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Buffalo Rumblings Rookie TE Rankings

Rucker one of many tight ends that could fit the "Bill" (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Note: This article brought to you by sireric (the researcher, in this case) and yours truly (the slob who glommed his name and opinions onto an otherwise excellent article). For clarity's sake, the only pieces I added to this body of work is the "Fit the Bill" section, and to further clarify, all of those appear in block quotes. Everything else is sireric's. Enjoy!

In the upcoming NFL draft, it's a pretty good bet that the Buffalo Bills will draft a tight end. Incumbent starter Robert Royal, who is known as a solid blocker, is a shoo-in for the 2008 roster (sorry, Nick BensalemPA), but the rest of the depth chart consists of a plethora of good hands/bad blocker types. The Bills will be looking to add a "complete package" kind of tight end. They'll be looking for somebody who can stretch the field as a receiver, make the tough catch, be a solid red zone target, and still hold his own as a blocker.

I check out a lock of mock drafts, and the player rankings of many of the "professional" scouts. Lately, I have noticed a ton of differing opinions as to who the top tight end is. Even listings of who is in the top five vary greatly from source to source. Here are eleven tight ends worth looking at from the Bills' perspective:

Fred Davis, USC: 6'3" :: 255 pounds :: Combine 40 - DNR :: 24 bench reps :: Vert - DNP
Pros: Has been the top TE on many draft boards for quite some time... won the Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end... finishes his career as the most productive tight end in USC history.
Cons: Struggled mightily at the Combine, dropping several passes... has only played tight end for three years after starting his career as a receiver.

Fit the "Bill"? Yes. He has the ability to stretch the seam from his days as a receiver, and enough size to continue to grow as a blocker. He's not so phenomenal that we'd trade up to get him, but he'd be a very solid fit as a starter in this offense.

Martellus Bennett, Texas A&M: 6'6" :: 259 pounds :: Combine 40 - 4.69 :: 18 reps :: 34" vert
Pros: Finished his career as A&M's all time leader in receiving among tight ends... has excellent hands... played in a run oriented scheme and has honed his blocking skills... averaged 4 catches and 5 "knockdown blocks" per game.
Cons: Only a junior... played basketball for two years, so football is still new to him.

Fit the "Bill"? Absolutely. Bennett is the best in this draft, in my opinion, in terms of blocking/receiving combo set. He's not a guy who will routinely stretch the seam, but he's an excellent athlete that plays very similarly to Dallas' Jason Witten. He's going to be a good one.

Dustin Keller, Purdue: 6'2" :: 242 pounds :: Combine 40 - 4.53 :: 26 reps :: 41" vert
Pros: Has soft hands, good ball skills and body control... good YAC player, and runs solid routes... hard worker with terrific intangibles.
Cons: Average blocker... had a few injury concerns.

Fit the "Bill"? Not if the team is looking for more than a receiving threat. Keller is small - almost receiver small - and would work best in motion out of the slot. He's not a great in-line blocker. He can certainly be dynamic in the passing game, though.

Brad Cottam, Tennessee: 6'7" :: 270 pounds :: Combine 40 - 4.68 :: 24 reps :: 37" vert
Pros: Has great size... known as a very smart player that works hard and has great intangibles... runs good routes.
Cons: Hasn't been very productive in his career... hands are questionable... not known to be very physical or aggressive.

Fit the "Bill"? If the Bills are looking for a deep threat, Cottam is the guy, as he has surprising speed and great height to make plays downfield. He's raw, though - he didn't do a whole lot in college, and he has a lot to learn. I wouldn't touch this guy before the fourth round.

Jermichael Finley, Texas: 6'4" :: 243 pounds :: Combine 40 - 4.82 :: Pro Day 40 - 4.66 :: 20 reps :: 28" vert
Pros: Good size/speed and very athletic... soft, reliable hands and great ball skills... has tons of upside and potential.
Cons: Very poor blocker who gets very little push... still pretty raw, needs to improve his route running and blocking.

