The tight end position is a critical one in the Green Bay Packers' offense. That much was confirmed by head coach Mike McCarthy in his season-ending press conference a few weeks ago, when he named the position as one that is needed to attack the middle of the field.
While there are a few possibilities in free agency, including the recently-released Jared Cook, the Packers will most likely look to bolster that position through the draft as is their modus operandi. With the NFL Scouting Combine serving as the best chance to see all of the top players at the position in one place, expect general manager Ted Thompson to be keeping a close eye on this group in interviews and when they go through positional drills next Saturday.
Here are a few names we will be keeping an eye on as well.
Hunter Henry, Arkansas
Of course, Henry is the consensus top player at his admittedly weak position in the draft. Henry earned the John Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end, and his 6'5", 253-pound frame gives him the ideal size to be a big target over the middle, while he has some room to grow into a role as an effective in-line blocker. His athleticism is one of his biggest selling points, and if he runs well and looks good as a receiver that may be enough to convince an NFL organization to take a chance on him in the back end of round one.
Jerell Adams, South Carolina
Getting into mid-round prospects, we look at Adams, who is more refined as a blocker than a receiver despite being a relatively lanky prospect. Currently listed at 6'5" and 244 pounds, Adams will definitely need to bulk up in an NFL weight room in order to maintain his effectiveness at the point of attack, and he has plenty of experience in both run blocking and pass protection. If he can catch the ball consistently on Saturday and if he shows the athleticism that his frame suggests he could possess, he could make an intriguing pick on day two or early on day three.
Thomas Duarte, UCLA
A converted wide receiver, Duarte's weigh-in might be as important as his performance in drills on Saturday. He is listed at 6'3" and 225 pounds, more of a Jeff Janis build than that of a a true tight end. As a receiver he could make an impact early on out of the slot or the backfield. Bulking up and blocking will be the challenge for Duarte, and scouts will likely hope to see him weigh in closer to 240 pounds and maintain his speed and agility.
Tyler Higbee, Western Kentucky
Mitchell Henry's former teammate Higbee is another athletic wide receiver convert whose athleticism will be coveted as a receiver. Following the trend mentioned above, the 6'4", 243-pound Higbee can add some bulk to help him become a more effective blocker, but he has reliable hands and should post a good 40-yard dash time. He has been better as a deep threat than on shorter routes, and as such could make an interesting complement to Richard Rodgers.
David Morgan, Texas-San Antonio
Morgan is one of the more complete blocking tight ends coming to Indianapolis, as his 6'4", 260-pound frame suggests. He also was an effective receiver for the Roadrunners, picking up over 500 receiving yards, but he only averaged a shade over 12 yards per catch for his career. He is sure-handed but will need to answer questions about his athleticism. That all makes him easy to compare to Richard Rodgers, though he likely projects as a better blocker than the current Packer starter.
Other Names to Watch
Cal's Stephen Anderson is much like Duarte, as a converted wideout who is currently listed at a size far smaller than the NFL ideal. Nick Vannett of Ohio State is a big target with solid blocking ability, but has had limited usage in the Buckeyes' passing game. Stanford's Austin Hooper follows a long list of NFL players at his position, and should show a good blend of size and speed. Finally, Temmarick Hemingway from South Carolina State is another athletic specimen who will need to impress in blocking drills to earn serious consideration at the next level.