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NFL draft countdown: tight ends


This news story was published on April 18, 2012.
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By Charean Williams, McClatchy Newspapers –

Spotlight: Coby Fleener

Tight ends aren’t what they once were.

“Looks nothing like when I played,” said Jacksonville coach Mike Mularkey, who played tight end in the NFL from 1983-91. “It’s different. It’s taken a step back a little bit with the weight and the speed. When I was in the last couple years, the Eric Greens, the bigger tight ends, those kind of guys, the blocking tight ends started to come about.

“Now you’ve got the guys who can do it all — run and (catch). There’s some great ones out there, which put a lot of stress on defenses these days. It’s amazing how it’s come back to the tight end and what he can do for you in a number of ways.”

There is not a Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Antonio Gates or Jimmy Graham in this draft. But there is Coby Fleener.

The Stanford product is 6-foot-5, 241 pounds. He ran a 4.45 at the school’s Pro Day and had a vertical jump of 37 inches. He had 27 reps on the 225-pound bench-press at the combine.

Though he had only 96 catches for 1,543 yards and 18 touchdowns as a four-year starter, including 34 for 667 and 10 scores this season, Fleener could be a catch.

“I think everyone realized that Stanford was a run-first team and threw off of that using play action, so when we can run the ball effectively, we do it, and when we have to pass we pass, so that’s how it went,” Fleener said.

Fleener isn’t known for his blocking, though he is named for a great one.

His mother, Michelle Fleener, was watching a Washington Redskins game on television during her pregnancy when she saw “Jacoby” on the back of Joe Jacoby’s jersey.

She asked her husband Bill about naming their unborn son “Jacoby.” He said no until Michelle went through a difficult delivery.

“So here I am,” said Jacoby Fleener, who goes by Coby.

Fleener is on schedule to graduate with a master’s in media studies, while also obtaining his bachelor’s at the end of this quarter.

“I wanted to play great football. There’s no doubt about that,” Fleener said. “… But to have a backup plan and a Stanford education is not a bad thing.”

He doesn’t plan on being a backup for long in the NFL.

“The guys that played in the NFL this year the Jimmy Grahams, the Gronkowskis of the world have really done our class of tight ends a favor this year,” Fleener said.

“I can’t say enough about the guys that have already played, and I hope to one day go play just like that.”

Overview

Tight end is one of the weaker positions in this draft. Only Stanford’s Coby Fleener and Clemson’s Dwayne Allen look like top-50 picks. But this class lacks an elite player, and it also is without quality depth in the middle rounds. There are plenty of late-rounders such as Miami’s Chase Ford, LSU’s DeAngelo Peterson, Michigan State’s Brian Linthicum and Michigan’s Kevin Koger. Louisiana-Lafayette’s Ladarius Green is an athletic WR/TE hybrid who will attract some attention in the third round.

Cowboys’ needs

Tight end Jason Witten will be 30 at the start of the season, and the Cowboys have no future replacement behind him. They lost Martellus Bennett to the New York Giants in free agency. Bennett was a second-round pick in 2008 who never lived up to expectations, but he was the best blocking tight end on the roster. The Cowboys hope John Phillips can take over Bennett’s role, but they still need a third tight end.

Top five

Coby Fleener, Stanford, 6-6, 247, 4.77. He averaged 19.6 yards per reception last season with 10 touchdowns.

Dwayne Allen, Clemson, 6-3, 255, 4.89. Speed and questionable blocking skills will keep him from going in the first round despite 49 catches for 592 yards and eight TDs last season.

Orson Charles, Georgia, 6-3, 251, 4.83. He doesn’t have the ideal size or speed, but he is a willing blocker and made 44 catches for 572 yards and five TDs last season.

Ladarius Green, Louisiana-Lafayette, 6-6, 238, 4.53. He had big games against Georgia, LSU and Nebraska in 2010.

Michael Egnew, Missouri, 6-5, 252, 4.62. The Plainview product had 50 catches for 523 yards and three touchdowns last season.

Sleeper

Matt Veldman, North Dakota State, 6-6, 256, 4.86. He finished his career with 49 catches for 584 yards and 7 TDs but has the prototypical size.

Texas ties

Chase Ford, Miami, 6-7, 255, 4.78. The Corrigan-Camden and Kilgore JC product is a natural pass catcher despite having only 16 catches in two years at UM.

James Hanna, Oklahoma, 6-4, 252, 4.49. The Flower Mound product should be a late-round pick after nine touchdowns the past two seasons combined.

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