Prior to last year, there has been at least one TE selected in the first round every year since 2000, but rarely more than one. Last year, the top TE prospect was Kyle Rudolph, but he suffered a season-ending injury during his last season at Notre Dame, and wasn't drafted until the Vikings picked him # 43.
Entering this season, it looked as though it could be two years in a row without a first round TE. During the season, a pair of juniors have emerged, with Clemson's Dwayne Allen, and Geogia's Orson Charles joining Stanford's Coby Fleener as possible 1st round prospects.
This year, the NFL has seen an emergence of what is being labeled the "Mismatch Tightend", lead by New England's dynamic duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, New Orleans' Jimmy Graham, and San Fransisco's Vernon Davis.
Currently, draft Guru Wes Bunting has Charles going to the Broncs with the 25th pick in the first http://www.nationalfootballpost.com/Mock-Draft-Version-20.html&page=2, while Rob Rang has Flenner going drafted by the Giants http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/nfldraftscout-RobRang. Finally, Walterfootball has the G-men taking Allen http://walterfootball.com/draft2012_1.php, while NFL.com's Charles Davis has Allen going to the Browns with the 22nd pick http://www.nfl.com/draft/2012/mock-drafts/charles-davis/65030
Will Allen, or the others become a first round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft?
FIRST ROUND TE's SINCE 2000:
2010: Jermaine Gresham
2009: Brandon Pettigrew
2008: Dustin Keller
2007: Greg Olsen
2005: Heath Miller
2003: Dallas Clark
2001: Todd Heap
When examining previous first round TEs, two facts stand out:
First, of the 16 first round TEs drafted since 2000, four came from the University of Miami (and that doesn't count Jimmy Graham).
Second, first round TEs has one of the LOWEST bust rates. Certainly, some of these TEs have had seasons of disappointment, but only Jerramy Stevens could be called a bust. Historically, TE has proved to be one of the safest positions with which to spend a first round pick.
Conversely, many of the best TEs in the NFL were NOT drafted in the first round.
Many consider Rob Gronkowski to be the best TE in the NFL today. Much like Rudolph, Gronkowski was not drafted until the second round due to injury concerns. Gronk missed the entire 2009 season at Arizona, and the first 3 games during the 2008 season. Reports had surfaced Gronkowski was suffering from spinal stenosis, a potentially career-threatening condition.
Jimmy Graham fans could reasonable argue that he is the best TE in the game today. Graham - like Antonio Gates before him - was a college basketball player. He played on the University of Miami basketball team from 2005 to 2009. Graham graduated from Miami in May 2009, but had one year of eligibility left in which he could play football. He finished college with only 17 career receptions, but had such a great performance in the NFL combine that he was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2010 draft.
Additionally, the Dallas Cowboy's Jason Witten, and Green Bay Packer's Jermichael Finley were also drafted in the third round. Finley had bypassed his last two seasons of eligibility at the University of Texas.
New England didn't stop with Gronk, two rounds later they drafted Aaron Hernandez (4th round, Florida), who had slid in the 2010 draft, reportedly due to multiple failed drug tests.
The Washington Redskins currently have a pair (for now) of quality TEs in Chris Cooley (3rd round, Utah State) and Fred Davis (USC, 2nd round) as do their neighbors to the north, Baltimore's Ed Dickson (3rd round, Oregon) and Dennis Pitta (4th, BYU).
In addition to Rudolph, the 2011 draft brought us several WR/TE hybrids, lead by the Ram's Lance Kendricks, and Green Bay's DJ Williams. Trying to find the next Gates/Graham, both the Browns and Broncos drafted former college basketball players - Jordan Cameron, and Julius Thomas respectively.