The Weekly Gut Check No. 194 - Rookie Impact Series: TEs
By Matt Waldman
July 6th, 2010

The Weekly Gut Check examines the players, strategies and guidelines fantasy football owners use to make personnel decisions.

Mike Ditka.

I know. I began the column this way last year. And I will begin with Ditka every year I do this piece until someone usurps the all-time great. It's been nearly 50 years since he became the one and only tight end to amass 1000 yards receiving and score double-digit touchdowns as a rookie.

The exact totals are 56 catches, 1076 yards and 12 scores. That's more yards (+2) and touchdowns (+3) than 2009's 13th-ranked WR Marques Colston and nearly a half a fantasy point better than No. 9 WR Sidney Rice. If you hear Ditka trash a receiver on TV this year cut him some slack. He earned the right.

However, we've all heard from sports media that there is a new breed of tight end in town. Good enough that maybe Ditka's reign will end sooner than we think. The way they talk, you'd think they were the publicists of Oscar Goldman:

We have the technology...

...Better than they were before.

Better.

Stronger.

Faster.

Maybe. Until last season, the typical cut-off range for a top-12 fantasy tight end was 80 points. A fantasy-point total of 80 would place you just ahead of Jeremy Shockey - 18th overall. Greg Olsen, the 10th-best tight end that failed to live up to the preseason hype (guilty as charged), still amassed enough points to be more productive than the 31st-ranked wide receiver in 2009. Brent Celek, the 4th-best tight end was more productive than the No. 16 wide receiver Derrick Mason.

Yet as we're beginning to see the era of the tight end come to fruition, none of the top 17 players in 2009 were rookies. Only two of the rookie tight ends from last year's draft class made the top 50. The Lions' Brandon Pettigrew was 25th overall with 47 points in 11 games, and Buffalo's Sean Nelson was 50th with 21 points in 13 games.

They may be bigger, stronger, faster and eventually better, but generally rookie tight ends still need training and development before they see an NFL field as productive starters.

Seahawk John Carlson was the last rookie tight end to post a respectable fantasy season with 92.7 points, rating 10th all-time for a rookie total. Only three of the 22 tight ends on the list of top rookie performances of all time began their careers in the 21st century.

Top Fantasy Performances for Rookie Tight Ends

Tight End
Year
Team
Gms
RushTDs
Rec
RecYds
RecTDs
FPts
Mike Ditka
1961
chi
14
0
56
1076
12
179.6
Keith Jackson
1988
phi
16
0
81
869
6
122.9
Charley Young
1973
phi
14
0
55
854
6
121.4
John Mackey
1963
clt
14
0
35
726
7
114.6
Junior Miller
1980
atl
16
0
46
584
9
112.4
Cameron Cleeland
1998
nor
16
0
54
684
6
104.4
Jeremy Shockey
2002
nyg
15
0
74
894
2
101.4
Fran Polsfoot
1950
crd
12
0
38
653
6
101.3
Raymond Chester
1970
rai
14
0
42
556
7
97.6
John Carlson
2008
sea
16
0
55
627
5
92.7
Leon Clarke
1956
ram
12
0
36
650
4
89.0
Rob Awalt
1987
crd
12
0
42
526
6
88.6
Russ Francis
1975
nwe
14
0
35
636
4
87.6
Ken Dilger
1995
clt
16
0
42
635
4
87.5
Bob Tucker
1970
nyg
14
0
40
571
5
87.1
Joe Senser
1980
min
16
0
42
447
7
86.7
Fred Arbanas
1962
kan
14
0
29
469
6
82.9
Ozzie Newsome
1978
cle
16
2
38
589
2
82.9
Bob Trumpy
1968
cin
14
0
37
639
3
81.9
Heath Miller
2005
pit
16
0
39
459
6
81.9
Eric Green
1990
pit
13
0
34
387
7
80.7
Pete Lammons
1966
nyj
14
0
41
565
4
80.5

It is the same list of 22 players as last year, but I included it because I believe by 2011 I'll be creating a top-24 list. One of those additions is a rookie tight end I think has the skills, the surrounding talent and the coach to make him a top-tier player on this list.

Could it be that the name I invoke to begin next year's rookie impact column be someone other than Mike Ditka?

Say it ain't so!

Even if I'm right, the top rookie impact tight ends in 2010 will still be available late in drafts and they shouldn't be selected as anything more than upside picks. The rest are free agents to monitor or their promise comes as dynasty league picks.

