Indianapolis has put together a solid group of tight ends whose depth is dependent upon players getting and staying healthy, a recurring theme. Coltzilla’s Laura Calaway informed readers in February that Pro Bowl tight end Dallas Clark is out of his cast and is working on getting his range of motion back. At this point, Clark does not foresee that he will have to miss any time during training camp, assuming all of the NFL’s negotiations are worked out in time.
Fourth-year player Jacob Tamme played a major role in the Colts offense after Clark went down in 2010. The potential use of both Tamme and Clark in some dual-tight end sets is a scary prospect for opposing defenses and could be a powerful weapon for Indianapolis’ offense. Second-year blocking tight end Brody Eldridge should have an opportunity to take some positive steps in his development. While he was unable to get comfortable catching the football as a rookie, he did improve the offensive line when he was on the field.
*Updated: Cobb78 sent Coltzilla an insightful email following this story. Arkansas tight end — and Mackey Award winner — D.J. Williams has been added in the fifth round. Thanks to Cobb78 for the discussion and contribution.
The question surrounding a potential fourth roster spot for a tight end involves two players. The first, Tom Santi, has struggled throughout his time in Indianapolis with a collection of injuries that have kept him off of the field. His size, speed, athleticism, and soft hands make him a potential double threat player who can both block and catch. He has not developed to this point as a blocker, or so fans must assume, but he could be another weapon for the offense if he can stay healthy. His primary competition could be Gijon Robinson, who has been a part of the team for the last three seasons in both starting and reserve roles. Robinson is not particularly strong as a blocker, as he is inconsistent, and offers little for the passing game. In many respects, Robinson’s future may be on the shoulders of Santi’s ability to remain healthy.
This leaves Indianapolis with a dynamic group of players — a group that is arguably one of the best at their position in the league — and the freedom to be really picky about investing more into the position. With this year’s extremely thin draft class, justifying a pick could be rather difficult.
Round 1 – Pick 22
Round 2 – Pick 53
Kyle Rudolph - Notre Dame – Rudolph is the consensus top tight end in the 2011 NFL Draft. He is 6-foot 6-inches tall and weighs 259 pounds, has soft hands, the ability to be a goal line work horse, and displayed good in-line blocking abilities in college. The question is, can he develop enough to be as successful in the NFL as he was in college? For the Colts, it may not matter. Spending a second round pick on Rudolph makes little sense unless the team is not confident that Dallas Clark will return healthy. Low value.
Round 3 – Pick 87
Round 4 – Pick 119
Jordan Cameron - USC – Cameron is beginning to move up draft boards. He has good hands and size that make him a similar player to Kyle Rudolph. He may not drop to the fourth but if he does, he is also worth a discussion. Moderate value.
Lance Kendricks - Wisonsin – Kendricks is exactly the kind of tight end the Colts are typically interested in. At 6-foot 3-inches tall and 247 pounds, he is very similar in size to Jacob Tamme but has enough weight on him to be more effective as a blocker. He improved on a bad Combine 40-yard dash time with a 4.50 at Wisconsin’s Pro Day. If Indianapolis has a look at Kendricks in the fourth round or later, he is worthy of discussion. Moderate value.
Luke Stocker - Tennessee – Stocker is a receiving tight end only. Stocker has an issue dropping passes. Low value.
Round 5 – Pick 152
D.J. Williams – Arkansas – Williams is an albatross in the 2011 NFL Draft. Remember how Mike Hart broke the Michigan all-time rushing record and yet fell all the way to the sixth round of the 2008 NFL Draft? Williams may take a very similar fall into the latter rounds of the draft. Coltzilla reader Cobb78 shared some very intelligent observations regarding the uncertainty of Clark’s return from injury, Santi’s health, and Eldridge’s development. In terms of pure pass-catching tight ends, the team may have only Jacob Tamme as a sure thing and he’s heading into a contract year. Stealing Williams in the fifth or sixth rounds has to be somewhere on the Colts draft board. Moderate to high value.
Virgil Green - Nevada – Green displays excellent hands, courage over the middle, and toughness shaking off tackles. His 4.54 40-yard dash at the Combine make him a real sleeper in the draft who could creep up much higher than this. If he is still around this late and the Colts are looking for tight end help, he would not be a bad place to look. Moderate value.
Julius Thomas - Portland State – Thomas is another tight end who converted from basketball. He is very athletic, displays good hands, and is a willing blocker. However, he took a seven year break from football and would certainly take some time to develop. If the Colts really want to develop a guy with a lot of upside over the next couple of years, Thomas could make sense at the bottom of their draft. Low to moderate value.
Rob Housler - Florida Atlantic – Housler is a promising receiving tight end who will likely be a blocking liability in the NFL. The Colts have at least two options that fit this description already on the team. Low value.
Round 6 – Pick 188
Zack Pianalto - North Carolina – Pianalto is a guy who would very likely rate much higher in the draft if not for injury problems in college. He is just over 6-foot 3-inches tall, weighs 256 pounds, and showed talent finding holes in zones as a receiver. Pianalto was a good blocker in college as well, which adds to his value and makes a late round pick or undrafted free agent bid a possibility. Moderate to high value.
As mentioned, the Colts have a pretty strong unit of tight ends already on the roster. The group could be unmistakeably set if Tom Santi can get and stay healthy. The 2011 tight end draft class is nothing to get super excited about but it has enough guys who could be around in the fourth to sixth rounds that Indianapolis could get some insurance without giving up much. If there are other tight ends who should be included on the list, feel free to discuss them in the comments.