DRAFT 2008: TIGHT ENDS

Dustin Keller of Purdue University made the transition from wide receiver to tight end while in college. Now, he is projected to be one of the top players at his position in the April 25-26 NFL Draft.

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Keller Among Several Tight Ends Projected in First Three Rounds

INDIANAPOLIS – The transition, Dustin Keller said recently, is complete.

It's a transition that in less than two weeks will put the Purdue University tight end in the NFL. Not only that, it could put him there as a first-day selection in the 2008 NFL Draft.

Four years ago, Keller arrived at Purdue as a wide receiver.

Years passed. He worked out. He gained weight.

A move was made.

Now, in the spring of 2008, Keller is a tight end, and while at 6-foot-2, 242 pounds he's not a prototypical tight end in the traditional NFL sense, he is part of a growing number of "hybrid," pass-catching tight ends that are becoming key to NFL offenses.

"I completely feel like a tight end now," Keller said recently. "It's been a transition in the making the past three years, but I definitely feel like a tight end."

Keller, a two-year starter at Purdue, is considered by many observers and analysts a classic "H-Back," a combination fullback/receiver/tight end. The player often lines up in the backfield, and at wide receiver, and at tight end.

Sort of like Colts tight end Dallas Clark?, Keller was asked at the recent NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis?

"Yeah," Keller said. "Generally more people would classify me as a hybrid, more of a receiving tight end."

Keller, who caught 124 passes for 1,662 yards and 11 touchdowns over the past two seasons, caught a career-high 68 passes for 881 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior. He is widely considered by analysts one of the top two or three players available at his position, projected to be selected late in the first round or sometime in the second.

Several mock drafts have Keller as high as No. 25 to the Seattle Seahawks in a class that features five-to-seven players at the position generally considered first- through third-round selections.

"It's a good group," San Francisco 49ers General Manager Scot McCloughan said at the recent NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. "The one thing that's unique this year – and I think you'll see it for the future – is that with a lot of these college offenses going to three- and four-receiver sets, you're going to see more tight ends flexed out or detached from the line of scrimmage.

"They're used more as receivers rather than really blocking tight ends. And definitely you'll see guys who are 6-3, who in the past were too short for a (NFL) tight end. They were considered H-backs. I think you'll see more offenses in the NFL going towards using the H-back because of the supply of guys coming out of college these days."

The transition from high-school wide receiver to collegiate tight end, Keller said, came relatively naturally. He arrived at Purdue relatively lightly-recruited, weighing around 210 pounds. He began serious weight training for the first time, and grew to around 230 pounds.

"They made that transition in spring time, spring ball, and I became a tight end," he said.

At 242 pounds, he said he believes he can get bigger and continue to play effectively, although he said how much bigger will depend upon his future team.

"I feel good at that weight," Keller said. "I feel I could put on a lot more weight. But I feel it's comfortable for me. As far as league personnel are concerned, I don't know exactly what weight they want to see me at – if they want me bigger to be better suited to block more, or if they want me to be lighter to run routes.

"I think they have some type of general idea. They can't predict exactly that 'Dustin, at 13 more pounds then you wouldn't be able to move like this.' But I can put a little more weight on and move like I do."

Keller said while he lined up as a true tight end in college "more times than not," he also lined up at times in the slot, a spot traditionally reserved for receivers. That, coupled with his transition from a high-school wide receiver, has created a perception that he is not as strong a blocker as a receiver, he said.

"You definitely have that knock immediately: 'Is he tough enough? Is he willing to get his head in there and block somebody?''' Keller said. "Hopefully people will get to watch more of my film and see that I am willing to get in there and block somebody.

"It's more technique than anything. A lot of people would think it's strength, but . . . it's technique more than anything, just repetition, repetition. The more reps I take, the better I'm going to get."

Breaking Down the Top Tight Ends

While there is no elite, Top 15-level player as there has been in recent drafts, tight end is generally considered a deep position, with three-to-five players considered potential second-round selections by many analysts. Fred David, a senior from Southern Cal, has been projected as a second-round selection by many draft analysts, and Purdue senior Dustin Keller has been projected as a late first-round selection by some and a solid second-rounder by others. Some analysts have Martellus Bennett – a junior from Texas A&M – as the top player at the position, projecting him in the second round, and Michigan State senior Kellen Davis also has been projected as a second-to-third-round selection.

Tight Ends on the Colts' Roster

Dallas Clark, sixth NFL season; Bryan Fletcher, fourth NFL season; Gijon Robinson, first NFL season.

THE TIGHT ENDS

A look at the tight end position in the 2008 NFL Draft. Rankings and projected rounds are based on several national draft publications and in no way reflect the opinions of Colts personnel.

Rank, Player, Ht., Wt., School, Projected Round

1, Fred Davis, 6-3, 255, Southern Cal, 2

2, Dustin Keller, 6-2, 242, Purdue, 2-3

3, Kellen Davis, 6-6, 262, Michigan State, 2-3

4, Martellus Bennett, 6-6, 259, Texas A&M*, 2-3

5, Brad Cottam, 6-7, 270, Tennessee, 2-3

6, John Carlson, 6-5, 255, Notre Dame, 3-4

7, Martin Rucker, 6-4, 251, Missouri, 3-4

8, Jacob Tamme, 6-3, 236, Kentucky, 4-5

9, Joe Jon Finely, 6-6, 254, Oklahoma, 4-5

10, Jermichael Finley, 6-4, 243, Texas, 5-6

11, Derek Fine, 6-3, 251, Kansas, 5-6

12, Craig Stevens, 6-3, 254, California, 5-6

13, Gary Barnidge, 6-6, 244, Louisville, 6-7

14, Darrell Strong, 6-4, 268, Pittsburgh, 7

15, Adam Bishop, 6-4, 243, Nevada, 7

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