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April 16, 2012

Position U.: Easy choice for pass catchers

Deciding Miami led all FBS programs in producing quality NFL running backs was a tough call.

Picking Miami as the top school to find future pro receivers and tight ends wasn't nearly as difficult.

Miami's contingent of NFL wide receivers includes Houston Texans star Andre Johnson and Indianapolis Colts standout Reggie Wayne, who have each earned five Pro Bowl appearances while combining for 125 touchdown catches and over 21,000 receiving yards.

WIDE RECEIVER U. 2012
Our choice: Miami.
Who they've sent: Leonard Hankerson (Washington Redskins), Devin Hester (Chicago Bears), Andre Johnson (Houston Texans), Santana Moss (Washington Redskins), Roscoe Parrish (San Diego Chargers), Reggie Wayne (Indianapolis Colts).
Who's next: Tommy Streeter is a projected mid- to late-round selection in this year's draft.
Why we picked them: Johnson and Wayne are two of the most productive receivers of the last decade. Each has five Pro Bowl appearances. They have combined for 125 touchdown catches and over 21,000 receiving yards. Moss also is a former Pro Bowl selection. Hester remains an unpolished receiver, but he's one of the best kick returners in football history.
Other finalists: Florida (Denver's Andre Caldwell, Philadelphia's Riley Cooper, Washington's Jabar Gaffney, Minnesota's Percy Harvin, Oakland's Louis Murphy, Buffalo's David Nelson), LSU (Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe, New York Giants' Michael Clayton, Arizona's Early Doucet, New Orleans' Devery Henderson, Houston's Trindon Holliday, Carolina's Brandon LaFell, Detroit's Terrence Toliver), Michigan (New Orleans' Adrian Arrington, Philadelphia's Jason Avant, Kansas City's Steve Breaston, San Francisco's Mario Manningham), Ohio State (San Francisco's Ted Ginn, New England's Anthony Gonzalez, Miami's Brian Hartline, New York Jets' Santonio Holmes, Minnesota's Michael Jenkins)
Candidate you might not have considered: Tennessee, Texas Tech.
TIGHT END U. 2012
Our choice: Miami.
Who they've sent: Richard Gordon (Oakland Raiders), Jimmy Graham (New Orleans Saints), Greg Olsen (Carolina Panthers), Jeremy Shockey (free agent), Kellen Winslow Jr. (Tampa Bay Buccaneers).
Who's next: Nobody's on the horizon. Miami's top pass catching tight end last year was Clive Walford, a redshirt freshman in 2011.
Why we picked them: Miami would have been the clear pick even if we'd done this a year ago, before Graham delivered a breakthrough season in which he caught 99 passes. Graham, Shockey and Winslow have all earned Pro Bowl invitations at some point in their careers.
Other finalists: Arizona State (Arizona's Todd Heap, Seattle's Zach Miller), California (Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez, Seattle's Cameron Morrah, Tennessee's Craig Stevens), Iowa (Buffalo's Scott Chandler, free agent Dallas Clark, Kansas City's Tony Moeaki, Oakland's Brandon Myers, Minnesota's Allen Reisner), Notre Dame (Seattle's John Carlson, Miami's Anthony Fasano, Minnesota's Kyle Rudolph), Texas (Green Bay's Jermichael Finley, Cincinnati's Bo Scaife, New Orleans' David Thomas), Wisconsin (New York Giants' Travis Beckum, Houston's Owen Daniels, Houston's Garrett Graham, St. Louis' Lance Kendricks)
Candidate you might not have considered: Colorado State is the alma mater of Denver's Joel Dreessen and San Diego's Kory Sperry. Dreessen caught six touchdown passes for the Houston Texans last season before signing with the Broncos as a free agent.
Other Miami receivers on NFL rosters last season included Devin Hester (Chicago Bears), Leonard Hankerson (Washington Redskins), Santana Moss (Washington Redskins) and Roscoe Parrish (Buffalo Bills, now with San Diego Chargers). Moss is a former 1,000-yard receiver, while Hester arguably is the greatest kick returner in NFL history.

Miami was an even more obvious pick at tight end. In fact, tight end may have been the easiest pick of any position for this entire project. Miami's tradition of sending tight ends to the NFL has even caught the attention of high school prospects.

"I felt like this is where I'm going to be the best and I'm going to reach my full potential," New Orleans (La.) Edna Karr junior tight end Standish Dobard told CaneSport.com after committing to the Hurricanes this month. "They have a history of really good tight ends here."

