Since we already took a look at rookie quarterbacks, let's take a look at what rookie tight ends they might possibly throw to in the upcoming years. Tight end wasn't a particularly deep position in this class in my opinion, but there are several players who I believe are going into situations where they can really make an impact. Who might they be? Let's take a look.
1. Vance McDonald - San Francisco Forty Niners (Rice)
6' 4" and 267 lbs (10 1/8 inch hands)
119 receptions for 1504 yards and 15 touchdowns
Draft status: Niners Round 2 pick # 23
I know people will think i'm nuts for putting McDonald at number 1 (I am but not because of this) but McDonald is in a prime spot to be one of the most productive of the rookie TE class. To be frank, I already had him on my watch list but when news broke that Vernon Davis was lining up at wide receiver well bells went off. Whistles too.
McDonald was expected to fill the spot vacated by the departure of Delanie Walker to the Titans (great get) and will surely see increased looks if he assumes Vernon Davis' role in the offense. The injury to Michael Crabtree already meant Vernon Davis would see more action, but now there are reports he is lining up at the wide receiver spot. Whether or not he stays there, McDonald should still expect to get plenty of action as the Niners use a lot of 2 TE sets.
Has lined up at receiver, full back, tight end, and the hybrid spot. Extremely versatile and very hard to take down. He only ran a 4.69 but he plays faster. In addition to being a good receiver he is a nice blocker. Can play on multiple downs. Has experience in the pistol formation. 4 year player at Rice with good production. Really had a nice Senior Bowl and Combine.
Have to worry about the level of competition although this isn't generally a big area of concern for me. Not as much experience blocking on the line although far more than I expected given pre-draft reports.
Where I project him: I would target McDonald beginning around Round 12. Right now mock drafts have guys like Fred Davis and Tyler Eifert going in these spots and to me McDonald has better value than those guys. In all fairness, I am the only one I have seen rank McDonald this high (or at all really) so you can feel free to take that into consideration. Still, read this Senior Bowl review and tell me you aren't intrigued.
2. Levine Toilolo - Atlanta Falcons (Stanford)
6' 8" and 260 lbs (10 1/4 inch hands) 50 receptions for 763 yards and 10 touchdowns Draft position: Falcons Round 4 pick #133 His 2010 season was cut short when he was injured in the first game but he made up for it in 2011 and 2012. Toilolo currently sits behind Tony Gonzalez and Chase Coffman but should enter the season as the #2 tight end. Coffman has never been a factor in the league and Toilolo should see the field. I expect the Falcons to utilize Gonzalez judiciously and Toilolo could see a lot of looks in the end zone. His size alone makes him a problem for most defensive backs.
Positives: A power forward who just happens to play football." Decent speed and hands. Flashes moments when he is a great receiver. Good ball security with only 1 career fumble. Has very good size and is known as a good blocker.
Is known as a good blocker although I have some issues with that assessment. Gets overpowered at the line too much. Could stand to add some bulk to his frame. Needs work on his route running. Tends to be a little inconsistent. He isn't terribly fast.
3. Tyler Eifert - Cincinnati Bengals (Notre Dame)
6' 6" and 251 lbs
140 receptions for 1840 yards and 11 touchdowns
Draft position: Bengals Round 1 pick #21
Despite having Jermaine Gresham on the roster, the Bengals took former Notre Dame tight end Eifert with their first round pick. You could debate what that means for Gresham who has been plagued with some inconsistencies, but clearly the Bengals didn't draft him high just to sit him. Eifert should see the field the only question will be in what role and how much. Still, he is too great a talent to slide past 3 and that's where he lands on my list.
Eifert was simply outstanding at the combine. One of the most physically gifted tight ends in the class, if not the most gifted. Just an incredibly productive career at Notre Dame.
Needs to add a little bulk and could stand to get stronger. Had some issues with drops in college. Has a more productive 2011 than 2013 (although is Y/C increased).
Where I project him: Right now I see his ADP around Round 12 although some think that is too high given Gresham's presence. I tend to agree it might be high for a guy who is going to share playing time with a TE of Gresham's caliber. Still, Gresham's contract jumps significantly in 2014 to $2,335.750.00. I think 12 is too high and would probably say around 15 is the right spot for him.
6' 5" and 262 lbs (10 1/2 inch hands)
Draft status: Dolphins Round 4 pick #106
59 receptions for 707 yards and 8 touchdowns
Sims currently sits behind Dustin Keller on the depth chart but Keller had injury issues in 2012. The Dolphins have a good young quarterback in Ryan Tannehill who threw 5 touchdowns to Anthony Fasano in 2012. With his first year behind him, Tannehill should be improved and Sims is drawing a ton of first team reps during mini camps. I look for Sims to become a Tannehill favorite and one of the surprise tight ends in the 2013 season.
Big, strong with nice speed for his size. Absolutely terrific blocker. Big target with fairly soft hands. Generally snags what comes his way. Nice ability to leap and grab overthrown passes. Helped pave the way for Laveon Bell to have a really nice career at Michigan State. Rarely left the field on offense. Very hard to take down.
