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Monday, April 16, 2012
Bears draft preview: Tight ends

By Michael C. Wright

Adrien Robinson
Cincinnati tight end Adrien Robinson has impressed teams with strong workouts.
Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith and quarterback Jay Cutler share the sentiment that tight end Kellen Davis possesses the physical traits to eventually develop into a major weapon in the team’s revamped offense.

Still, due diligence calls for the team to at least consider the possibility later this month of adding another potential contributor through the NFL draft.

Kellen Davis
Kellen Davis is the only pass-catching tight end on the Bears' roster.
“I would say that all eight years I’ve been here the tight end needs to be a big part of what we do,” Smith said. “We plan on doing that. I think if you want to feature Kellen Davis, you can do that. [He has] great size, [is] a great in-line blocker, [who] is skilled enough of an athlete to be able to move outside and do some things. I really like him.”

But outside of Davis, the team’s roster appears to be relatively thin in terms of pass-catching tight ends. The Bears signed veteran backup Matt Spaeth in free agency in 2011, but in 15 games he caught seven passes for 50 yards and two touchdowns. Davis hauled in 18 passes for 206 yards and five touchdowns last season.

The Bears clearly need more production at the position. Shortly after the conclusion of the regular season, team president Ted Phillips spoke extensively about the need to close the talent gap within the division. Well, Chicago’s tight ends combined to catch 25 balls, while NFC North tight ends Brandon Pettigrew (Detroit) and Jermichael Finley (Green Bay) hauled in 83 and 55 receptions, respectively.

The Minnesota Vikings obviously recognized the talent disparity at tight end within the division, too. Perhaps that’s why they signed former Seattle Seahawk John Carlson -- who registered 78 receptions over his last two seasons (he didn’t play in 2011 because of an injury) -- in free agency to pair with Kyle Rudolph, who caught 26 passes last season as a rookie.

Maybe it’s time for the Bears to jump into the tight end arms race as well. They’ve scheduled a pre-draft visit with Cincinnati tight end Adrien Robinson (6-foot-4, 264 pounds), who has burst onto the scene recently with strong workouts. A first-year starter in 2011, Robinson finished his college career with 29 receptions for 434 yards and five touchdowns. But his athleticism seems to be catching the eye of NFL Scouts. At Cincinnati’s Pro Day in March, Robinson blazed a 40-yard dash in the 4.5-second range.

“As far as the [sentiment that] ‘the tight end has to get more,’ [goes], we want production from any of the skill guys,” Smith said.

The next 10: 11. Taylor Thompson, Southern Methodist, 6-6, 259; 12. DeAngelo Peterson, Louisiana State, 6-3, 243; 13. Nick Provo, Syracuse, 6-3, 237; 14. Adrien Robinson, Cincinnati, 6-4, 264; 15. Brian Linthicum, Michigan State, 6-4, 249; 16. George Bryan, North Carolina State, 6-5, 265; 17. Cory Harkey, UCLA, 6-4, 262; 18. Anthony Miller, California, 6-3, 254; 19. Garrett Celek, Michigan State, 6-4, 252; 20. Beau Reliford, Florida State, 6-5, 255; 20.

Position grade: D.

Analysis: The talent of this year’s class drops significantly after the top three prospects, but the league’s diversity on offense could benefit several players that don’t necessarily possess prototypical tight end traits. Players such as Fleener, Egnew, Green and Peterson appear to fit the mold of pass-catching tight ends, while prospects such as Charles, Allen and Koger are considered in-line blockers. Depending on a team’s needs, there might be some value to be found in the later rounds. But overall, this class isn’t near as talented as the 2010 group led by Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski and Jermaine Gresham. Interesting prospects such as SMU’s Taylor -- a defensive end in college -- and Cincinnati’s Robinson could make for a couple of surprise picks due to strong showings at their respective pro days.