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Brandon Pettigrew: More than Stats

One of the many things that the spread offense has changed about college football, and by proxy the pipeline of talent that graduates to the NFL, is the tight end position. The 1980's brought the more modern pass-catching tight end to the fore with players such as Kellen Winslow and Ozzie Newsome, but over the last few seasons, the balance of the position -- the fact that tight ends are expected to block at a reasonable level as well as catch the ball -- has become skewed to the point where the higher percentage of players at the position come into the draft as enlarged receivers with minimal blocking skills and maximum playmaking ability. The true hybrid tight end in 2008 was Notre Dame's John Carlson, who was drafted by the Seahawks in the second round.

At the 2008 Scouting Combine, Carlson ran a 4.88-40, which put him a tenth of a second behind faster offensive tackles. Not what teams were looking for in a tight end if they wanted vertical threats from a new position. But Carlson had other strengths -- route-running skills, the ability to separate from defenders in tight windows, and a willingness to block. Because he was so NFL-ready, Carlson caught more passes (55) for more yards (627) and more touchdowns (five) than any other first-year tight end, ahead of relative speedsters Dustin Keller and Martellus Bennett. The traditional tight end had just as much to offer as the new breed.

One member of the 2009 draft class watching this trend with interest is Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew. The 6'5 ¾", 264-pound Cowboy didn't rack up the best numbers -- 112 receptions for 1,450 yards and nine touchdowns -- but no other tight end in this class can decimate a linebacker, or put an evil block on a defensive end, like Pettigrew. That's where his value lies, and that's why Pettigrew's the top-rated at his position.

This despite a disappointing Combine, and his inability to work out at his Pro Day, on March 11, due to a hamstring strain. The edge for Pettigrew is that he's less about speed and more about game tape -- of all the 2009 tight ends, he benefits most from what's on film. In a recent interview for this article, Pettigrew said that teams still talked to him at his Pro Day despite the injury. "Baltimore was on me a little bit. Atlanta talked to me a lot at the Combine. I talked to about 16 teams there. I talked to five or six teams at my Pro Day, but a lot of teams had already broken me down at the Combine."

Ironically, it was while trying to improve his 40 time at Michael Johnson Performance that Pettigrew got hurt. "I strained the hamstring on my right leg (on the 4th). I was working out, running my 40, I got about 30 yards out, and it just kind of bit me." He was training with the former Olympic Sprinter, and had been since the beginning of the year, to work on his speed. Has it helped? "You can't really teach speed, but you can teach form," he said at the Combine. "I don't think my form was great when I first got there. But I know it's a lot better now. I focused on my starts as opposed to just running the 40."

Pettigrew played in more of a run-based spread offense than others, with narrower line splits and more power formations. It was a good fit for his abilities. "I did a lot of blocking. I didn't get a lot of balls, but I was happy when I did. I think the blocking separates me from everybody else -- I can still get out on my routes pretty good. I would line up attached [to the offensive line] and detached. In a three-by-one formation [three receivers, one tight end], I would be detached, or in a two-by-two formation [two receivers, two tight ends], I would be attached. But we ran a lot of three-by one where I would be attached and detached."

The variety of formations gave Pettigrew the opportunity to do more things in preparation for the next level, as Mike Mayock of the NFL Network noted at the Combine. "He's a plus/minus Jason Witten," Mayock said, comparing him to the Cowboys' productive tight end. "He's not a blazer -- I thought he might be a 4.75 guy. I was surprised that he ran 4.85, but it doesn't change one iota what I think he is. He's an inline tight end that will block his tail off, and he might not be as fast as some of those vertical guys, but he can separate and catch the football."

NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst and PreDraft Panelist Rob Rang agrees. "For some teams, Pettigrew's lack of downfield speed will be a significant factor. In today's wide-open offense, Pettigrew simply lacks the acceleration to challenge defenses down the seam like a Dallas Clark or Kellen Winslow, Jr. but he does have rare agility for a tight end of his size to get open in the short and intermediate zones. He catches the ball securely and is among the better, more physically gifted blockers we've seen in a highly ranked tight end in years. In a traditional pro-style offense, Pettigrew has the all-around game to make an immediate impact."

The product of a single-parent home, Pettigrew was born in Tyler, Texas, and raised by his mom, Elaine, who worked in a nursing home to support her four kids. "My dad is incarcerated," he said. "I have two older sisters and an older brother. Everyone was pretty much out of the house when I was growing up, but I still hung out with my brother a lot. I'm really close to my brothers and sisters -- we have a really close family.

He was a late bloomer in the game that would give him a shot at something special. "I really didn't play Pop Warner football growing up -- didn't play football until seventh grade. And I really didn't get any game action on the field until my sophomore year in high school. Because of a torn ACL, I missed my junior year, but I played my senior year. Signed with Oklahoma state after I graduated from high school, had a pretty good career there, and now, I'm a little bit closer to where I want to be."

Pettigrew wasn't heavily recruited coming out of Lee High School. "I got offers from Texas Tech and Texas A&M, as well as some smaller schools. I wanted to be different, and when I got to Oklahoma State for a visit, I felt comfortable -- it felt like home. They treated me like I was at home, and everyone was really cool. I was really having fun, and I enjoyed it."

His coach, Mike Gundy, is best-known for one YouTube moment in which he went ballistic on a reporter, but for Pettigrew, his coach has been a fountain of support and life lessons. The support came after Pettigrew's arrest for assault and battery of a police officer on January 20, 2008.

"I was here in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and I went to a party with three friends, and one of them got into a fight with another guy who was there," Pettigrew explained. "I went over to try and pull my friend out of it, and a bigger fight started over that. Someone called the police, and the police came and took everybody out. As we were leaving, an officer grabbed me over the shoulder, and I elbowed him to try and shove him away. It was my fault. I didn't slug him, just elbowed him to shove him away. He arrested me right then for assault on a police officer.

"Coach Gundy called me into his office, and he knew that wasn't me, and it was more embarrassment than anything. Embarrassed my program, my family, myself -- just me. All the NFL teams wanted to know what I had to say about it. I didn't try and beat around the bush -- I told them exactly what happened."

What else did he gain from his time with the coach? "It's been a learning experience for him, as well. He took on a lot with that head coaching job, and he preaches about doing the little things right. That really sticks with me, because if you do the little things right, it will go a long way. He taught me things that had to do with more than football -- things that were life lessons, as well."

Pettigrew and his agent, Sean Howard of Octagon Football, both confirmed with me that if teams wish to see him run in a private workout before the draft, that will be no problem when Pettigrew is ready to run again at the end of March. Some teams, cognizant of his abilities beyond the limited evaluations that track speed can bring, are ready to make the call based on what they've seen. Teams like the Atlanta Falcons, who reportedly took a pass on former Philadelphia Eagles tight end L.J. Smith because they need a better run-blocker in their offensive system, may find Pettigrew to be just the kind pf player they're looking for in the late first round.

All they have to do is to look for the guy who's about more than his stats.

By Doug Farrar  |  March 17, 2009; 2:46 AM ET  | Category:  Combine , Draft Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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