Scouting Reports and Pre-Draft Crushes: Aaron Hernandez

photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images North America, from zimbio.com Does the UF wide receiver curse extend to tight ends?

When asked what the Rams’ need from this draft, the answer is simple: everything. But to put a more precise point on this answer, the Rams need to get the best available player at each and every point of the draft, because they have so many holes to fill. Reaching for players, especially in the high rounds, will continue to hamstring this team as it searches for breakthrough talent.

However, with that in mind, there is a certain philosophy that should, I think, guide the Rams’ choices in this draft: Get Suh first, and then go and grab as many impact offensive playmakers as you can in the next three choices. Now, if for some reason Joe Haden drops to #33 (a laughable example, but still), obviously the Rams should forgo that plan and grab him. But assuming it doesn’t rain frogs between now and the draft, here’s a suggestion for that top of the second round: TE – Aaron Hernandez (University of Florida)

The Hype

First of all, Hernandez played on a national championship team, and was a favorite target of the quote-unquote “best player in College Football history,” Tim Tebow. But more importantly, his hands and skills both before and after the catch have NFL scouts drooling.

Strengths:

  • Very good, smooth athlete
  • Outstanding receiver after the catch
  • Nice hand-eye coordination
  • Shows ability to adjust to poorly thrown ball
  • Consistent, soft hands
  • Elusive with nice speed
  • Tough over the middle
  • Not an easy tackle
  • Great red-zone target
  • Terrific vision in open field

– Walter Football: “Aaron Hernandez Scouting Report

Strengths: Great hands and leaping ability. He is too big for DBs to cover him and too fast for LBs. Hernandez can run up the seam and build up enough speed that he won’t be touched until he gets to the end zone.

– Alligator Army: “NFL Combine Preview: Aaron Hernandez

Acceleration: Hernandez’s burst is outstanding. He has very good short-area quickness to create space. Knows how to use his burst in and out of his cuts.

Body Control: Frequently showed he can adjust to badly thrown passes to make tough grabs. Very coordinated in the open field. Shrugs off hits pre-catch really nicely.

– Mocking the Draft: Aaron Hernandez pre-draft scouting report

Strategic Fit

The Rams love to throw to tight ends … just imagine if they had a real weapon to throw to! Looking at the list of 2009′s most-targeted TEs, elite players such as Dallas Clark, Tony Gonzalez, and Jason Witten sit unsurprisingly on the top. But guys like Chicago’s Greg Olson, the Jets’ Dustin Keller, the Eagles Brent Celek, and Seattle’s John Carlson are highly utilized — in some cases because they are more reliable than the WRs on the team. Olsen in particular seemed to get all of the Bears’ red zone and end zone targets in the last quarter of the season.

Now if you combine Randy McMichael’s 58 targets, Daniel Fells’ 32 targets, and Billy Bajema’s 10 targets, that’s 100 throws to a subpar collection of big men. That number outranks the targets given to Olsen, Keller and Carlson. This is a hallmark of the hybrid West Coast offense that Pat Shurmur favors. More notably, the Rams run a lot of plays — both runs and passes — out of a two-tight-end formation.

The problem: McMichael, Fells and Bajema combined to catch just 62% of those passes — McMichael, the leading target, caught just 34 of 58 passes thrown his way. Many of these misses were flat-out drops. Clearly this is an area where the Rams could, and should, upgrade.

One key area for tight end production is in the red zone and end zone, and the Rams could definitely improve on the combined 4 touchdown receptions (33% of our season total) by our group of big men. Hernandez’ ability to get open quickly, and playmaking ability after the catch, could have a huge impact here.

Arguments Against

Hernandez’s biggest weaknesses are the reasons he will drop out of the first round, as compared to a “true” tight end like Oklahoma’s Jermaine Gresham. Gresham can truly do it all — run block, pass block, go get the ball as an outlet receiver, and power through tackles. Hernandez, by comparison, has struggled with the in-line blocking responsibilities of being on the strong side of the offensive line.

However, that isn’t necessarily how the Rams need to utilize Hernandez to get the most out of him. Whether in a two-TE set with a blocking tight end like Billy Bajema, or in a two-RB set with fullback Mike Karney, the Rams can find ways to have Hernandez on the field quite a bit without his sub-par blocking becoming a minus that outweighs the pluses of his playmaking ability.

Gresham also has prototypical size, while Hernandez is seen as “small” at 6-2, 250 lbs. However, this is no smaller than Dustin Keller or Dallas Clark, who both manage to be highly productive members of their teams.

DraftZoo
People are going to make way too big a deal about Aaron Hernandez’s arm length (32 1/4). He’s a player. Let the combine swooning begin.

My sentiments exactly. In short, unless some star falls out of the sky and lands at #33, the Rams would be very well-positioned to add a premier playmaker at a position that is hard to find.

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