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2013 Draft Preview: Tight Ends

Posted Apr 15, 2013

Colleges are producing a different breed at this critical position.



Gone are the days of the big, blocking tight end that only caught the ball in goal line situations and simple routes over the middle. Thanks to the recent success of the likes of Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, the NFL is taking a whole new approach to the position. What that means for Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert, Stanford’s Zach Ertz, San Diego State’s Gavin Escobar, Cincinnati’s Travis Kelce and Rice’s Vance McDonald is more phone calls in the early rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft.

“The tight end position all together has gotten very athletic,” said Miami Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland during his pre-draft press conference last week. “It’s gotten fast. It’s gotten big. It’s gotten athletic. And I think that’s made the NFL trend that way too. I think there’s some very athletic, big, fast tight ends that are making a lot of plays in this league and so I think you’ll see obviously the NFL going that way.” 

BREAKING DOWN TOP TIGHT END PROSPECTS
(In Alphabetical Order)


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Depending on which draft expert you place the most trust in, Tyler Eifert either is the best tight end in this class or No. 2 behind Ertz, but either way he is expected to be off the board early on the first night. He was a top performer in every single drill at the NFL Scouting Combine, running a 4.68 in the 40-yard dash, bench pressing 225 pounds 22 times, turning in a 35.5-inch vertical jump and a broad jump of 9 feet, 9 inches. A little over a month later, Eifert impressed at Notre Dame’s Pro Day by not dropping a single pass after letting the first one slip through his hands, but his blocking skills could still use a little work. Considering how the role of tight end has changed, Eifert’s receiving skills and route running ability will validate his going high.

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Zach Ertz had to play in the shadow of Coby Fleener during the Andrew Luck years at Stanford but came into his own as a junior last season to earn All-American honors. He also was a finalist for the Mackey Award, given to the nation’s top tight end, and patterns his game after Jason Witten of the Dallas Cowboys. Ertz is hoping to make history by becoming the first Cardinal tight end to go in the first round, but his performance in Indy was nowhere near as good as Eifert’s. He bounced back at his Pro Day by running a 4.68 and a 4.62 in the 40 after running a 4.76 at the Combine and matched Eifert’s vertical jump, so he probably closed the gap a little. It’ll come down to the game film and scouting reports for Ertz in the race against Eifert.

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The third underclassmen among the top five, Gavin Escobar is the tallest in the group by one inch and might have the best hands of all of them. What’s holding him back from cracking the Eifert-Ertz rivalry is his blocking skills, or lack thereof. The Aztecs could not use him as a three-down player on offense because of that deficiency and that will cost him in the draft. Escobar’s athleticism cannot be ignored and he has route running and pass catching skills that most wide receivers don’t have, which will make him intriguing to some of the NFL’s more creative offensive minds out there. If he comes across as coachable on his visits and in interviews, Escobar might just improve his draft stock.

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Travis Kelce was being compared to Gronkowski during his senior year with the Bearcats because of his pass catching ability and his size and was high on the radar of quite a few NFL teams. Unfortunately, he tore an abdominal muscle in January that kept him out of the Senior Bowl and the Combine. Kelce also had to pull out of Cincinnati’s Pro Day last month after getting sick but managed to run a 4.64 and a 4.69 in the 40-yard dash on April 4th in a workout for scouts, which should help him. He did miss all of the 2010 season after being suspended for violating team rules, so that certainly was addressed in his interviews with teams.

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When Kelce had to pull out of the Senior Bowl, that opened the door for Vance McDonald to distinguish himself among the tight end prospects and he fared well in Mobile. His performance at the Combine didn’t hurt either, as McDonald led all tight ends in the bench press with 31 reps of 225 pounds, seven more than Ertz and nine more than Eifert. McDonald is built more like a traditional tight end and already is an accomplished blocker, so his concerns are more in the reverse than the others – and that’s catching passes. He was plagued by some untimely drops and that showed up again in some of the Senior Bowl practices, but he still could be a safe second-round pick.
OTHER TOP TIGHT END PROSPECTS AT A GLANCE

Chris Gragg
6-3, 244
Arkansas
REC 22 \ YDS 289

Nick Kasa 
6-6, 269
Colorado
REC 25 \ YDS 391

Ryan Otten
6-5, 230
San Jose State
REC 47 \ YDS 742

Jordan Reed
6-3, 236
Florida
REC 45 \ YDS 559

Dion Sims
6-5, 262
Michigan State
REC 36 \ YDS 475

Game Pass: Miami Dolphins