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Draft's TE Tag Team: Eifert and Ertz

Posted Mar 29, 2013

Newyorkjets.com's coverage of the 2013 draft includes breakdowns of each position, the Jets' needs at the spot, and the top players expected to be selected at the position from April 25-27. Today's second in the series: Tight Ends.

Is this the year the Jets draft a tight end? It very well could be following Dustin Keller’s decision to depart for the Miami Dolphins this month. Keller was a Green & White first-round selection in 2008 and led them in receptions in 2010 and 2011. Having missed only two games in his first four seasons, DK sat out eight contests last year due to hamstring and ankle injuries.

Backup Jeff Cumberland is a restricted free agent and could move into the No. 1 role. The former Illinois product stepped up in Keller’s absence with 29 receptions for 359 yards and three touchdowns. His play was rewarding considering the season prior he was placed on IR following the Jets’ Week 3 loss at Oakland when he tore an Achilles tendon.

The Jets' third TE was Konrad Reuland, who was acquired off waivers on Sept. 1, played in all 16 games, started three, and had 11 receptions for 83 yards. Head coach Rex Ryan praised him late in the year as a jack-of-all-trades who does the jobs nobody else wants to do.

Former pro rugby player Hayden Smith showed signs of promise in his first NFL season and could see a larger role in 2013.

NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock is confident a TE is on somebody's Round 1 menu next month.

“We haven't had a tight end drafted in the first round in the last two years,” Mayock said, “so I think that's going to change this year.”

Eifert: Tower of a Receiver, Blocker

The first tight end expected to be selected? It's a tossup between Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert and Stanford’s Zach Ertz. Eifert stands 6’6”, one inch taller than Ertz, and 250 pounds, one pound heavier.

Jason Cole of Yahoo Sports wrote a telling piece on the duo Sunday, and Mayock says, “Both those kids are what today's tight ends are all about — an ability to move around and do different things. They're both big enough to line up in-line if you ask them to.”

This past season, as a junior, Eifert won the Mackey Award and was named an AP All-America second-teamer. Interestingly, his stats were better during his sophomore season when he broke Notre Dame’s TE records for single-season receptions (63) and receiving yards (803). Regardless, he still led the Irish in receiving in '12 with 50 catches for 685 yards and four TDs.

Eifert has always presented ideal TE size, but the area he improved in most during his career in South Bend was blocking. As CBSSports.com’s Dane Brugler points out: “He is a soft-spoken guy but an animal on the field and a much better blocker than given credit, improving in leaps and bounds the past three years with excellent effort. Projects as a starting NFL tight end with excellent potential as both a receiver and blocker.”

While NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah and Matt Smith are predicting Eifert will be taken 26th by the Green Bay Packers, the Fighting Irish TE at his pro day made known his goal for the draft:

"I want to be the first tight end taken. I'm doing everything I can to be the first tight end taken.''

Ertz: Just One Short Issue

Ertz led the nation in TE receiving yards in 2012, finishing with 898. Drawing comparisons to the Cowboys' Jason Witten, he also was an All-Pac 12 first-team selection, All-American and finalist for the Mackey Award (given to the nation’s top tight end). An Alamo, Calif., native, Ertz added 30 pounds of muscle from when he first arrived in Palo Alto and had experience all over Stanford’s offense, appearing most comfortable in the slot.

At the combine however, his arms were measured at 31¾”. That's short compared to more than 30 other draft-eligible TEs, including Eifert at 33⅛”.

As Rob Rang of The Sports Xchange notes: “Arm length can be significant at the tight end position. Longer-armed defenders might be able to get into Ertz's chest and drive him back or toss him on when he's asked to block.”

Ertz showcased at Stanford’s pro day last week that he’s worthy of a first-round selection. He ran a faster 40 time (4.57 to 4.63) and raised his vertical jump five inches (30½" to 35½") from the combine. He acknowledged the combine was an exhausting setting for him and that he trained hard the past month to improve his numbers.

