John Carlson of Notre Dame caught the attention of NFL scouts by averaging 13.5 yards on 47 receptions last season despite missing the final two games of the regular season with a knee injury. That injury ultimately led to his decision to return to South Bend as a senior, though improving on last year's production will be a difficult task; quarterback Brady Quinn and wide receivers Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight have moved on. If Carlson can stay healthy and improve his power as a blocker, though, he could be the first tight end off the board in 2008.
Two of Carlson's top competitors for that honor, Missouri's Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman, form the nation's most prolific tight end tandem. The pair combined for 111 receptions, 1,149 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. Coffman is a junior and the better pro prospect of the two. It will be interesting to see whether he leaves school early to take advantage of a relatively weak senior class or returns for a senior season in which he would not have to share the spotlight with Rucker.
Travis Beckum of Wisconsin is the other early-entry prospect with tremendous upside. Beckum has proven he has the speed to stretch the field vertically and is looking to build upon the team-high 61 receptions he put up as a sophomore.