Fit the "Bill"? Certainly. He's raw as well, and probably would not start immediately, but he's the cream of the crop as far as athleticism goes at the position. He'd fit in well as a receiving tight end, and he has the frame to get bulkier, which bodes well for his future as a blocker.

Martin Rucker, Missouri: 6'4" :: 251 pounds :: Pro Day 40 - 4.71 :: 20 reps :: 37" vert
Pros: Terrific hands and is a solid receiver... has a big frame and can get bigger... brother is Panthers DE Mike Rucker... fondly referred to as "Brian's Boy" in these parts.
Cons: Basically a wide receiver in a tight end's body... finesse player who isn't known to be very aggressive... poor blocker.

Fit the "Bill"? Yes. Rucker was a star in college and part of a class that turned Missouri into one of the best nations in the team. He's an excellent receiver. His work habits have been questioned, but if he passes a character test by the Bills' coaches, he'd be a good fit here.

Jacob Tamme, Kentucky: 6'3" :: 236 pounds :: Projected 40 - 4.50 :: 18 reps :: 30" vert
Pros: Great hands, good speed and good YAC ability... known as a smart player and a hard worker... can be a holder or a long snapper (this one's for you, krytime).
Cons: Not a physical player... terrible blocker... a little small, could stand to add about 15 pounds.

Fit the "Bill"? Maybe. He'll never wow you even as a receiver, but he's one of those guys who just seems to get the job done, even though you never notice him doing it. He's a more athletic Derek Schouman with a little more upside; I'd probably pass on him, but he's certainly worth looking into.

John Carlson, Notre Dame: 6'4" :: 255 pounds :: Combine 40 - 4.89 :: 20 reps :: 31" vert
Pros: Good receiver who has excellent hands... above average blocker... good YAC ability.
Cons: Played for Notre Dame (Boo Irish!)... coming off a terrible senior season (but then what Notre Dame prospect isn't?)... incredibly slow timed speed will drop him down draft boards.

Fit the "Bill"? Yes. He's not a game-breaker, but he has similar blocking tools to Royal, and with technique improvements could be his equal in that department in the next year or two. He's also a much more consistent receiver than Royal ever hoped to be, and his poor senior season can easily be attributed to the switch from Brady Quinn to... who?

Kellen Davis, Michigan State: 6'6" :: 262 pounds :: Combine 40 - 4.58 :: 22 reps :: 34" vert
Pros: Good hands... runs well after the catch... lots of upside.
Cons: Underachiever, could have produced a lot more for the Spartans... not known to be very physical... kind of soft... has a few character issues.

Fit the "Bill"? Yes, with a caveat - Buffalo needs to make sure this kid's heart is in the game. Davis played both tight end and defensive end at MSU, a testament to his excellent athletic ability. He'd be a good fit with a certain former wide receiver teammate in Buffalo...

Gary Barnidge, Louisville: 6'6" :: 244 pounds :: Combine 40 - 4.63 :: 22 reps :: 31" vert
Pros: Great receiver... good hands... good speed... runs good routes... very tough and durable... long snapper.
Cons: Not a great blocker... Could stand to add a little bulk... Not very athletic and can look a little stiff at times.

Fit the "Bill"? Yes - but not for anything more than, say, a fifth-round pick. His added special teams value would make him an excellent choice at that point, and he'd have a chance to be a solid role player in this offense, but he's not a guy you would expect to develop into a starter.

Craig Stevens, California: 6'3" :: 254 pounds :: Combine 40 - 4.62 :: 27 reps :: 33" vert
Pros: Good all-around receiver, with good hands and speed... can be tough to tackle... blocking skills are above average... was a team captain, and is known as a leader with good intangibles.
Cons: Doesn't stretch the field well... ball security issues.

Fit the "Bill"? Not quite. I like the kid's attitude, and he just strikes me as a really tough dude. I just don't think he's enough of a receiver to be counted on as a future starter. He'd be good in the run game, and I'm willing to be that he'd be nasty on special teams as well.

So there you have it: the list of arguably the top eleven tight ends in the upcoming draft (in no particular order). Feel free to comment on the ones you like and dislike, rank them in order from top to bottom, or add anybody you think I missed who you would like to discuss further.