The tight end position in the NFL continues to evolve. Over the past few years, we have seen players like Jimmy Graham, Jermichael Finley, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez change the way the position is played. Perhaps the Cowboys were onto something back in 2008 when they drafted a second tight end even though they had Jason Witten, but they probably drafted the wrong one.
Martellus Bennett wasn't a very good second-round selection, but had he been selected a few rounds later, he would have been very serviceable. You don't draft blocking tight ends that high in the draft; Bennett never developed into the athletic Antonio Gates type of player that he was labeled with coming out of college.
When Bennett parted ways with the Cowboys and signed with division rivals the New York Giants, the front office did take a closer look at what was on the free agent market. Bears tight end Kellen Davis was brought in for a visit, but left without a contract. Seahawks tight end John Carlson was another name associated with the Cowboys, but he signed with the Vikings.
John Phillips is a solid football player and if he didn't suffer a torn ACL in the 2010 pre-season, he probably would have passed Bennett on the depth chart. Phillips still could be the long term option at tight end, but with the club striking out in free agency they had to invest a draft pick at the position.
Unfortunately this year's tight end class wasn't that deep. My personal favorite was Ladarius Green, a receiving tight end in the Aaron Hernandez type of mold, but he was drafted by the Chargers. The Cowboys selected Oklahoma tight end James Hanna in the sixth-round of the 2012 NFL Draft and Hanna looks like a very promising receiving option.
- 6'4, 252
- 22 years old
- Flower Mound, Texas
- 54 games, 27 started
- 52 receptions, 720 yards, 9 TD
The first thing that some point out is that Hanna didn't produce spectacular numbers in college. Keep in mind that he was behind a first-round pick and All-American tight end Jermaine Gresham. Also consider that in Oklahoma's spread offense, the tight end isn't a featured option as it is in more traditional offenses, but Hanna did begin producing when he became a starter.
When he finally got his chance, he produced 7 touchdowns and became a reliable target. While his overall numbers aren't exciting, his yards per catch (16.2 in 2010, 14.1 in 2011) displayed that he could make the big play. Hanna has the size and speed to become the receiving tight end the Cowboys had thought they had in Bennett. Jason Garrett employs the two tight end set a lot, so Hanna will have a opportunity to make an impact in his rookie season and beyond.
Hanna showed up to the 2012 NFL Combine and blew the doors off the place with a great performance. His athleticism was put on full display, but there is the fear that he could be a "workout warrior" type of prospect.
2012 NFL Combine Results
- 4.49 40 yard dash (top performer at tight end)
- 6.76 three-cone drill (top performer at tight end)
- 4.11 20 yard shuttle (top performer at tight end)
- 11.43 60 yard shuttle (top performer at tight end)
- 36 inch vertical
If the Cowboys use him correctly, Hanna could use his skills as a receiver and athleticism to become a match up problem for the opposing defense:
- Good size
- Great athleticism
- Great speed
- Good route runner
- Possesses good hands
- Good red zone target
- Not a great blocker, needs to work on that in the NFL
- Needs to get better release off of the line of scrimmage
- Not very tough and strong
- While he has great hands, he does drop passes when he knows that he will be getting hit
Oklahoma TE James Hanna Draft Profile (via ProFootballWeekly)
In the sixth-round of the draft, you cannot expect to find amazing players, the odds are just not in your favor. Hanna has amazing athleticism for a prospect selected that late in the draft and comes from a major college. His speed and receiving skills could be used to stretch the field and he could become a versatile weapon for the Cowboys' offense.
He will need to work on his strength and conditioning, which will take time. A year or two in a NFL conditioning program will do wonders for him. While Hanna can seal the edge as a blocker, it's still his biggest flaw as a prospect. If he can continue to bulk up and become a stronger player, he has the frame to grow into a reliable blocker. Technique also plays a big part in the NFL, so if he can learn proper ways to block, Hanna could become a well rounded football player.
This may not be a sexy pick, but Hanna has some Aaron Hernandez in him and could grow into a draft day steal. He will have to put the work in, but his upside is well worth the risk.
Oklahoma TE James Hanna Highlights.wmv (via Antonio Nickerson)