"I think I just wasn't feeling it that day," he said of his combine results. "Luckily, that's why they have pro day. If you have something you didn't like at the combine, you can work on it and get better. I just focused on the 40 and the jumps, and that really helped me."

Slot's the Spot for McDonald

Rice redshirt senior Vance McDonald, with 10⅛" hands and 34⅜" inch arms, has the physical makeup to excel in today's NFL offenses. After walking onto the Owls' football team in 2009, he instantly earned All-Conference USA freshman honors and was a consensus All-CUSA selection in 2012. He finished fifth on Rice’s school career touchdown reception list with 15, despite missing three games his senior season with a toe injury.

NFL.com says McDonald is best-suited for the slot: “This certainly helps his comfort blocking on the edge and as a receiver who picks up yards after the catch.”

The 6’5”, 268-pounder’s stock rose after the combine as he is now projected as a second-round selection. Among the TEs in Indianapolis, he did the most bench reps (31) and tied with Eifert for the second-longest broad jump (9'11").

It was reported by Adam Caplan of the Sideline View that McDonald had a predraft visit with the Eagles on Monday.

When discussing a tight end’s value to his team’s success, Gavin Escobar of San Diego State, who will bypass his senior season, is arguably atop the list. Escobar was the Aztecs' leading receiver last year with 42 receptions for 543 yards and six touchdowns. His impressive numbers earned him All-Mountain West first-team honors along with being named a semifinalist for the Mackey Award.

Mayock said of Escobar, “Watching him catch a football is like ballet.”

The 6’6”, 254-pound target had the second-fastest times among tight ends in the three-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle, but he wasn’t as impressive in the 40, finishing in the lower tier with a 4.84. Reports indicated, however, that he improved his 40 time to a 4.70 at SDSU's pro day on March 19.

Best Blocker? Kelce

Despite missing the combine with an abdominal tear sustained prior to the Senior Bowl, Cincinnati’s Travis Kelce is another fascinating prospect. After playing quarterback in high school, Kelce’s time in Cincy got off to a rough start as he was suspended for the entire 2010 season for an undisclosed violation of team rules.

"You live and you learn,” he said. “No regrets at all. It's about overcoming the difficulties of not being able to play an entire season like I did, just learning from my mistakes and growing from that."

The 6’5”, 260-pounder returned to school the following year and was a major Bearcats contributor his final two seasons. As a senior, he led Cincinnati with 722 receiving yards and eight TDs. In his final collegiate game, vs. Duke in the Belk Bowl, the All-Big East first-teamer caught a game-winning 83-yard touchdown reception.

Prior to the combine, ESPN’s Mel Kiper listed Kelce as the third-best TE prospect and was projecting him to be a third-round selection with a chance to rise into the second. “Obviously you look at the bloodlines there," Kiper said, referring to Jason, Travis’ older brother, who is the Eagles' staring center. "You think about the size that he brings to the table at 6'5". He's a big kid that can run. He made some really good catches down the field. I thought he adjusted to some poorly thrown balls.”

ESPN colleague Todd McShay added: “He's explosive and he can get down the field. Of the top five or six tight ends, he's probably the best blocker."

Although Jordan Reed's time at Florida came to a bitter end (one catch for 7 yards in the Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville), he felt it was the appropriate time to move on.

"I've enjoyed four good years at Florida, but I feel that now is the right time to pursue my dream of playing in the NFL," Reed said. "I appreciate the support from all the coaches and staff here, and I'll always be a Gator."

The New London, Conn., native led UF with 45 catches for 559 yards and three touchdowns on his way to picking up All-SEC first-team honors. Also on his college transcript: As a freshman, along with playing tight end, he was a part-time quarterback.

Drafttek.com is projecting Reed as a mid-third-round selection and some have compared his soft hands to those of Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez, once a Florida Gator himself.

Tuesday, March 26 — Wide Receivers

Tuesday, April 2 — Running Backs/Fullbacks

Preseason Live: New York Jets

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