One of the draft's great debates is the idea of best player available over position of need. There are those that say the Falcons need a cornerback, a defensive end or a new offensive lineman. Still others say the Falcons should begin to consider grooming a tight end to be the eventual replacement for future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez.
This week's Mock Monitor features both sides of that argument. In a two-way tie by being selected twice for the Falcons in the mock drafts is tight end Dwayne Allen and defensive end Cam Johnson. This week we return to Craig Vanderkam of Sideline Scouting for a look at the redshirt junior tight end from Clemson. But first, Vanderkam weighs in on the idea of position value versus drafting for a specified need. This year's tight end crop and the status of Gonzalez makes this an especially compelling conversation.
"If Allen is available, they should definitely consider him," Vanderkam said. "In our most recent projection, Allen provided better value from the tight end position than the Falcons' other need positions. This year's tight end class is weak so if it's in the Falcons plans to draft one at any point this year they'll need to consider taking one with their first pick, otherwise they might not find a potential starter later on."
Many scouts see another former Falcon tight end when they look at the six-foot-four, 255-pound tight end. Alge Crumpler, the Falcons' 2001 second-round pick, and his sure hands and clean route running comes to mind. Vanderkam is reminded of a similar player, ten-year veteran Randy McMichael.
"He is a well built, physical athlete who can block and can also make plays down the field," Vanderkam said. "McMichael is past his prime now but he was one of the top receiving tight ends in the NFL earlier in his career."
Allen was a versatile player at Clemson, used all over the field in an offense that is considered compatible with the pro game. He showed progression in his game each season at Clemson and walks away from his college career with a year of eligibility and a near-perfect bill of health. The tight end turned a 33 catch, 373 yard and one touchdown season in 2010 into a 49 catch, 592 yard, eight touchdown season in 2011. Scouts rave about his natural hands, his precise route running and his football-first attitude. Vanderkam is among them and says to not be fooled by his 40 time at the NFL Combine.
"When you first see Allen, you think of him as mainly a blocking tight end and that is simply not the case," he said. "His 4.89 40-time at the combine is a little concerning but he plays faster in pads. He's shown tremendous improvement in his route running, has good hands and is a reliable chain mover. In addition, he's one of the strongest tight ends in this draft class. He put up 27 reps of 225 pounds at the Combine and can take faster defenders out of the play as a blocker."
Depending on who you ask, Allen is the No. 1, 2 or 3 tight end in the draft along with Stanford's Coby Fleener and Georgia's Orson Charles. He is the top tight end in Vanderkam's eyes and he sees a complete prospect that is only beginning to the tap into his ability. With a NFL-ready body, the growth for Allen into his physical maturity and athletic ability could be special.
As mentioned earlier, Vanderkam and his team selected Allen for the Falcons in their recent mock draft based on the idea that Atlanta can add Allen, a top-rated player, at No. 55 and receive good value for him. He could fit into Atlanta's offense quickly, working in an H-back role or allowing the Falcons to follow the trend of multiple tight end sets in the NFL.
In Allen, the dynamic playmaking ability that many want to see out of the tight end position isn't there . . . yet. But he has the skillset to impact early and grow into one of the next elite players at the position in the coming years. From reports around the league, including Vanderkam's, Allen projects as one of the safest and cleanest prospects at his position in the entire draft.
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