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Friday, April 11, 2003
Updated: April 17, 9:48 AM ET
Witten stands out among TEs

By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

Here is how ESPN.com rates the top 8 tight end prospects in the draft:

  • Jason Witten (Tennessee)
    Vital statistics: 6-feet-5 , 264 pounds, 4.69 in the 40.
    Numbers game: Began career as defensive end and bypassed his final year of eligibility to enter the draft. Started just two games in 2001 and became starter only in 2002. Totaled 73 catches for 911 yards and two touchdowns.
    Upside: Big-time prospect with a great attitude, competes hard on every snap, wants to be good. Good natural receiver who catches the ball out in front of him, runs decent routes, will run through would-be tacklers. Nice speed for a man his size, solid in-line blocker, has a nasty streak.
    More on TEs
  • Others: Donald Lee (Mississippi State), Mike Seidman (UCLA), Trent Smith (Oklahoma), Doug Zeigler (Mississippi), Matt Huebner (St. Cloud State), Zach Hilton (North Carolina), Kevin Ware (Washington), Sean Berton (North Carolina State), Dan Curley (Eastern Washington), Chad Bartoszek (Buffalo), Steve Farmer (Tennessee State).

  • Rising: Vishante Shiancoe of Morgan State is very raw but has run under 4.6 in some workouts and opened a lot of eyes. He needs to get bigger and to add some pop to his blocking, but has a chance to be a very good player at the NFL level. Western Michigan's Mobolaji Afariogun has bulked up to 250 pounds (from the 230s) and is running in the 4.8s in recent auditions for some teams. His size and athleticism make him an H-back candidate.

  • Declining: A pair of Brigham Young tight ends, Spencer Nead and Gabe Reid, are both overaged because of Mormon missions and have lately been passed by several prospects. Neither is a very good blocker and Reid needs a lot more size, while Nead has to get quicker.

  • Intriguing: R.J. Luke of Western Illinois also played fullback in college, before switching to tight end in 2002, and could make a roster because of his versatility and special teams potential. Auburn's Lorenzo Diamond might, indeed, be a diamond-in-the-rough. He was overshadowed by two other tight ends in college, but Diamond certainly has talent and plays hard every snap. His late workouts have been very good. Aaron Golliday from Nebraska caught just three passes in 2002 but might be able to move out and play offensive tackle if he doesn't make it as a tight end.

  • Sleepers: Corey Jacks of Nevada-Reno played basketball in college and, when he walked onto the football field in 2002, it was his first gridiron action since his senior year of high school. At 6-feet-6 and 268 pounds, a few teams actually feel he can grow into a defensive end. It's difficult to ignore his 4.8 speed, overall athleticism, and agility.

  • Notable: Robert Johnson of Auburn is the nephew of former Green Bay player Alfonso Johnson. … Tennessee State's Steve Farmer was a forward on the Illinois-Chicago basketball team before giving up the sport and then transferring. … Nebraska's Aaron Golliday competed in the shot put for the Cornhuskers' track and field team.… Gabe Reid of BYU had a brother, Spencer, who was once in the Carolina Panthers' training camp. … Morgan State's Vishante Shiancoe rejected scholarship offers from some major schools because he felt he was not emotionally mature enough.

  • Position trend: After undergoing a de-evolution of sorts, the position in general is regaining some status, and most teams are placing increased emphasis on it. Tight ends who can play in the West Coast offense are becoming more popular again.
  • Downer: Still maturing physically, legs are a bit on the thin side, and body will continue to fill out as he matures. Only 20 years old, so still has some maturing to do, on and off the field. Not yet a dominating blocker.
    The dish: With his size and potential, could be a special player, but he's not there yet. Figures to be the first tight end chosen, but no guarantee that it will be in the first round.

  • Dallas Clark (Iowa)
    Vital statistics: 6-feet-3 3/8, 257 pounds, 4.61 in the 40.
    Numbers game: Former walk-on linebacker in 1998, didn't move to tight end full-time until 2001. In two seasons, had 77 catches for 1,251 yards and eight touchdowns, and won John Mackey Award last year.
    Upside: Not as mammoth as some of the prospects at the position, but little doubt he is the most athletic tight end in the '03 class. Most of his times in the change-of-direction drills were better than many wide receivers and backs. Good hands, body control, and knows how to wall-off defenders.
    Downer: A willing, but hardly accomplished, blocker. Allows defenders to disengage too easily, doesn't stick with blocks, won't crush people. Lacks natural size and strength and still learning the position.
    The dish: Some teams feel he has a chance to sneak into the first round. A very intriguing prospect who could catch 50 balls a year in the NFL. Hard work and character will help him.