Really only one productive year in college. Had an inconsistent quarterback. Sometimes breaks down on his blocks. Needs to get lower on his blocking as he tends to block high. Doesn't show as much finesse in his game as he could and will need some coaching in the pros. Good ball security with only 1 fumble in college.
Where I project him: Dustin Keller is currently going around Round 15 and that seems like a good spot to look at Sims although you could certainly make a case he could or should go higher.
5. Gavin Escobar - Dallas Cowboys (San Diego State)
6' 6" and 254 lbs
122 receptions for 1646 yards and 17 touchdowns
Draft position: Cowboys Round 2 pick # 47
Easily one of my favorite tight ends in this draft class he comes in at number 5 simply because it is difficult to picture where he will factor with Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten on the roster. Still, the Cowboys have publicly indicated they will follow the trend toward more 2 TE sets so Escobar truly could be a factor and might vulture TDs away from Dez Bryant, Witten and Miles Austin.
Let me try and control myself here. Well, just watch the highlight video and see how he tracks the ball. He has good height, great hands, and decent speed. Easy to see he might become a favorite target of Tony Romo. Witten had 110 receptions for 1039 yards in 2012 which shows you how much Romo likes to throw to his TE. It wouldn't shock me if Escobar didn't like up at wide receiver on occasion too.
His blocking leaves much to be desired although he has improved a bit in that department. Isn't terribly fast (ran a 4.84 40) but plays faster. Blocking issues could keep him off the field at times.
Where I project him: I would start looking around Round 15 although bear in mind he will be competing with Witten.
6' 3" and 242 lbs (10 1/4 inch hands)
76 receptions for 1018 yards and 6 touchdowns
Draft position: Raiders 7th round pick #184
Richard Gordan and David Ausberry aren't starting caliber tight ends plus their contracts make it easy to move. The Raiders tacitly acknowledged this by drafting Nick Kasa (6th round) and Mychal Rivera (7th round). Kasa is a former defensive end who will be an absolute stud blocking TE leaving the reliable Rivera to make plays in the passing game. At least that's how I envision it. Rivera performed extremely well at the Senior Bowl and received high marks for his performance.
1 of 3 rookie TEs to never fumble in college (Michael Williams and DC Jefferson are the others). Not very fast or agile, Rivera is a dependable target
Needs work on blocking (though the Raiders drafted their blocking TE with Nick Kasa). Isn't one of the more physically gifted tight ends in this group. Only has average speed. Needs to work on recognition especially where the chains are located. Isn't terribly elusive.
Where I project him: Despite my love for Rivera and my belief he will be the #1 receiving tight end in Oakland, I can't recommend more than a late round flier although you could make a case he should go earlier. Still, there is uncertainty in Oakland and even though I think they are going to be improved this is a risky pick this year.
7. Jordan Reed - Washington Redskins (Florida)
6' 2" and 236 lbs (10 inch hands)
79 receptions for 945 yards and 6 touchdowns
Draft position: Redskins Round 3 pick #85
Has played all the tight end positions. Really nice hands overall and good at getting open on the seams. Nice ability to leap and catch balls. Great knack for getting open. Abused Jarvis Jones in the UGA game. Still, he is sitting behind Fred Davis and Logan Paulsen on the depth chart. Davis has injury concerns and is on a one year deal but Paulsen just signed a 3 year deal with a 1.1 million dollar signing bonus.
Pre-draft evaluations indicate he projected like former Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez and that seems to include character concerns. Doesn't have a ton of experience playing tight end. He is a bit undersized for the position. Sometimes breaks down on blocking though I think he's better than he gets credited. Only 2 good years of college experience. Trouble with ball security with 4 fumbles in college.
Where I project him: Late round flier. I would steer clear this year.
8. Chris Gragg - Buffalo (Arkansas)
6' 3' and 244 lbs (ran a 4.5 at the combine)
72 receptions for 1003 yards and 7 touchdowns (3 fumbles)
Draft position: Bills Round 7 pick #222
Chandler Scott is coming off an ACL injury that happened in December of 2012 and is slated to make almost 2.4 million in 2013, the final year of his deal. It's hard to imagine the Bills moving on this year but it's easy to imagine him struggling as he recovers from his injury. Gragg is behind him plus Lee Smith and Mike Caussin, neither of which are considered a factor. Gragg could enter the season at #2.
Great combination of size and speed. Ran a 4.5 at the Combine. Hard to take down and his speed can be a factor after he catches the ball. Nice measurables.
Doesn't aggressively chase the ball. Could stand to use his speed to get better separation and positioning. Isn't a very good blocker but you could question whether Buffalo cares. Drops passes he should catch.
Where I project him: Inconsistency makes me put Gragg at the bottom but Chandler is coming off an ACL, Lee Smith an ankle and Mike Caussin has has an injury history too. Gragg should start the season as the #2 and with Chandler possibly still recovering from his ACL he could see some serious action. Still draft at your own risk. Unless things change during camp it's hard to imagine Gragg being a reliable FF producer in 2013. Plus, he will be competing for targets with Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, Da'Rick Rogers and possibly even CJ Spiller.