As with the first three parts of this series, I will be basing my impact analysis of these players on the intensive film study I do and where each player landed. For more detailed information on any of these players, I highly recommend two resources: my 2010 Rookie Scouting Portfolio and Draftguys.com. I can personally attest that the information you get from both places is based on film study of the players in action, and you'll get accurate depictions of how these prospects performed in college. I rank the players listed below by who I think will have the best year.

Redraft(able)

Aaron Hernandez, Patriots

Skills: Hernandez shares many of the basic skills of the more promising move-tight ends of recent draft classes. Like Vernon Davis, Dustin Keller and Jared Cook, Hernandez has the hands to snare the ball away from his body and the speed to stretch the intermediate zone. What separates Hernandez from these players are his routes and skill at running with the football.

Hernandez possesses a very good burst off the line of scrimmage and he uses his hands well enough to rip or swim away from defenders attempting to jam him at the beginning of a play. This makes him a fine tight end prospect, but what makes him a dangerous weapon is his versatility. Last year at the University of Florida, the Gators called Hernandez "their Percy Harvin," when referencing his role in the offense. Consider the implications of that comment for a moment. Harvin was Florida's "mismatch maker." Whether it's a short pass in the flat, a crossing route over the middle or a route down the seam or the sideline, get Harvin one-on-one, and good things happened in Gainesville. Last year, Hernandez essentially did the same thing, running routes with strong breaks to create separation in single coverage or finding the open zone. With the exception of carrying the football from the backfield, he was Harvin's play-making replacement.

And despite the fact Hernandez didn't double as a running back, his ball-carrying skills are good enough that you wonder if he could have until you realize you're talking about a tight end. I touted Dustin Keller's ball carrying when he entered the league, but Hernandez is at a different level. He has a sudden quality to his gait that you don't see from tight ends, and he's just as adept at stringing moves together in the open field to set up a defender as he's bulling over a defensive back. When defenders hit him, they have to wrap him not because of his size, but the combo of his strength and speed that aids his balance. I think Hernandez is what Kellen Winslow, Jr. could have been if he were more mature to begin his career.

Obstacles: If Hernandez is so unbelievably good and more mature than Kellen Winslow, Jr. then why was he a fourth-round pick? Marijuana. Not exactly an answer that supports my argument that he has a better grasp of becoming a professional than the "soldier." But click the first link in this section and you get what I believe is one of the better jobs of reporting the matter concerning Hernandez's use and why his slide in the draft was fueled by what I believe were rumors generated by scouts and personnel execs that opted not to put their names behind their words.

Why do I think the issue of multiple failed drug tests is a rumor? It's on record that he failed one test and Florida would have suspended him more than once if Hernandez failed multiple times. Scouts and personnel execs are known for floating rumors prior to the draft to drop a player's stock, especially when they wont use their names to validate the speculation. As much as I enjoyed making fun of Jeff Ireland at least he had the stones to admit he asked Dez Bryant if his mom was a prostitute.

All I know is that the Patriots generally don't take character concerns in the draft. They might not always draft the best talent or draft players that mature at their craft at the expected rate of development, but I don't recall us hearing about off-field issues. Aaron Hernandez also passed his drug test at the combine, which means he has a clean slate with the NFL disciplinary policy.

This may still be an issue to monitor, but I think it's far less serious than initially believed. The real factors that might impede Hernandez from achieving as a rookie are his relatively small stature for an all-around NFL tight end, and his fit within the New England offense. At 6'2", 245 lbs., he is about the size of New York Jet Dustin Keller. However, I would argue that Keller's weight is his maximum size and it has been difficult for him to maintain. I haven't heard this about Hernandez's dimensions, but it is possible the rookie's speed and quickness will not make up for his lack of girth when working against linebackers or when blocking at the line of scrimmage. If so, he may turn out to be a more athletic David Thomas, who the Patriots drafted but is now a situational receiver for the Saints.

The player with that desired size is the first tight end the Patriots took in the 2010 NFL Draft, Rob Gronkowski. The junior from Arizona is a reliable receiver over the middle, but he's even better as a blocker. However, Gronkowski is likely to be the No. 3 tight end on the Patriots depth chart with the addition of Alge Crumpler, which puts Hernandez in the role of a receiver. Yet there are still a lot of weapons in the New England offense that could have higher priority in the scheme.

