2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Tight Ends
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1. Tyler Eifert (Notre Dame): Always considered one of the top prospects at his position, Eifert really separated himself from Stanford's Zach Ertz at the combine. Eifert finished top-five among tight ends in every drill, displaying his speed, strength, explosiveness, and quickness. When you throw in his 6'5'', 250 pound frame, it's easy to see why he is a nightmare to game plan against. He can line up all over the formation, overpowering defensive backs and blowing by linebackers. He's great at high-pointing the football, and will be a strong red zone option for whichever quarterback is fortunate enough to play with him at the next level. His blocking needs work, but he has the frame and effort level to become a viable in-line blocker.
2. Zach Ertz (Stanford): Though Eifert pulled away as the top prospect at the combine, it had nothing to do with Ertz giving a poor showing. Finishing second in bench press and third in the three-cone drill, Ertz displayed his combination of strength and quickness. He doesn't have the straight-line speed of Eifert, but is still capable of stretching the field. He uses his size (6'5'', 249) well to shield defenders from the ball and provide an easy target for the quarterback. He has a quick first step and is great at finding the soft spots in zone coverage. Like Eifert, he needs to work on his blocking, but has shown the willingness that scouts like to see.
3. Jordan Reed (Florida): It always seems annoying and cliche when a prospect is compared to a pro who played the same position at the same school, but I have to do it anyway. Reed reminded me of Aaron Hernandez from the moment I first saw him play. He's an extremely smooth athlete who can take a short pass and turn it into a big play. He does a great job of catching the ball while smoothly transitioning to an after-the-catch move. He doesn't have ideal size at 6'2'', but Hernandez is the same height and is obviously effective in the NFL. He is a relatively capable blocker and should get better if he can add some strength as a pro. He's a versatile player who will make a difference for an NFL offense.
4. Travis Kelce (Cincinnati): It was tough ranking Kelce, as he is not the same quality athlete as many of these other tight ends, but he is the second-best blocking tight end in this draft class. His biggest strength is creating holes in the run game, and a run-first team would be lucky to have him. His ability in the passing game is solid as well. While he doesn't have the explosiveness to effortlessly get open, he does have a wide catching radius and strong hands. He should be a viable security blanket at the next level, as well as a strong asset in the run game.
5. Gavin Escobar (San Diego State): Escobar is one of the most polarizing prospects at the tight end position. He's got great size at 6'6'', 254 and has fantastic hands, but is not explosive and lacks straight-line speed. His style in the passing game sort of reminds me of Jason Witten, who has obviously found plenty of success in the NFL. He may not blow past defenders, but he provides a large target, catches anything within range, and tows defenders as far as he can after the catch. Will he side-step a defender and blaze up the sideline for a big play? Absolutely not, but he is still a weapon due to his size and hands. He is a poor blocker, however, and hasn't shown much potential in that area.
6. Dion Sims (Michigan State): Sims is a load of a tight end at 6'5'', 262 (played the 2012 season about about 280), and has shown a lot of promise as a blocker. He also provides a nice target for quarterbacks, and almost never drops a well thrown pass. His size, however, sometimes limits him from making tough adjustments to catch an off-target pass. He has lost about 20 pounds since we last saw him play, so he may find it easier to make adjustments at his new weight. He has good speed for his size, running a 4.75 forty at the combine (better than Ertz and Escobar). Not particularly explosive after the catch, but is tough to bring down once he catches the ball - something you could easily guess by looking at him.
7. Vance McDonald (Rice): This guy had a great showing at the combine, posting the sixth fastest forty time (4.69) and most bench reps among tight ends. He also finished top-five in broad jump, three-cone drill, and sixty-yard shuttle. He's really just as much of a slot receiver as he is a tight end. As his combine performance suggests, McDonald moves very well for his size (6'4'', 267). He's most effective on short routes when he can take an accurate pass and make a move after the catch. Struggles adjusting to make difficult catches, but has shown strong hands in traffic. Hasn't shown much blocking as an in-line tight end.
8. Levine Toilolo (Stanford): Toilolo was once the top tight end at Stanford, ahead of Zach Ertz and Coby Fleener (a 2012 second-round pick). Ertz and Fleener emerged when Toilolo went down with a season ending knee injury in 2010, but he still remained part of the offense when he returned to the field. He's ranked this high based very much on potential. His 6'8'', 260 pound frame could create miserable mismatches in the secondary, and he has shown flashes of great high-point catching ability, suggesting he could become a lethal red zone option. His arm length is more similar to a tackle than a tight end, which gives him the potential to become a very strong blocker. He has been way too inconsistent over the past two seasons at Stanford, but has shown flashes of everything you want to see out of a tight end.
9. Chris Gragg (Arkansas): Injury prone and undersized, Gragg is a boom-or-bust prospect. He impressed at the combine with a 4.50 forty (best among tight ends), while also showing his explosiveness by posting the best numbers in both vertical and broad jump. He has strong hands and can adjust to the ball in the air like a wide receiver. His size (6'3'', 244) has scouts questioning his potential as an in-line blocker. He could make a difference in the pass-happy NFL, assuming he stays healthy. Gaining some weight/strength to improve his blocking could go a long way.
10. Michael Williams (Alabama): Alabama's dominant offensive line wasn't just a result of tackles, guards, and a center - tight end Michael Williams was a bulldozer on the outside. He's a giant at 6'6'', 278, and is almost like having another tackle out on the field, though he also possesses adequate receiving ability. He confirmed his inability to be a downfield threat at Alabama's pro day by running a 5.19 forty, but field stretching simply isn't part of his game. Williams is a mauling blocker who provides a big target with strong hands. He could be a nice asset for a run-first team as a No. 2 tight end who comes in for run packages and provides a threat in the red zone.
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