2013 NFL draft position preview: tight ends

April 23, 2013

This is the eighth in a series of 10 looks at the available prospects in the draft. Other installments: Safety | offensive line | cornerbacks | running backs | inside linebackers | wide receivers | pass-rushers | Wednesday: Defensive line | Thursday: Quarterbacks

It is a highly productive time for NFL tight ends, who are benefiting from the sport’s passing-friendly environment along with quarterbacks and wide receivers. This week’s NFL draft features at least a couple players at the position seemingly poised to continue that trend.

Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert and Stanford’s Zach Ertz are widely are regarded as the two top tight ends available in the draft, and each appears capable of being a reliable pass-catcher for whichever team chooses him.

“I’m lucky to be coming in at a time where the type of tight end that I am is being used quite a bit — in the passing game but also a guy that can stay in the game on every down throughout the game and can also block, create mismatch problems in the passing game,” Eifert said at the NFL Scouting Combine.

There were 11 tight ends among the NFL’s top 50 leaders in catches last season. Four tight ends ranked in the top 20. Jason Witten of Dallas was fifth with 110 catches. Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez ranked ninth with his 93 receptions. Jimmy Graham of New Orleans tied for 13th with 85 catches and Oakland’s Brandon Myers, who signed with the New York Giants as a free agent, was tied for 18th with 79.

That came even with New England’s standout tight end duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez limited by injuries. Those NFL teams that don’t have tight ends capable of creating matchup problems for defenses — outrunning linebackers and safeties, and forcing opponents to consider using additional cornerbacks to cover them — are risking falling behind the times.

“I think seeing what all those tight ends do and all those things they’ve been doing, it is very neat,” Ertz said at the scouting combine. “You see Jimmy Graham out there against corners all the time, and just seeing what he does is very impressive. It’s something that I just hope I can do at that same level.”

Eifert totaled 113 catches the past two seasons at Notre Dame, including 50 last season. He is considered a likely first-round choice Thursday night.

“I strive to be a complete tight end,” he said. “I don’t think I’m there yet. But guys like Jimmy Graham, Gronkowski, [Notre Dame product and current Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle] Rudolph, those guys I like to watch and see myself being similar players to them.”

Some wonder if Ertz perhaps could sneak into the first round after a 69-catch season at Stanford.

“I was used all over the field at Stanford, in line and in the slot and out wide,” Ertz said. “That versatility is going to help me at the next level.”

The Washington Redskins seem relatively well-stocked at tight end after re-signing Fred Davis in unrestricted free agency and signing Logan Paulsen, a restricted free agent this offseason who took over as the team’s starter last season when Davis was hurt, to a three-year contract. The Redskins also have Niles Paul and brought back Chris Cooley last season after Davis’s injury. Cooley remains unsigned as an unrestricted free agent.

Maske’s top tight ends:

RANK, PLAYER, SCHOOL HT., WT. PROJ. RD.
1. Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame 6-6, 251 1
2. Zach Ertz, Stanford 6-6, 252 1-2
3. Gavin Escobar, San Diego State 6-6, 255 2-3
4. Travis Kelce, Cincinnati 6-6, 260 2-3
5. Jordan Reed, Florida 6-3, 243 3
6. Vance McDonald, Rice 6-5, 260 3

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Draft coverage, position previews: Safety | offensive line | cornerbacks | running backs | inside linebackers | wide receivers | pass-rushers

Team-by-team draft needs | Prospect reports, sortable by position & school

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Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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