Former Miami tight ends now in the NFL include Dedrick Epps (New York Jets), Richard Gordon (Oakland Raiders), Jimmy Graham (New Orleans Saints), Greg Olsen (Carolina Panthers), Jeremy Shockey (Carolina Panthers) and Kellen Winslow (Tampa Bay Buccaneers). Shockey is a four-time Pro Bowl pick and Winslow has earned one Pro Bowl invitation.

But the biggest success story of all is Graham, who actually came to Miami on a basketball scholarship. He switched to football in 2009 and showed enough in that one season to get drafted in the third round.

All he did last season was catch 99 passes for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns. The only tight end to ever accumulate more receiving yards in a season was New England's Rob Gronkowski, who compiled 1,327 yards last year.

Although no other schools can approach Miami's success at developing NFL tight ends, a few other programs also deserve mention. Former Iowa tight ends Dallas Clark and Tony Moeaki have enjoyed solid NFL careers. Arizona State produced NFL veterans Todd Heap and Zach Miller. Future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez joins Cameron Morrah and Craig Stevens as former California tight ends in the NFL. Wisconsin has sent Travis Beckum, Owen Daniels, Garrett Graham and Lance Kendricks to the NFL in recent seasons.

LSU was worth considering at the wide receiver spot. Dwayne Bowe has developed into a star for the Kansas City Chiefs. Early Doucet (Arizona Cardinals), Brandon LaFell (Carolina Panthers) and Devery Henderson (New Orleans Saints) each collected over 500 receiving yards last season.

But nobody compared to Miami at either position.

Even though Miami has enjoyed similar success at the wide receiver and tight end spots, the Hurricanes have relied on different strategies at each of those positions.

Most of the NFL receivers to come from Miami were South Florida products. Johnson and Parrish both played at Miami Senior High. Moss went to Miami Carol City. Hankerson graduated from Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas and Hester came from Riviera Beach (Fla.) Suncoast. A notable exception is Wayne, who went to Marrero (La.) John Ehret.

But most of its star tight ends didn't play for Florida high schools.

Olsen comes from New Jersey. Miami landed Shockey from Oklahoma. Winslow made the coast-to-coast move from San Diego to Miami. Graham's from North Carolina. Dobard looks to continue that tradition when he arrives at Miami in 2013.

Both strategies have worked quite well for Miami.

The only legitimate criticism that could be made about Miami's ability to send receivers and tight ends to the NFL is that many of its top guys at this position are at or past their primes.

WHAT'S POSITION U.?


The Position U. series is our attempt to determine which schools provide the most NFL talent at each position. We will analyze a different position just about every day up until the April 26 start of the NFL Draft. For the purpose of this series, we only took into consideration players who were still active as of last season.
April 13: Quarterbacks
April 14: Running backs
April 17: Offensive tackles
April 18: Guards/Centers
April 19: Defensive tackles and DE/OLB
April 21: Linebackers
April 23: Cornerbacks
April 24: Safeties
April 25: Kickers and punters
Hankerson, a third-round pick last year, is the only Miami receiver to get drafted since 2007. Wayne ended his Miami career in 2000. Johnson's last two years at Miami were the 2001 national championship season and the 2002 campaign that ended with a Fiesta Bowl overtime loss to Ohio State.

And even though Graham has emerged as an immediate star in the NFL after a brief college career, most of Miami's other productive NFL tight ends left college long ago. Shockey's last season at Miami was 2001. Winslow finished his college career in 2004 and Olsen left Miami after the 2006 season.

Olsen, who caught 38 passes in 2006, was the last Miami tight end to catch more than 22 passes in a season. Miami's main pass-catching tight end last season was Clive Walford, who caught 18 passes for 172 yards as a redshirt freshman after playing just one year of high school football at Belle Glade (Fla.) Glades Central.

Tommy Streeter should assure that Miami has a wide receiver drafted for a second straight season. After catching 46 passes for 811 yards and eight touchdowns last year, Streeter has been projected as a mid- to late-round pick in this year's draft.

Miami might not have a tight end drafted anytime soon, mainly because of its youth at that position. Walford still has plenty of time left in his college career. Miami didn't sign a tight end in its 2012 class, but the Hurricanes rectified that issue by getting the early 2013 commitment from Dobard.

"I hope to be one of the best tight ends ever to come through Miami," Dobard told CaneSport.com.

That would be quite an accomplishment indeed.


Steve Megargee is the national college columnist for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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