Pre-Combine Buzz - The Life Of Riley Reiff
Iowa OT Riley Reiff
Iowa OT Riley Reiff
Posted Feb 20, 2012

Reiff might be the key to the draft, the importance of TEs and DTs, & more in Part 2 of the Pre-Combine Draft Buzz.

2012 NFL Combine Buzz

Part Two

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- 2011 Pre-Combine Buzz 
- Breaking Down the 2012 NFL Combine 

- Part One Ryan Tannehill, Justin Blackmon, & RGII's Height 
- Part Three The likely stars in the 40, & RB problems 

The Tight End Shuffle

Yes, the NFL really is a copycat league, and it's no coincidence that most of the top teams have a devastating pass catcher at tight end. New England changed the way offenses can be run with its use of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, while Jimmy Graham has become the new prototype at New Orleans and Vernon Davis has grown into his talent at San Francisco.

There are few flakier positions to draft high than wide receiver, and with the way offenses are changing and adapting, don't be shocked if more and more teams start to get away from taking a chance at receiver and go more for the safe and sure tight end.

Kyle Rudolph didn't exactly set the world on fire for Minnesota last year, but for the most part, drafting tight ends relatively early tends to work out.

In 2010, Cincinnati got Jermaine Gresham in the first round and Gronkowski went in the second. Graham went in the third and Hernandez in the fourth, while Ed Dickson was a nice get for Baltimore in the third and Tony Moeaki, who also went in the third, seems to be a keeper for Kansas City. Richard Quinn might be a wash for Denver, but in 2009, Detroit got a good one in the first round in Brandon Pettigrew, and Jared Cook – taken in the third - is a good-looking young player for Tennessee.

The first tight end taken in 2008 was Dustin Keller. In 2007 it was Greg Olsen, in 2006 it was Vernon Davis, in 2005 it was Heath Miller, 2004 Kellen Winslow, 2003 Dallas Clark, 2002 Jeremy Shockey, and 2001 it was Todd Heap, with Alge Crumpler going next. None of them were busts and all were taken in the middle of the first round or lower.

Compare that to where the top receivers have gone over the years and the investments needed to get them in the first half of the first rounds. For every A.J. Green in 2001, there's a Darrius Heyward-Bey in 2009. For every Calvin Johnson in 2007, there's a Charles Rogers in 2003.

Devin Thomas? Donnie Avery? Ted Ginn? Chad Jackson? Sinorice Moss? Receivers just aren't as safe now as tight ends, making the pecking order in this draft one of the key storylines.

Ask five different scouts and you'll get five different answers on which tight end is best.

Georgia's Orson Charles should test out to be the fastest and most athletic of the top tier prospects, but he's not polished. Clemson's Dwayne Allen has the size, but he's not fast. Stanford's Coby Fleener looks like Jimmy Graham size-wise, but doesn't have any speed and isn't nearly the same athlete. Louisiana's Ladarius Green is a pure pass catcher, Missouri's Michael Egnew has plenty of upside in all areas, and LSU's Deangelo Peterson might be scratching the surface considering he didn't have a top passing quarterback throwing his way.

The chance is there for one of the tight ends to become the main man coming out of Indy. None of them are likely going to go in the first round, but there could be a mad scramble in the early to mid-second depending on how this group looks.

Riley Reiff?

While there have been a few bombs like Shonn Greene and Robert Gallery, Iowa players have represented themselves relatively well.

Adrian Clayborn looks like a playmaker for Tampa Bay; Bryan Bulaga is starting to come into his own for Green Bay; and Chad Greenway has grown into a tackling machine. Those are just a few good ones, to go along with stars like Bob Sanders and Dallas Clark, to offset the busts and the mid-to-late round flameouts. And now the spotlight will be on Riley Reiff, who has gone from being a good-looking prospect to a possible top five overall pick. There's even some thought that he might be the No. 2 overall pick to St. Louis.

Reiff was okay last year, but he wasn't a sure-thing All-America dominator. Iowa stunk last year in pass protection and was mediocre up front for the running game, but still the 6-6, 300 pounder has turned into the guy who could be the key piece of the puzzle up top.

He's a bit of an unfinished product. He's plenty good as-is, but he might just be scratching the surface of what he can become, with excellent upside to go along with his tools. But here's the problem; he has upside and he could become a terrific pro if he hits the weights harder and continues to progress, but there's a chance he doesn't take that next step and becomes a right tackle. You don't spend a top ten draft pick on a right tackle.

Is Reiff worth investing the franchise in? If he goes to St. Louis at the two, Minnesota at the three, or down to Miami at the nine or Buffalo at the ten, he'll be expected to be a cornerstone. The next several weeks of workouts could determine whether or not he's worth taking so high, and if he might be an even better prospect than USC's Matt Kalil.

Which Defensive Tackle Can Play?

What's the hardest position to come up with a star? Defensive tackle.

It's easy to find guys who can sit in the middle of a line and take up space, but a tackle who's big and athletic and durable is worth almost as much as finding a franchise quarterback because it's a far bigger gamble. Why do you think everyone bent over backwards for so long hoping for Albert Haynesworth to get back to form?

Out of the eight 2011 Pro Bowl defensive tackles, Richard Seymour, Haloti Ngata, Vince Wilfork, B.J. Raji, and Justin Smith were first round picks, with Smith drafted by Cincinnati more as an end than a true interior defender. Paul Solari was a fourth round pick in 2007; Geno Atkins was a fourth round selection in 2010; and Jay Ratliff was drafted as an end in the seventh round of the 2005 draft.

Marcell Dareus should be a Pro Bowler in time, and the jury is still out on last year's other first round tackle picks – Nick Fairley, Corey Liuget, Phil Taylor, and Muhammad Wilkerson – but historically, taking a defensive tackle in the first round has become hit-or-miss at the top. Teams are just as likely to get a starter in the fourth round as they are in the top ten.

It's not an exact science. Ndamukong Suh is a talent when he's not being a knucklehead, while Gerald McCoy can't stay healthy. Ngata has Hall of Fame potential, while Brodrick Bunkley, taken two picks later by Philadelphia in the 2006 draft, has been a bust at worst, mediocre at best.

From Gerald Warren to Glenn Dorsey, and from Ryan Sims to Amobi Okoye, time and again teams have come up short trying to find dominators for their defensive interior, but it has to be done. Chicago's defense hasn't been the same since Tommie Harris deteriorated, while New England forged the bedrock of a dynasty with Wilfork and Seymour. Get the right tackle, and everything else on a defense tends to work out.

This year, it'll be yet another roll of the dice on a slew of good prospects, and as always, this should be one of the biggest second-guess areas a few years from now.

LSU's Michael Brockers has a world of upside, but he still needs to develop and he's still a work in progress. Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox is a bit of a tweener who might work best as a 3-4 end. Dontari Poe from Memphis is a true inside beefeater, but he's not a pass rusher. Penn State's Devon Still was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, but he disappeared down the key stretch late in the season when teams like Wisconsin figured out he could be erased by double teams.

Michigan State's Jerel Worthy is a top-five talent with a fifth-round motor; Clemson's Brandon Thompson isn't going to be an interior pass rusher; and Michigan's Mike Martin just doesn't have the raw measurables.

Spin the wheel, NFL GMs. One of these defensive tackles will be worth building a defense around.

- Part One Ryan Tannehill, Justin Blackmon, & RGII's Height 
- Part Three The likely stars in the 40, & RB problems