In addition to Randy Moss, the Patriots offense has a lot of young talent and proven, veteran role players. Sam Aiken, Kevin Faulk, and Julian Edelman are all capable targets in the middle of the field or perimeter check-downs. Wes Welker might be showing encouraging signs of recovery, but to expect him at full speed by mid-season is probably overly optimistic. If Brandon Tate continues to look as good as he does in camp, the Patriots won't feel the pressure to insert Welker into the lineup. Tate also has the skills to be split wide or used in the slot. I didn't even mention Torry Holt, who might have been a statistical disappointed for some fantasy owners thinking he could the Jacksonville version of Isaac Bruce in San Francisco, but Holt could still be capable of 500-700 yards in the right system. With a player like Tom Brady, who spreads the ball around, Hernandez could get lost in the shuffle.

Outlook: Now that I have laid out the arguments against Hernandez and why he will be nothing more than a role player with promise, let me tell you why I completely disagree with that notion. So much so, I believe it's a worthwhile risk of taking him as your second tight end in the late rounds of your draft.

Randy Moss may be getting slower every year, but his rate of deceleration is too small to believe defenses will have to stop bracketing him on vertical routes. With Wes Welker hurt, the Patriots need options to exploit the open seam and get yardage after the catch in the underneath zone. Brandon Tate could fill that role, but I bet the Patriots would like to use him on the outside as much as the slot. We're talking about a receiver that can get open deep without the aid of Randy Moss. This gives Julian Edelman an opportunity to continue working in the slot where he showed promise.

However, Hernandez's size/speed combination as a hybrid tight end gives the Patriots more options when they use him in the slot or split him wide. Hernandez might not be a great in-line blocker, but he's shown at Florida that he can get the job done against linebackers at the line of scrimmage, or better yet, as a lead blocker in the flat. If Hernandez can demonstrate the same skill set as a rookie, he's already poised to become the more consistent option at TE that Ben Watson was.

The Patriots frequently tried using Watson in the way I envision them using Hernandez, but the Browns' new tight end wasn't consistently effective as a run blocker or a receiver, despite his physical gifts. Unlike Watson who learned the game playing in Georgia's traditional I-formation sets, Hernandez has played in a spread formation at Florida where he was used as an in-line tight end, an H-Back and a wide receiver. I believe Hernandez's experience is why he's already earning a lot of opportunities to see the field with Tom Brady - and impressing - in mini camps.

With Hernandez in the slot or split wide, Tom Brady will have another player capable of creating mismatches that forces a defense to tip its hand with the defenders used to cover the rookie. This will allow Brady to make even more effective pre-snap adjustments. Just look at the Colts with Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie and Dallas Clark. The hybrid TE from Iowa forces defenses to show its hand in a way that makes Peyton Manning's life easier. If it can work for Manning, it's going to work as well for Brady.

The other Patriots tight ends don't offer this range of options. Rob Gronkowski is currently struggling with the offense and as physically gifted as he is, he's not as versatile. He's much stronger than Hernandez, but as a receiver he lacks the innate timing to adjust to the ball in the air on fade routes that can really make a move tight end an asset in the slot or split wide. I expect Gronkowski to be Alge Crumpler's understudy this year. I expect both of these tight ends to see the field in two-TE sets, and I wouldn't be shocked if Hernandez is used as a third tight end in the same formation to benefit the short passing game.

As excited as I am about Hernandez's prospects, I admit it's a boom-bust deal. I think a good approach for redraft leagues is to take an established stud TE (Gates, Witten, or Gonzalez) early and after round 12 (how late depends on your league and how the rookie's summer progresses) take a chance on Hernandez's upside.

If it works out as well as I imagine, Hernandez will average between 3-4 catches per game, 50-60 yards, and average a score every other contest. For a rookie tight end, 56 catches, 880 yards and 8 scores might sound loony. However, Mike Ditka holding a 49 year-old record that he earned during a run-oriented era of football and no passing-era TE hasn't approached is loonier. I think with a quarterback like Brady, an outside wide receiver like Moss, and an offense where they could move a player like Hernandez around to be a mismatch, the rookie has a better shot at 1000 yards than any tight end in recent years.

I can already envision the beginning of next year's article:

Tony Moeaki, Chiefs

Skills: While everyone was still arguing the merits (and sanity) of my Hernandez selection in a recent Footballguys Staff PPR Mock, Cecil Lammey quietly took Tony Moeaki very late. The Chiefs rookie is already the odds-on favorite to start after a mini camp where he has shown excellent skill as a receiver. Moeaki as the athleticism to stretch the field and gain yardage after the catch, but he's also a technically sound blocker that will be an asset to the Chiefs ground game. I think he's a lot like Heath Miller, but quicker and faster.

