmage, but can get the job done if asked to get off the ball and block downfield. His ability to get downfield works very well for today's NFL game.
Kellen Davis, Michigan State – Davis looks the part, caught seven touchdowns as a junior and has a ton of natural ability. But there have been times when he looked completely out of place and made poor decisions. He was suspended for violating team rules last year. Davis seems back on track this season, but scouts will want to interview him in the postseason.
Martin Rucker, Missouri – One of the most productive players at his position, Rucker has taken full advantage of his decision to come back for his last year of eligibility. He has 29 catches for 330 yards and a touchdown. A well-built, tough-to-take-down receiver with good, but not great speed, he is the younger brother of former NFL All-Pro defensive end Michael Rucker. He lacks the swiftness of a Kellen Winslow, Jr., but has enough skills to be a starter at the next level.
Joe Jon Finley, Oklahoma – A big kid who can play physical at times, but is by no means a finished product. Finley can catch the short to intermediate routes, but lacks enough foot speed to be considered a primary-type target at the next level. At 6-6, 260 pounds, he has the tools to further develop, but does not have much in terms of upside potential.
Derek Fine, Kansas – Fine has good size, while showing improvement as a receiver. He is coming off the best game of his season, recording seven catches for 70 yards against Florida International. Has good hands, but lacks great speed, so he is seen as more of a role player who could become a solid No. 2 or No. 3 tight end at the next level.
Craig Stevens, California – A very interesting athlete who can be as good of a blocker as receiver. He did not record a catch against Tennessee, but played a solid game. Stevens runs very well for his size (255 pounds) and would be more of a weapon in an offense that did not have players like DeSean Jackson and Justin Forsett.
Fred Davis, USC – A good-looking athlete and pass catcher who has worked to become a better blocker. Davis is a downfield threat who runs well for his size and has become a focal point of the offense. He is averaging more than 15 yards per catch and has 13 catches for 196 yards and two scores over the past two weeks.
Brad Cottam, Tennessee – A left wrist injury has kept Cottam out. He has ideal size (6-7, 270 pounds), runs very well and was a proven pass catcher before the injury. His longer-than-expected rehab process has made some Volunteers insiders believe that he might request a sixth year of eligibility rather than play just one or two games. He has used his redshirt season, so the chances are slim that the NCAA would provide him with another year.
Jacob Tamme, Kentucky – Tamme will be considered as more of an H-Back or motion tight end for the NFL as he lacks the pure bulk/strength to block most opposing defensive ends. But he runs good routes, shows soft hands and has been a reliable weapon for the Wildcats' offense.
John Carlson, Notre Dame – Carlson was among the top prospects a year ago, but opted to return after suffering a right knee injury toward the end of the season. He seems to have lost a step as a receiver, plus the inconsistent play of the team's quarterbacks has him with just 12 catches for 93 yards. Scouts were already split on whether he was more than a solid backup for the next level and this season is not helping his draft status.
Adam Bishop, Nevada – Bishop has eight catches for 153 yards and five touchdowns. He split time as a junior with Anthony Pudewell, who was signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Bishop has good, but not great size (6-5, 245), but has room to develop more strength as a blocker, especially if he keeps showing big-play potential as a receiver. He has had some injury issues. Bishop can deep snap.
Kris Kasparek, Akron – Kasparek has excellent size, shows good ability as a blocker and continues to show improvement as a receiver. He is drawing attention in a conference that is producing a steady flow of NFL prospects. His ability to catch the ball in traffic and defeat opposing defenders off the snap on run blocks should help him see a rise in his final grade.
Chris Hopkins, Toledo – A top receiving threat over the past two years, he is on pace to earn All-MAC honors for the third straight season. Hopkins has very good size (6-4, 255) and has shown the ability to break tackles after the catch. He has improved as a blocker, but is not as strong as you would like to see.
Sean O'Drobinak, Bowling Green – A former tight end who has converted to defensive tackle the past two years. O'Drobinak will likely be evaluated as a blocking tight end. He has average size for an interior defender (6-4, 270), so he will have the best chance to impress if converted back to the offensive side of the ball.
Mike Peterson, NW Missouri State – An interesting athlete who could be converted to either fullback or H-Back since he is undersized (6-2, 245). He runs well (4.55) and has shown the ability to get downfield as a receiver and make big plays. Peterson is a smart, hard-working, determined athlete. His athleticism and versatility will make him a quick favorite of coaches in the postseason.
Kolo Kapanui, West Texas A&M – The Hawaiian native was originally recruited to USC. He has become a dangerous weapon, especially after the catch thanks to his nearly 6-4, 270-pound frame. Scouts say that he has the tools to contend for a spot at the next level, but needs to keep his weight under control and prove more durable. He has scored four times on just 11 catches.
Drew Atchison, William & Mary – A terrific athlete for his size, he has become a downfield threat with big-play ability. Atchison is averaging more than 17 yards per catch and has a pair of 100-yard games. He runs in the 4.70 to 4.75 range at 6-5, 248 pounds. He could be invited to next year’s NFL Combine.
Joseph Tuineau, SE Missouri State – A former New Zealand rugby and basketball player with ideal physical size (6-6, 272) and speed. Tuineau has not played the game long. He was born in Fiji before moving with his family to New Zealand. Has flashed promise as a receiving threat and runs fairly well. He can be a little upright in some of his routes and blocking assignments, but overall is a good long-term project.
Chris Wagner, South Dakota State – A pretty good-looking athlete, especially in terms of his skills as a receiver. The former two-sport star (basketball) has refined his game over the past year and a half, but still needs to get stronger. He does enough things well to earn a free-agent shot, especially if the 6-4, 250-pounder can improve his workout numbers in the postseason.