Pettigrew leads tight end class

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Todd McShay breaks down the tight ends invited to the NFL scouting combine -- both the pass-catchers and the blockers -- and ranks them heading into the event. To see this and more, become an ESPN Insider.Insider

Just one tight end has come off the board in the first round in each of the past two drafts and there is an excellent chance that trend continues in April. Oklahoma State's Brandon Pettigrew is clearly the headliner of this unit. He has the natural tools and mental toughness necessary to develop into an every-down tight end, and it's his frame and blocking that separates him from the rest of the class.

After Pettigrew, there are a pair of intriguing underclassmen in James Casey (Rice) and Jared Cook (South Carolina) who both project as second-round picks at this point in the process. Casey is a former minor-league baseball player in the Chicago White Sox system and he played a hybrid role at Rice. He will turn 25 in September and is a developmental prospect.

Cook split time between receiver and tight end early in his redshirt freshman season and he has rare speed for his size. Both he and Casey are marginal in-line blockers but are capable of making immediate contributions as situational receivers.

It's also worth pointing out that their decisions to leave school early are justified in large part by the season-ending injuries sustained by three of the top senior tight end prospects.

Cornelius Ingram (Florida) was one of our highest-ranked tight ends before tearing an ACL during fall camp and missing the entire season. Turf toe slowed Chase Coffman (Missouri) down the stretch and he then broke his foot on the final play of the Alamo Bowl. The injury required surgery and forced him to miss the Senior Bowl. Travis Beckum (Wisconsin) broke his ankle in late October, underwent surgery and missed the rest of the year.