  • Bennie Joppru (Michigan)
    Vital statistics: 6-feet-4 , 272 pounds, 4.78 in the 40.
    Numbers game: Started just 11 games in first three seasons and had only 32 receptions in that period. Set school record for receptions by a tight end in 2002, with 53, and had 579 receiving yards and five touchdown catches.
    Upside: Unlike many of the tight end prospects, actually spent five college seasons (including a redshirt year) playing the position. Can't overlook his durability and fact he got better every season. Enough movement skills that he might also be able to play H-back.
    Downer: While he has soft hands, doesn't run very precise routes even in the short zones, and doesn't naturally separate from linebackers or safeties. Makes the acrobatic catch but will drop some easy ones. Really helped himself in the postseason. No worse than a second-rounder.
    The dish: Scouts love his work ethic, toughness, fact he overcame some off-field issues that hurt him early in college career. A really fast-riser. Clearly has first-round tools but that doesn't mean he'll go in first round.

  • John "L.J." Smith (Rutgers)
    Vital statistics: 6-feet-3 , 258 pounds, 4.65 in the 40.
    Numbers game: Onetime high school basketball star who turned down hoops scholarships from a few major universities. Played all four seasons, started the last three, had 122 catches, 1,458 yards and 10 touchdowns.
    Upside: Has really moved up draft boards in past month, mostly because of receiving skills, might be best pure pass-catcher of tight end class. Enough speed to get deep up the hashes and split the safeties. Gets clean releases off the line, uses his hands well to beat the jam, nice ball adjustment ability. Knows how to find the soft spots in a zone.
    Downer: Stopwatch speed doesn't translate to playing with speed, more linear than elusive, and not a strong change-of-direction receiver. Has trouble at times running the option routes pertinent to the position. Doesn't finish off blocks and struggles to seal off the edge.
    The dish: Has dramatically upgraded his stock and could be special receiver if he is chosen by a team that uses a West Coast-style offense. Has worked hard and could be a second-rounder.

  • Aaron Walker (Florida)
    Vital statistics: 6-feet-5 5/8, 252 pounds, 4.73 in the 40.
    Numbers game: Also played baseball for Gators, saw action as designated hitter, once viewed as major league prospect. Had 29 catches in first three seasons, then posted 25 receptions for 365 yards and three scores in 2002.
    Upside: Big horizontal target, long and lean, and most quarterbacks won't overthrow him. Runs well enough to keep the safeties honest and can get deep on occasion. Will play hurt, durable performer, doesn't take downs off.
    Downer: Plays from a very narrow base and too tall at times, so tends to lose leverage when he is blocking in the running game. Won't knock people off the ball and doesn't seal the outside well. Doesn't run well after the catch and has been known to get into stretches of the "dropsies."
    The dish: Has demonstrated steady improvement, especially in the final three years of his college career, and made solid strides in postseason all-star games and at combine.

  • Robert Johnson (Auburn)
    Vital statistics: 6-feet-5 5/8, 278 pounds, 4.81 in the 40.
    Numbers game: Failed to qualify as freshman and an early entry player, so still growing into the position. Despite playing in some two- and three-tight end formations, had 30 catches for 365 yards and three scores last season.
    Upside: Incredibly huge man with frame, and large torso, could probably handle even more weight comfortably. Might eventually grow into a tackle if he had better feet and leverage. Big wingspan and can reach some balls others might not. When he gets rolling, will run over people after the catch.
    Downer: Because he was rotated so much in college, still doesn't yet have a handle on the position. Still maturing as a player. For a guy his size, doesn't play as physically as he could, needs some technique work on blocking.
    The dish: A streak-shooter who is very good at times, but also disappears for stretches of games, and doesn't make game-determining plays. Should be a first-day prospect.

  • Mike Pinkard (Arizona State)
    Vital statistics: 6-feet-4 7/8, 259 pounds, 4.69 in the 40.
    Numbers game: Played on defense as a freshman before moving over to tight end the following year. Former backup to Baltimore first-round pick Todd Heap. Finished career with 44 catches, 30 of them coming in 2002.
    Upside: On tape and in workouts, more athletic than he originally appears to be, and seems to have more than adequate physical tools. Good speed for a guy his size, decent receiver, a try-hard blocker.
    Downer: Although his statistics have improved, still isn't as good a player as he should be, and looks clumsy in some areas. Doesn't play with passion and just goes through motions at times. Not tenacious or tough and seems content to do things halfway.
    The dish: An underachiever who some scouts feel is too soft and who doesn't look like he wants to be a real force. Good enough to go on the first day but could also fall into the middle rounds.

  • George Wrighster (Oregon)
    Vital statistics: 6-feet-2 1/8, 249 pounds, 4.77 in the 40.
    Numbers game: Forfeited final year of eligibility to enter draft after just one season as a full-time starter. Had only 12 catches in his first two seasons, but flourished last season, with 41 receptions for 576 yards and six touchdowns.
    Upside: Soft hands, catches the ball out away from his body, and enough speed to get into the 15- to 18-yard routes and create some separation. Will go into a crowd and aggressively attack the ball. Solid athlete with a good work ethic and excellent potential.
    Downer: Lacks the physical dimension most teams prefer now at tight end. Along with an absence of bulk, doesn't run all that well, struggles to get a clean release off the line. Needs much work on his blocking and will have to get a lot stronger.
    The dish: Helped himself at the combine with his receiving skills. Sure hands and knows how to make himself a target. Could be third-rounder.

    Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.