The following is the third of 10 installments previewing the 2003 NFL draft class. Today, we feature the tight ends.
It would be the best tight ends class since 1995, had Jeremy Shockey stayed in school last year. But even with Shockey's move to the NFL last season, the current crop of tight ends in the 2003 NFL Draft is more than respectable.
Begin with Tennessee's Jason Witten and Iowa's Dallas Clark, both of whom are first-round hopefuls. Then move into an impressive list of first-day prospects that includes Michigan's Bennie Jopru, Auburn's Robert Johnson and Florida's Aaron Walker.
But let's get back to Witten and Clark, the cream of the tight ends crop.
Witten, 6-5, 264, invites comparison to Shockey. Witten is big and fast (4.75) and has very soft hands. He's not renown for has run-after-the-catch ability and is not a dominating in-line blocker, but he's also only 20 years old. He probably would benefit from another year at Tennessee, but his physical talents and huge upside will tempt someone to make Witten a low first-round pick, and first-round money makes leaving school the smart play.
Clark, 6-3, 257, could move into the first round with a team looking for a West Coast offense type of tight end. He's smallish for a team that wants to pound the ball, but he makes pass-happy offense's mouths water. Clark runs a 4.55 40, is athletic and makes the tough catch. He's a wide receiver in a tight end's body and it'll be awfully difficult for a team needing a tight end to pass on this Iowa product. The former walk-on has only played tight end for two seasons and shows oodles of upside potential.
Jopru, 6-4, 272, was the go-to guy in Michigan last season, where he caught 53 passes for 579 yards and five touchdowns. He's durable and steady and runs an impressive 4.8. Better yet, he's a great pair of hands that are coming out of one of the best in-line blocking units in college football. He needs to play professionally in the same kind of ball-control system.
Walker, 6-5, 252, is a definite upside guy. He was somewhat of an afterthought in the Florida offense, but he impressed scouts at the Senior Bowl and at the scouting combine with his good hands and 4.7 speed. Early in his career, he appears destined to be a situational tight end due to his sound blocking skills. When his receiving skills blossom, he could become a big-time player.
The remainder of the tight ends crop is represented by worthy risks. Arizona State's Mike Pinkard has 4.6 speed on a 6-5, 259 frame, but he's been unproductive. Spencer Nead is big enough but lead-footed and, of course, coming out of BYU, blocks no one. Mississippi State's Donald Lee has some size and some speed, but possibly not enough of either. Lee showed well in the East-West Shrine Game and at the scouting combine.
Other tight end prospects include John Smith of Rutgers, Vishante Shiancoe of Morgan State, Trent Smith of Oklahoma, Mike Seidman of UCLA, George Wrighster of Oregon, Zach Hilton of North Carolina, Doug Zeigler of Ole Miss and Sean Berton of North Carolina State.