Pasquarelli: TE ratings
Pasquarelli: Redemption song
Pasquarelli: Passing fancy
Pasquarelli: QB ratings
Pasquarelli: Duckett picks up the pace
Pasquarelli: RB ratings
Pasquarelli: Buyer beware
Pasquarelli: WR ratings
PFW: Mock draft
PFW: Top 100 prospects
Tuesday, April 9, 2002
Tight ends turn to hoops
By Len Pasquarelli
During the NCAA basketball tournament, coaches and general managers
attending the annual NFL meetings in Orlando, Fla., typically stopped by the
media work room several times daily to watch some of the action or at least
catch up on scores.
Fretting about how their brackets were holding up in the office pool?
Probably not. Checking out the status of the ol' alma mater? No way. Looking
longingly at some of the top power forwards, like Sam Clancy Jr. of Southern
California, and dreaming about how he might look lined up as an NFL tight
end? You betcha.
The tight end position continues to be one of the most difficult to fill
because prospects who have the amalgam of athletic skills required to play
the hybrid position are opting to shoot a basketball rather than latch onto
a football. Instead of using their chiseled frames to seal the linebacker on
a strongside toss play, or their soft hands to pull in a pass on a 10-yard
"drag" route in the middle of the field, prospects are using those tools to rip down rebounds or sink jump-hooks.
The result is a talent drain at a position that combines the blocking skills
of a lineman, the pass-catching ability of a tight end and, yeah, the
overall athleticism of a power forward. So while the NFL's 32 teams send
scouts to far-flung football hinterlands any time so much as a rumor crops
up about a viable tight end prospect, the answer to the dearth of players at
the position actually is as close as the nearest basketball court.
"There are a lot of guys playing (basketball) who could have been prime
tight end prospects for us had they chosen football instead," said Baltimore
vice president of personnel Ozzie Newsome, a Hall of Fame tight end. "You
watch the (NCAA) tournament and almost every team has some player who makes
you think, 'Oh, man, if only that guy was wearing cleats instead of
sneakers.' Nobody has to tell us where all the tight end prospects have
gone. They're playing basketball."
Ten or 20 years ago, teams would take undersized offensive linemen or
oversized wide receivers, and convert them to tight end to fill their needs.
Now they ought to start recruiting prospects from the hard wood.
In fact, of the top 10 tight end prospects on the draft boards of most NFL
teams right now, seven played basketball in high school. At least three were
good enough to have played basketball at the college level. "Had I stuck
with hoops," said Jerramy Stevens of the University of Washington, "I think
I could have played in the NBA."
It is not surprising that the NFL's premier tight end, Tony Gonzalez of
Kansas City, was a part-time starter at power forward while at the
University of California. The two positions share many physical
prerequisites - the combination of functional strength, movements skills,
explosiveness over a relatively short area, and brute strength - and there
simply aren't many people in a general population to possess those skills.
So in lieu of tight ends, NFL teams have been forced to redesign passing
games to use a fullback more as a receiver.
"I think what you maybe need is for a lot of these guys playing basketball
to realize they aren't going to develop into an NBA-caliber player, and that
there might be another place for them to channel their skills," said
Gonzalez, who still harbors pro basketball aspirations. "I watch games all
the time where I see power forwards who have obvious tight end skills."
Len Pasquarelli is an ESPN.com senior writer.
||There are a lot of guys playing (basketball) who could have been prime tight end prospects for us had they chosen football . You watch the (NCAA) tournament and almost every team has some player who makes you think, 'Oh, man, if only that guy was wearing cleats instead of sneakers.' ”
||— Ozzie Newsome, Ravens vice president of personnel