Obstacles: Not many. Moeaki has already won over teammates who are chanting his name on the sidelines after impressive plays in practice and his competition are two oversized underachievers in Leonard Pope and Brad Cottam who might just be exhibits A and B that tall, high-hipped players that lack a decent center of gravity don't make good receivers or blockers.

It's possible that Moeaki could be a more frequent target than we expect. Both Dwayne Bowe and Chris Chambers have big-time ability, but they have underachieved throughout their careers. You never know what you're going to get from them each year and fantasy owners have learned to lower their expectations. Dexter McCluster might prove to be the Chiefs most dangerous receiver, but he's likely to work from the slot and from the backfield. If neither Bowe nor Chambers work out, Moeaki could become the No. 2 pass catcher in the Charlie Weiss' pecking order. If they play close to expectations, Moeaki may still start but he might be no more than a No. 3 option on any play.

Outlook: Moeaki might be the realist's best bet to achieve starter production and be the best rookie tight end in 2010. Nevertheless, I would expect no more than 5-6 targets per game, resulting in an average of 3 catches, 40 yards and a score every few games. It's a season total of 48 catches, 640 yards and 5 scores, which would put Moeaki in the neighborhood of 85 points and give him a shot to be a starter in your league, or at the very least a strong bye-week option.

Talent, Opportunity, but...

Jermaine Gresham, Bengals

Skills: Regarded among many draftniks as the best rookie tight end prospect in entering the league in 2010, Gresham is big enough as an in-line blocker and agile enough to make plays down the field as a receiver. The rookie from Oklahoma can do some impressive things with the ball in his hands such as leap over defenders and run through hits. His build-up speed is good enough that he can get big yardage with open field in front of him. If Gresham takes a dedicated approach to the game he has what it takes to be a productive do-it-all tight end.

Obstacles: Gresham was a productive, but inconsistent pass catcher at Oklahoma. He made big plays, but he didn't catch the ball as cleanly as one would like to see from a tight end that will be dealing with a lot tighter coverage in the NFL. He will need to improve his concentration and catch the ball more effectively with his fingertips. Otherwise, untimely drops will cost him the trust of Carson Palmer before they even begin to develop a rapport.

Gresham has nice moments as a run blocker, but he doesn't use his hands well enough to get into an opponent's chest and direct the defender at his will. Graham is a player with a lot of flash because he's athletic, attended a big school and he was productive. However, I think he lacks the substantive fundamentals and consistency of at least 3-5 other prospects at his position. In a Bengals offense that has receivers the caliber of Chad Ochocinco, Antonio Bryant, Matt Jones, Bubba Caldwell and even Jordan Shipley and Jerome Simpson, Gresham is far from a lock to be a productive receiver as a rookie in Cincinnati.

Outlook: I believe Gresham will earn some situational opportunities in the red zone and other places where two tight end sets will be called upon. However, I don't believe he's a player that will see more than 2-3 targets in a game and I doubt that he'll average more than two targets per game. Even if the passes are all on the mark and Gresham catches 75 percent of them, we're looking at 30 receptions for the rookie.

I would project at 30 receptions, Gresham will earn 300-350 yards and score 4-5 times. This total is not enough to consider Gresham as an option worth drafting unless you play in a large league with a deep roster. He's certainly a good player to know about because if the Bengals receiving corps gets hurt and the offense has to opt for more schemes featuring the tight end, it could give a more significant bump to Gresham's opportunities. However, I doubt he will have the consistency to catch 75 percent of his targets or get open enough to develop into a productive fantasy contributor this year.

Talented, Limited Opportunity

Dennis Pitta, Ravens

Skills: Pitta is a player to monitor whenever you see news about the Baltimore Ravens, because if Todd Heap succumbs to injury again, the rookie from BYU has what it takes to become the most productive rookie tight end of this draft class. While not extremely fast, Pitta is one of the quickest of his peers and it helps him get off the line and head of defenders playing him tight. He is adept at finding the openings in zone, but what he does as well as any of his peers is catch the football in tight coverage. He's a physical player with a knack for winning battles in tight coverage to get his hands on the ball first, and he can take a hit. Pitta also showed at BYU that he produces even when hurt. I watched him make strong contributions against Arizona in the 2009 Las Vegas Bowl while performing with a knee injury that noticeably hampered his athleticism. He was still physical as a blocker, savvy as a route runner and reliable catching the football.

