TAMPA — Luke Stocker has watched and admired Kellen Winslow since Winslow was a star at the University of Miami.
Stocker has always marveled at the current Buccaneer's ability to run by defenders and change directions with ease, effortlessly bringing to the tight end spot qualities that are mostly found in wide receivers.
For those reasons, Stocker believes he's the perfect complement for Winslow after becoming the Bucs' fourth-round pick (104th overall) on Saturday.
Stocker, a 6-foot-5, 256-pound prospect out of Tennessee, prides himself on being a tough, physical player who likely won't stretch defenses like Winslow but isn't shy about taking on tacklers when he gets the football.
"I have watched quite a bit of (Winslow), and I remember when he was at Miami watching quite a bit of him," Stocker said. "Athletically, he is unbelievably gifted. His ball skills as a receiver and things like that, they're as good as they get.
"I think I can add another dimension to the offense. I'm a bigger-body type of guy. I'm a guy who will put my hand in the dirt. So I think the combination of a really athletic, fast guy like him and another big, versatile guy like myself can really (help). A lot of teams in the league are doing that now."
Stocker cited the Patriots as a team that has done an exemplary job using tight ends with different strengths. Former Florida Gator Aaron Hernandez, a long, athletic tight end, and Rob Gronkowski, a heavier, more physical player, were two of quarterback Tom Brady's top targets last season. The pair combined for more than 1,000 receiving yards.
The combination of Stocker and Winslow won't "give the defense any indicators of which way your offense is leaning toward, whether it's a run or a pass. I definitely think that you can disguise some things and keep you from being put in a box," Stocker said.
That was difficult to avoid last season when the Bucs often used Winslow and Jerramy Stevens in two-tight end sets. They have similar traits, and that made the Bucs' intentions hard to mask.
The combination told the defense, "Look at us! We're throwing the ball," coach Raheem Morris joked. "You don't necessarily want to run right behind either one of those guys. We did it sometimes, but that's not necessarily an envelope we want to push."
Clearly, the Bucs have plans for Stocker. The fact they traded up 12 spots with Philadelphia to make the selection speaks to the value they see.
And the Bucs lack depth at tight end with 31-year old John Gilmore entering free agency and Stevens being released last season after his latest arrest. The Bucs still have Ryan Purvis and Nathan Overbay on the roster and drafted Idaho's Daniel Hardy in the seventh round, but general manager Mark Dominik suggested they'll have to fight for roster spots.
The Bucs also have an ongoing effort to put talent around quarterback Josh Freeman, and this selection is in line with that. Stocker is seen as a capable blocker with reliable hands. He caught 39 passes for 417 yards as a senior in 2010 with 10 catches of 10 yards or longer.
He figures there will be future opportunities for that with Freeman under center.
"He's an unbelievable talent and an unbelievable player," Stocker said. "He's going to continue to grow. He's still a young player. And I'm going to start growing with him. Looking at that is really exciting."