The tight end position has never really littered the ESPNU 150; nine made the 2006 rankings, and six made the list each of the past two years. But the 2009 class has seen a sharp decline, as only two made the 150 rankings.
Does that mean that this tight end class is bad? No. The class actually has solid depth, though it does seem to lack potential difference-makers. In any case, 2009 won't be dubbed "the year of the tight end" in recruiting circles.
Tight end grading criteria
Scouts Inc. grades tight ends in eight categories:
1. Hands: How is their overall concentration on easy and tough catches? Do they have soft hands? Do they body-catch too often? Can they snatch the ball when thrown outside their frame?
2. Patterns: Are their cuts sharp and crisp? Do they show good body control, or do they look awkward?
3. Receive long and short: Can they accelerate to the ball in the air? Can they find soft spots and use their body to be a possession receiver? Can they stretch the field and go deep?
4. Run after catch: Are they a threat to score every time they touch the ball? Do they make catches in stride? Are they elusive in tight and open space?
5. Blocker: Are they willing to block? Do they finish and get good results? Do they sustain their blocks on the backside? Do they look to block in the open field?
6. Release: Can they avoid the jam at the line of scrimmage? Are they often held up or thrown off their routes? Are they physical?
7. React to the ball in a crowd: Can they come over the middle and catch the ball in traffic and when defended well? Are they tough enough to hang on to the ball and take a hit? Will they extend to catch the jump ball?
8. Initial quicks: How is their acceleration? Can they get off the ball and kick it into an extra gear?
Two prospects seem to be a cut above the rest of the tight ends in this class -- Morrell Presley (Carson, Calif.) and Barrett Matthews (Houston/North Shore). Both are rated among the top 60 players in the country but are the only two in the ESPNU 150. Although they have distanced themselves from the pack, not much separates their ranks from each other, with Presley ranking No. 47 overall and Matthews No. 56.
Each shows the ability to excel as both a blocker and receiver. Presley, at 6-foot-4, gets the slight nod because he is a bit more of a prototype for the position with good height. He has more of a wide receiver's build but has the room to add bulk as he physically matures. He is a threat as a receiver with good speed and soft hands and can be flexed out and used as a weapon in the passing game. Although he looks like a receiver and has the skills, he is also a determined, feisty blocker. With added size and fine-tuning as a blocker, he can be a dangerous and well-rounded college tight end.
Matthews is much like Presley, only shorter and stouter. The biggest knock on him is that he lacks ideal height at about 6-foot-2, but if you look past that, you will find one heck of a tight end. Matthews is also a track athlete, and he has wonderful speed and can stretch the field vertically. He has good hands and is a productive and tenacious blocker.
Cardinal head coach Jim Harbaugh has seemed to make a statement with this 2009 class -- he wants to improve the play and depth at tight end. At this point Stanford has verbal commitments from five tight ends, all of whom are ranked within the top 25 at the position. If there was such a title, Stanford would be crowned with the No. 1 tight end class.
Five may seem a little like overkill, but the group offers some versatility. Stanford will use multiple tight ends, and the prospects in this group do not need to be used strictly like traditional inline players. Jordan Najvar (Spring, Texas/Klein Oak) could be used as a traditional tight end but also could be flexed out and used more like a wide receiver. Ryan Hewitt (Denver/Mullen) is a strong run blocker, and Levine Toilolo (San Diego/Helix), who's 6-foot-8, offers a dangerous red zone target. Zach Ertz (Danville, Calif./Monte Vista) and Brock Sanders (Duluth, Ga./Northview), the two highest-rated tight ends in the Stanford class, are well-rounded players at the position and could contribute in a variety of ways. It is a bit shocking to see a class so heavy in tight ends, but Stanford added some good ones, and it will be interesting to see how Harbaugh employs them.
Give 'em the ball
It can be tough to find tight ends who are very good as blockers and receivers coming out of high school. Some excel more in one phase of the position like pass catching. Many times these prospects are used like a receiver or play wide receiver in high school but project as a tight end at the college level because of size potential or lack of top-end speed.
The following guys can be utilized as weapons in the passing game from the tight end spot and could offer some college offensive coordinators some options. Richard Wilson (Spanish Fork, Utah) runs good routes and has good hands. Orson Charles (Tampa, Fla./Plant) could really show off his receiving skills as a senior playing with the nation's No. 2-rated quarterback, Aaron Murray. Florida commit Desmond Parks (Greer, S.C.) is another tight end with good receiving skills. He quickly gets into his routes, catches the ball with his hands and can shield defenders from the ball with his frame. Others are Philip Lutzenkirchen (Marietta, Ga./Lassiter), a young man with a flair for making the tough catch, and Notre Dame commit Tyler Eifert (Fort Wayne, Ind./Bishop Dwenger).
Other tight ends are very good blockers and act almost like sixth offensive linemen. Cory White (Orange Park, Fla./Fleming Island) is an undersized high school offensive tackle who could really contribute as a blocker from the tight end position.
He is a tenacious kid who can be tough to beat when he gets his hands on a defender. Florida State commit Bryan Stork (Vero Beach, Fla.) has good size and a high motor. He can get sloppy with his technique but works his tail off to get his man blocked. Clemson commit Tyler Shatley (Connellys Springs, N.C./East Burke) is another good athlete who also is a "yard dawg." He has played some fullback, H-Back and defensive tackle in high school and could develop into a productive blocker.
Depth and sleepers
Although this class lacks high-impact tight ends, it does have a logjam of good prospects rated between 77 and 79. So some good tight ends are out there, such as Texas commit Trey Graham (Waco, Texas/Midway), who, along with Matthews, makes a nice haul for the Longhorns, monster athlete Sheldon Richardson (St. Louis/Gateway), recent Georgia commit Arthur Lynch-Fontaine (Dartmouth, Mass.) and the tall Ra'Shede Hageman (Minneapolis/Washburn), among others.
This class also contains some good sleepers such as Virginia commit Tucker Windle (Charlotte, N.C./Catholic). He does not have great size but is a good receiver and blocker. Some other guys to keep an eye on are Ball State commit Jacob Green (Wyoming, Ohio), Houston commit Tyler Chambers (Houston/MacArthur) and Kendall Gregory-McGhee (Aurora, Colo./Cherokee Trail). Some of these prospects may be lacking in an area like size or speed but are still productive players with upside.