Obstacles: The Ravens have upgraded its offensive talent in the offseason to give it a lot of promise to become a balanced unit. Anquan Boldin provides a physical, athletic complement to the venerable Derrick Mason as outside receivers capable of catching the football anywhere on the field. Donte Stallworth still has the potential to be the next Joey Galloway although the shine of his youth has been reduced to a glimmer due to years of inconsistency. Nevertheless, he will compete with Mark Clayton, Kelley Washington and Demetrius Williams for targets as a No. 3-No. 4 WR in multiple sets. If Stallworth plays with intensity he could earn a lot of time on the field and this means Pitta could see limited opportunities as long as veteran Todd Heap, stays physically intact. If Heap falters, Pitta will still have to compete with fellow rookie Ed Dickson, an athletic receiver with good hands and route skills to stretch the seam.

Outlook: If Pitta earns the opportunity to start, I would rank him just below Tony Moeaki. However, I wouldn't be surprised if the Ravens tried to use Pitta as a short option or blocking tight end and Dickson as the receiver if Heap can't stay on the field, which would dramatically decrease his potential for impact. This is why I recommend filing away any information you read about Dickson and Pitta in camp, because if Dickson's adjustment seems to be slow but Pitta is earning praise, the rookie from BYU could be one of those waiver wire specials that could help out your team.

Jimmy Graham, Saints

Skills: The former forward for the Miami Hurricanes decided to return to his first love of football as a senior. He was so impressive with certain aspects of his game that he was labeled a developmental project with great upside. Graham is the type of player that could develop quickly because he has soft hands, adjusts very well to the football and flashes subtle skills in his routes to get open. Combine this with good speed and quickness for his size that should give him an eventual advantage against linebackers, and he could easily become a strong fantasy option at the TE position within the next 2-3 seasons. In fact, fantasy owners will likely get impatient with him if he gets the opportunity to show a little bit of his talent early in his career.

Obstacles: Graham's blocking techniques are as raw as steak tar tare. Cecil Lammey has told the story frequently of what we saw from Graham in drills at the Senior Bowl in January. The summarized version is that compared to every other prospect, Graham didn't know how to use his hands to summon the force necessary to deliver an initial punch. As a high-cut athlete (all legs), his ability to maintain his balance as a runner will be a question mark early in his career. Although he's making a good impression thus far, Jeremy Shockey and David Thomas are more proven options with strong receiving skills and greater knowledge of the offense. They both have a good rapport with Drew Brees, which means Graham is unlikely to see the field for extended periods of time if the veterans ahead of him remain healthy.

Outlook: Graham could very well become a Pro Bowl tight end at some point in his career. He's smart, loves the game and plays in an offense where he can make an impact as a receiver first without putting his teammates at risk as a blocker. However, I think Graham will be limited to some red zone looks this year. There he can use his great size and strong one-on-one skills as a fade route specialist in the slot or split wide against a corner. It could earn him 5-7 scores if he dominates with this one role. Even so, I doubt he catches more than 15-20 passes with healthy, productive veterans ahead of him and that makes him a bye-week option at best.

Ed Dickson, Ravens

Skills: Dickson is a smart football player with the speed to challenge the intermediate seam. He catches the ball with his hands and he does a good job of making receptions with his back to the line of scrimmage. The Ravens will need a replacement to Todd Heap sooner than later and Dickson has the receiving skills to be a factor for the Ravens when called upon.

Obstacles: Dickson wasn't asked to do much as a run blocker in the spread offense at Oregon and even when he was used in this capacity, he was an unreliable lead blocker on plays to the outside. His physical dimensions make Dickson more of a "move-tight end" and he will lose out to fellow rookie Dennis Pitta if the Ravens want an every down tight end. If Todd Heap gets hurt, Pitta has the savvy and underrated athleticism to push Dickson hard for the top spot. Even if Dickson earns the job, he will still be low on the pecking order for targets in this Ravens offense.

Outlook: If Dickson can show off better speed in the pros than I think he displayed in college football then he has a shot to be a productive situational receiver in a run-based offensive scheme. If the Ravens ever open its offense as much as Green Bay has with Aaron Rodgers, then he could be a poor man's Jermichael Finley. I'm not counting on it, but sometimes you need to use your imagination to see a player's potential if he's not in a great situation to begin his career. Dickson's situation could be better, but it's not bad. It could become very good much faster than expected.

