One of the few offensive beacons during his alma mater's ugly 2007 campaign, former Notre Dame tight end John Carlson has seemingly worked himself near the top of his position class for the upcoming NFL Draft.
After being a part of the Irish's double-tight end set in 2005, Carlson stepped into the starting role in 2006 after former Irish tight end Anthony Fasano opted to forego his extra year of eligibility to enter the draft. Carlson's first year as a full-time player would also be his best as a collegian: 47 catches for 634 yards with four touchdowns while being named a second-team All-American and a John Mackey Award finalist.
Carlson faced the same decision as Fasano before the 2007 season and decided to make the most of his fifth year of eligibility. The Irish receiving corps lost wideout Jeff Samardzija prior to the season, and Carlson's role in the offense received a boost. Even with the quarterback carousel that included freshman Jimmy Clausen, junior Evan Sharpley and Demetrius Jones (who eventually transferred), the 23-year-old was still able to amass team highs in receptions (40) and yards (372) while totaling three touchdowns. He finished his college career second all-time among the school's tight ends with 100 receptions.
The academic All-American was projected as a first-rounder before the start of his final year in South Bend, but his draft stock has already taken a hit. A mysterious flu-like virus kept him out of the Senior Bowl, and his combine workouts were not as impressive as expected. However, Carlson stepped it up during the Fighting Irish's Pro Day, running 40 times that ranged from 4.68-4.75, including an official time of 4.88, and solidifying his spot as one of the soundest options at the position heading into the draft.
The 6-foot-5 1/8, 251-pounder is arguably one of the best route-running tight ends in this year's draft. Carlson frequently caused mismatches over the middle of the field because of his ability to both sit down inside and run through seams in zone coverage. He has above-average ability to gain yards after the catch for a player of his size.
Scouts also say Carlson thrives on his basketball background when locked in a crowd - his vertical ability makes him an optimal option as a goal line target (he touched 35 1/2 inches in his vertical jump at the Irish's Pro Day). Carlson also was a standout for his position in the 20-yard shuttle (4.28 seconds, tied for sixth) and the 60-yard shuttle (11.59, third) at the combine.
The Litchfield, Minn., native served as one of the team's four captains during his senior season and impressed the Irish staff with his vocal leadership style. He also possesses what coaches would refer to as "football intelligence." Carlson also had four tackles as a member of the Irish's special teams unit in his final season.
Carlson doesn't have as quick an offensive speed burst as some of the other options in this draft class. His football intellect seems to be his strong point; his physicality along the line is not. Scouts argue about whether Carlson has stable blocking skills; they note that his poor footwork off the line in both receiving and blocking situations often leaves him off-balance.
Scouts reportedly were disappointed by his 4.88 mark in the 40-yard dash at the combine, which might hurt him even though he drastically improved on those times in much more favorable conditions at Notre Dame's Pro Day workouts March 19.
The illness he suffered that forced him to miss the Senior Bowl caused him to lose 17 pounds, and he has had to work to regain his strength, even through the combine workouts. His lack of bulk and strength were already issues for some scouts; they could become greater concerns after his complications from the illness, although there is no evidence that he can't regain them.
Carlson also had knee problems earlier in his career, suffering from a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee before the 2005 season and missing two contests in 2006 due the same injury in his right knee. He
Expected Draft Placement
Carlson wouldn't fit well with a team looking for a blocking tight end; his best role would be similar to what Fasano has with the Dallas Cowboys - an offensive-minded second banana in a two-tight end set.
The Green Bay Packers certainly come to mind as a suitor; they released Bubba Franks this offseason and could use a complement to (or insurance for) starter Donald Lee. The Minnesota Vikings would be apt to institute Carlson as another warm security blanket for developing quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. The Atlanta Falcons could bring in an upside replacement for the released Alge Crumpler, and the Seattle Seahawks could use him as a younger option to replace unrestricted free agent Marcus Pollard. Carlson could land in one of these destinations from the third round through the fourth round.
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
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