Jump back five years to Purdue University campus, tight end Dustin Keller entered as a 185-pound wide receiver. Fast forward four years: Keller emerged from his time at Purdue as a 242-pound tight end and a semifinalist for the John Mackey Award (nation's top tight end). In his final season with the Boilermakers, Keller started all 13 games and caught a career-high 68 passes for 881 yards.
Keller's offseason workouts have gone better than expected and shot his name up some draft boards. He turned in the fastest 40-yard dash time for a tight end at the 2008 NFL Scouting Combine, running 4.53. His bench press wasn't as good as it could have been, but scouts were happy with the 26 repetitions he produced at 225 pounds. His 4.14 time in the 20-yard shuttle and 41-inch vertical jump were also the best by a tight end. He does not have the blocking skills some teams look for in a tight end, but he makes an intriguing prospect for a team already set with a solid blocking tight end.
Keller brings a good combination of size and speed to the position. His 40-yard time means he will be able to outrun linebackers or any slower players that are covering him. He has decent height (6-foot-2 1/8) and weighed in at 242 pounds at the combine. With his speed, some have said he is a wide receiver trapped in a tight end's body. Some teams will use him essentially as a possession receiver. His acceleration after the catch is good enough that he can pull away from some defenders.
Keller has a good frame with large hands and a long arm reach. He runs light on his feet, which helps him with his explosiveness when running with the ball. Fumbling is not an issue with Keller as he protects the ball well after the catch. His long arms and quick release mean he is often at his best running the short out routes where he can use his extension to get the ball. However, don't discount him on deeper throws as he has the ability to stretch the field with his speed. He is good at finding the seam underneath and settling into position, where he can be a good outlet pass should the quarterback need him.
Keller's biggest drawback is his blocking, but when he puts in the effort he has the speed and balance to be able to seal the corner and give the running back a lane. His toughness can not be questioned as he played the second half of the 2006 season with a torn shoulder and still caught 37 passes after the injury.
As far as tight ends go, Keller is fairly one-dimensional. He may be a threat in the passing game, but if you need a blocking tight end, there are better options in the draft. Keller's biggest problem is his blocking technique. Keller needs to do a better job placing his hands as he tends to go too wide on his blocks, which allows a defender to go over the top of his block. This could result in him chasing his assignments. If he does have them locked down, his feet need to be anchored better, especially in-line. However, this might not be something teams can work on as he does not appear to have the raw power needed to hold at the point of attack. His effort could use some more consistency in the blocking game.
Even in the passing game Keller could use some improvement. Despite his long arms, he tends to take too many catches off his body rather than using his arms. This is a bigger problem when he breaks off his routes early. This could be improved with better footwork. He could stand to show more consistency and effort in running his routes. His timing on jump balls is another area where he could use some work as he prefers catching the ball while on the move. If he does get set in position to catch the ball, some defenders will have success hurrying Keller as he tends to hear footsteps coming up and will get out of the way or short-arm some throws. If he is asked to work down the middle (which is to be expected from a seam-stretching tight end), opposing safeties will be able to scare him out of some passes. His ability to track deep throws is something that will have to improve at the next level.
Finally, he needs to become stronger running after the catch. He has decent size for someone with his speed, but he does not do enough to break arm tackles or run over guys.
Expected Draft Placement
Teams looking for a tight end that can stretch the field will find Keller an interesting pick. A team such as the Green Bay Packers could look at him with the latter of their two second-round draft picks. The Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins are two other teams that could have interest in him in the third round. Don't expect him to fall any lower than the middle of the third round.
About Bryce McRae
Bryce McRae is a Managing Editor with KFFL and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1999. He joined KFFL as a volunteer writer in March 2005 before becoming a Hot off the Wire Analyst in March 2006. He began working in his current capacity in September 2008. His work has appeared on fantasy sports sites such as Yahoo! and CBS Sportsline as well as in print. He graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2008 with a B.A. in History and U.S. Studies.
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