Fantasy Free Agents Who Could Produce If Called Upon

Rob Gronkowski, Patriots

Skills: Some people believe Gronkowski had the talent to be the first tight end off the board in the 2010 NFL Draft. However, concerns about a back injury that kept him out last year deflated his stock. Gronkowski is probably the best run-blocker in this draft class. He has the size as an in-line tight end and like his older brother, Lions reserve tight end Dan Gronkowski, the Pats rookie is a high-effort player that can be an asset for the ground game. Gronkowski is also very adept at making catches in tight spaces and not losing the ball after taking punishment. He also shows skill at getting off the line of scrimmage and into his routes. He has most of the skills NFL teams would like from an every down player.

Obstacles: Gronkowski is fast enough, but not a game breaker at his position. When placed in single coverage in the red zone, he has shown repeated difficulty winning opportunities to catch fade routes. One example I can relay is in a match up with former UCLA cornerback and Titans draft pick Alterraun Verner. Gronkowski could not beat his undersized opponent when he was split wide or in the slot on flag routes in the end zone. It wasn't the first chance I had seen him miss-time his play on the football when it was in the air. He simply doesn't do a good job in this area of the field, which unfortunately is a very key part of where the most productive fantasy tight ends have a chance to thrive.

Aaron Hernandez is noticeably more skilled in this area of his game and the rookie from Florida is earning first-team reps in mini camp as a receiver lining up in a variety of places. Meanwhile, veteran Alge Crumpler has come to New England to upgrade the run blocking the teams needs at the position. Crumpler told the media last year that he embraced his new role as an unofficial offensive lineman for the Titans after years as a strong target for the Falcons. Crumpler will likely have the same role for the Patriots, who, from my film study of the offense, could have benefited from an edge blocker with better skills than Ben Watson. New England's ground game improved last year, but the offensive line missed a lot of opportunities to make blocks at the second level that would have generated bigger plays for its backs. Using Gronkowski and Crumpler in 2-TE sets could make a big difference.

Outlook: Gronkowski will begin his career as the No. 2 tight end in two-tight end sets when the Patriots run the football. He will get some opportunities as a receiver, but I expect them to be limited due to the versatility and game breaking skill of Aaron Hernandez, who will likely see most of his time in the slot, as an H-back or split wide. If the Patriots ever revert to a smash-mouth style with more traditional offensive sets, Gronkowski could thrive as a receiver in the middle of the field. However, I think his football value will be greater than his immediate fantasy value. Don't expect much this year unless injuries thrust him into the spotlight.

Garrett Graham, Texans

Skills: I think Graham is one of the most versatile and underrated tight ends in this class. He's considered a bit undersized and the media continues to copycat the worry that he won't have the athleticism to be as effective in the NFL as he was in the Big 10. I hope they worried about it with Owen Daniels, because Graham's fellow alum at Wisconsin proved he could produce and he is physically very similar. Graham has excellent hands and he has shown the capability of catching passes thrown away from his body and he has just enough speed to get into the intermediate seam. He is an underrated runner after the catch because despite his lack of impressive size or speed, he runs with good pad level and balance to get extra yardage.

What makes him a potentially valuable NFL player is his ability to line up as an in-line tight end, slot player or H-back and effectively work with his quarterback as a receiver or with his offensive line as a run blocker. I believe Graham is technically one of the better run-blocking tight ends in this class. He consistently did a strong job of firing off the line of scrimmage or getting into the flat from the backfield. He uses his hands very well against his opponent, driving the defender backwards or turning him away from the flow of the play. He's also a high-effort blocker that repeatedly got under the skin of his opponents because he played hard until the whistle. I was not at all shocked when Graham shared a lot of first-team opportunities in mini camp when Owen Daniels was out.

Obstacles: Graham will have to compete with Anthony Hill, Dan Dreessen and the promising James Casey to earn a spot on the Texans roster. I seriously doubt he can climb high enough to be more than a No. 3 tight end in Houston if his competition remains healthy, but I believe he'll land on a team that needs a versatile, hard-nosed football player with talent.

Outlook: Unless Houston experiences an injury epidemic, expect Graham to get cut and picked up by another team. This will delay his opportunity to make an impact.

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to waldman@footballguys.com.