2011 NFL DRAFT: TIGHT ENDS

A position-by-position look at prospects in this year's NFL Draft. This entry: Tight ends.

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A Look at This Year's NFL Draft Tight End Prospects
In his three seasons at Notre Dame, tight end Kyle Rudolph played for two head coaches with entirely different offensive systems. The situation steeled Rudolph. He learned to adapt.

"Playing for coach (Charlie) Weis for two years was great," Rudolph said during the recent NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. "He's the reason why I went to Notre Dame and I loved playing in his offense. Then coach (Brian) Kelly came in with the spread offense and I was able to pick up on that pretty quick. He created a lot of mismatches offensively, and I got to play a lot of different spots."

And now, a number of NFL Draft observers project that the 6-6, 265-pound Rudolph will be the first tight end chosen in the league selection event on April 28-30. It could be late in the first round or early in the second.

Whatever happens, Rudolph sees himself as ready for the NFL. The Notre Dame experience prepared him.

"I think my greatest strength," he said, "is just to be a complete tight end, a tight end who can hold the point and block at the line of scrimmage as well as a tight end who can get downfield and catch balls. I'm a tight end who can play on all downs.

"It's something I think I've done since my freshman year at Notre Dame."

Rudolph landed with the Fighting Irish after a standout high school career at Cincinnati Elder. In his first two Irish seasons, he caught 62 passes for an 11.4-yard average and five touchdowns.

Rudolph looked forward to a huge junior season at Notre Dame, but adversity struck in the form of a hamstring injury after six games. It required surgery and ended his year. Still, he totaled 328 receiving yards and three touchdowns, including a 164-yard game against Michigan.

Rudolph said in February his leg is 100-percent healed. He arrived at the decision to leave Notre Dame after his junior season after much research and consideration.

"It just came down to being the best decision for myself and my family," he said. "It was something I thought about for a long time and got a lot of opinions. I had a lot of great people on my side -- Coach Kelly and Coach Weis and our personnel director at school, getting as many opinions as I could and putting the facts together. I sat down with my mom and dad and we decided this was the best decision."

Rudolph's football resume shows plenty of positives. He can line up inside or split wide. He has decent speed, instinctively finds seams in the defense and catches the ball cleanly. And he appears to relish the challenge of blocking in the ground game.

"I feel like that's my biggest asset, being a tight end that can be an in-line guy as well as a tight end that can be moved and run every route that a receiver runs," he said.

Rudolph moved to Irvine, Calif., this winter to train with a number of other highly projected draft picks, players such as Purdue defensive lineman Ryan Kerrigan, Washington quarterback Jake Locker and Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller.

"Some of the best athletes in this draft," Rudolph said. "Being able to go out there and work with them every day is something that is going to better me. It's a great time, it's great competition."

Rudolph's adaptability in different schemes ranks as a strength. As a high school senior, he turned down an opportunity to go to Ohio State so he could play in Weis' pro-style attack at Notre Dame. Rudolph flourished.

Then came Kelly to Notre Dame with his spread offense, which Rudolph had witnessed when he was in high school and Kelly was coaching at the University of Cincinnati. Under Kelly at Notre Dame, Rudolph often benefited when defenses wound up with slower, less athletic players on him.

Moving to the next level, Rudolph has lofty aspirations.

"Tony Gonzalez is the best tight end who has ever played in my time, and I really try to model myself after him," Rudolph said. "But I feel that Jason Witten ... I feel really comparable to his game, a guy that can hold the point and is a great blocker, but at the same time he makes huge plays in the passing game."

BREAKING DOWN THE 2011 NFL DRAFT'S TIGHT ENDSNotre Dame's Kyle Rudolph is the only underclassman tight end in this draft. Most analysts rate Rudolph, who's coming off hamstring surgery last season, at the top of the crop. The best seniors in this year's group of tight ends may wind up being selected in the third round or later, although Luke Stocker of Tennessee is an intriguing prospect at 6-6 and 253 pounds. D.J. Williams of Arkansas and Lance Kendricks of Wisconsin are potential third-round choices.

THE LAST FIVEThe last five tight ends drafted by the Colts ...

2010: Brady Eldridge, fifth round, Oklahoma.

2008: Jacob Tamme, fourth round, Kentucky.
Tom Santi, sixth round, Virginia.

2004: Ben Hartsock, third round, Ohio State.

2003: Dallas Clark, first round, Iowa.

THIS YEAR'S DRAFTAn alphabetical list of 10 tight ends expected to be selected in the 2011 NFL Draft ...

Jordan Cameron, USC, 6-5, 254
Charlie Gantt, Michigan State, 6-5, 260
Virgil Green, Nevada, 6-3, 249
Robert Housler, Florida Atlantic, 6-5, 228
Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin, 6-4, 241
Zack Pianalto, North Carolina, 6-3, 256
Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame, 6-6, 265
Luke Stocker, Tennessee, 6-6, 253
Julius Thomas, Portland State, 6-5, 240
D.J. Williams, Arkansas, 6-2, 251

Note: The content in this story and in the series of draft-eligible players that appears on Colts.com in no way reflects the position of the Indianapolis Colts.

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