Once a blip, Shiancoe rises on NFL screens

Morgan State tight end opens eyes before draft

March 05, 2003|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

What Visanthe Shiancoe didn't have in name recognition, he recouped in visual presentation last month in Indianapolis.

When Morgan State's senior tight end ran the 40-yard dash at the RCA Dome, the NFL noticed. After running, jumping, lifting and interviewing for league executives at the weeklong scouting combine, Shiancoe finally cultivated a draft profile.

Now, those executives not only know who he is, but how to pronounce his name (Va-shan-tey See-an-co).

"I feel I put myself in the best position I could," Shiancoe said yesterday.

In Indianapolis, at least, that position was out front of the pack. Of the 21 tight ends invited to the combine - although not all participated in every drill - Shiancoe ran the fastest 40, did the most bench presses with 225 pounds and had the highest vertical jump, at 39 1/2 inches. His times in the 20- and 60-yard shuttles and the cone drills ranged from second best to tied for sixth.

Not bad for a player who arrived at Morgan State four years ago as a 195-pound walk-on and will leave this May as a 250-pound, black-college All-American with an NFL future.

Depending on whom you talk to, Shiancoe ran anywhere from 4.58 to 4.62 seconds in the 40. Even though some wide receivers ran in the 4.3s, that is impressive for a man of his size.

Shiancoe, 22, is hitting the NFL at an opportune time. He's coming out a year after a record three tight ends were drafted in the first round, starting with Jeremy Shockey by the New York Giants with the 14th pick.

"Everybody is looking for tight ends that can run those seam routes because everybody is playing a cover-two [zone defense]," said Gil Brandt, the former personnel boss of the Dallas Cowboys who now scouts and reports for NFL.com. "This guy has got the prerequisite that he can run. That's a big thing today."

Several personnel men expect Shiancoe to be taken on the second day of the two-day draft April 26-27. Shiancoe and his agent, Buddy Baker, are cautiously optimistic that his showing in Indianapolis might squeeze him into the first day.

"The argument can be made there's not a tight end in the draft that's more talented than Visanthe," Baker said. "This information doesn't come from my own assessment, but I talked to a number of NFL teams and it's a reasonable argument to make."

Indeed, Shiancoe could be a diamond in the rough. He had 47 catches worth 872 yards and nine touchdowns in the last two seasons, averaging 18.6 yards per catch. He was especially productive in yards after the catch, ripping off pass plays of 75, 73, 51 and 44 yards.

But he's still raw in the eyes of Phil Savage, the Ravens' director of pro personnel.

"He'll probably be drafted," Savage said at the combine. "He runs well, catches OK. He's a developmental-type guy. If he doesn't get drafted, we'll be interested in signing him."

Morgan State coach Donald Hill-Eley said the position coach from nearly NFL team had called the school before the combine wanting information on Shiancoe.

"He's not as raw as it seems," Hill-Eley said. "He's got a lot of talent, he's strong, he'll be one of the better tight ends come out. He's a big-play player. He could catch a 4- to 5-yard pass and run to the house."

The Bears used Shiancoe as a tight end and H-back and split him out wide to achieve mismatches.

"He's got so much room for improvement," Bears receivers coach Sid McNairy said. "That's what's drawing interest. It's not so much what he has done on the field, it's what you can see in his potential. And knowing that he makes plays that other people may not. He makes catches like a wide-out and blocks like a tight end."

Born in Birmingham, England, of Liberian parents, Shiancoe has lived in Silver Spring with his mother, Ethel Shiancoe. His father, Jonathan, is a seafood importer-exporter in Liberia.

"I adjust very well to adversity," said Shiancoe, who was All-County at Montgomery Blair in Silver Spring. "I see that as a strong point. I can adjust to anything."

He will get his next chance to impress the NFL tomorrow when Morgan State holds the first of three pro days. This one will feature the seniors, Shiancoe, running back T. J. Stallings and cornerback Darrell Poland.

For now, Shiancoe resists speculation about where he might wind up.

"The higher the better, but word of mouth and opinions are just people's opinions," he said. "As long as my name is big in NFL circles, that's all that matters."

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