NFL scouting combine preview: tight ends

The NFL scouting combine starts Feb. 22. In advance of the annual meat market in Indianapolis, staff writer Matt Vensel will examine each position and give Ravens fans the 4-1-1. In this post he looks at tight ends.

The top prospects: Stanford's Coby Fleener was a big-play threat up the seams for Andrew Luck, catching 34 passes for 667 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2011. Clemson's Dwayne Allen had 50 catches for 598 yards and eight touchdowns. Both pass-catching tight ends could wind up being first-round draft picks. Georgia's Orson Charles, who had 45 catches for 574 yards this past season, is also one of the top tight ends in April’s draft.

Other intriguing names: Oregon's David Paulson showed big-play ability in the receiving game and can improve his stock by running well at the combine. Temple's Evan Rodriguez is listed as a fullback, but he did a little bit of everything for the Owls. Ladarius Green of Louisiana-Lafayette is a shade under 6-foot-6 and is a prospect to watch, along with Missouri’s Michael Egnew, LSU's Deangelo Peterson and Miami's Chase Ford.

Grading the class: After the remarkable seasons that Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots and Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints had in 2011, count on other NFL teams coveting athletic tight ends like those two even more. Good luck finding comparable players, though, in this year’s draft. A few tight ends will flash athleticism at the combine and improve their draft stock, but I would give this underwhelming group a solid C.

Fitting the Ravens: Second-year tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson emerged in 2011, giving quarterback Joe Flacco a pair of big targets over the middle and inside the red zone. The Ravens probably aren’t looking to draft another young tight end, but you never know when the best-available-player rule will come into play.

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