JetsInsider’s 2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Tight Ends

Yes Darrelle Revis has been traded to Tampa Bay, but let’s be honest we all knew this was coming and there will be plenty of time to examine the negatives and positives of this trade (like after the draft, after the season, after next year’s draft pick and after his career). With this year’s draft just around the corner, Thursday night, we, like the Jets must move our focus back to the draft.

The trade gives the Jets Tampa’s 13th overall pick to go with their ninth overall pick and still leaves them with a pick in the other six rounds which gives them all sorts of flexibility to address multiple needs. One of those needs is at running back, I ranked my top backs here and here, but if the Saints are willing to part with Chris Ivory for a fifth they could focus on other positions of need with their first five picks and if they hit (big if, but play along) on all five and add Ivory they could have added six potential starters to this team. The strength of this draft class is with the o-line early, but there’s quality depth at many positions of need for the Jets and one of those is tight end. With Jeff Cumberland and Hayden Smith as the two tight ends on the roster it’s rather safe to assume the Jets will look to draft a tight end and if you need to draft a tight end this is a great year to do so.

1) Tyler Eifert (Notre Dame) – As deep as this class of tight ends is, Eifert stands out above the rest as the clear-cut number one tight end (and the only tight end with a first round grade). Eifert has great size (6′5″ 1/2, 250 lbs) and above average tight end speed (4.68 40, fourth fastest in this year’s class). He can line up anywhere on the field, on the line, slot or on the outside and can run any route in the playbook. Has a great release off the line, good use of hands to beat pressing defenders and has developed into a clean, sharp route runner. Will find the soft spots in zones and does a good job of making himself available to help his quarterback after a play has broken down or his route had been completed. Wins jump balls consistently (second highest vertical jump at the combine for tight ends 35.5), does an excellent job of using his big frame to box out defenders and locate the ball in the air, make proper adjustments if needed, and fight for and win the ball. Will make the tough catches in the air and in traffic, was extremely productive despite having multiple erratic (to be nice) quarterbacks.

As of right now Jeff Cumberland and Hayden Smith are the Jets two tight ends, by this weekend expect the Jets to add one more. Here's JetsInsider's right end rankings. (JetsInsider.com photo)

Has steadily improved his blocking and turned into a willing and capable blocker, pull blocks, tight seals, sticks with and finishes his blocks. Very competitive on the field and it shows during games, fights for blocks and the ball.

He doesn’t have breakaway speed, or elite play-making abilities after the catch, but if you need a certain amount of yards, he’ll find that marker and bring in the tough catch. There was no way the Jets could have considered Eifert with the ninth pick, but 13? That’s sounds very intriguing. For a team with shaky (at best) quarterbacks, drafting a reliable target, with experience in bailing out quarterbacks, like Eifert makes a ton of sense.

2) Travis Kelce (Cincinnati) - I had a tough time deciding on Kelce or Zach Ertz as my second ranked tight end, Ertz is the safer choice. I decided to roll with the potential play-making ability (as well as superior blocking) of Kelce as my second ranked tight end. Kelce is raw, was recruited by Cincinnati to play quarterback, was suspended for the entire 2010 season for violating teams rules and reportedly has some character concerns. Converted to tight end in 2011 and saw minor action in games recording just 13 catches for 150 yards and two touchdowns, but in 2012 he set the record for most receiving yards by a tight end in Cincinnati history (45 catches, 722 yards and eight TDs).

Kelce had to pull out of the combine with an abdominal injury so we don’t know his 40 time, but he certainly plays fast. Put on any of his tape and you’ll see he’s extremely versatile, lined up on the line, slot, outside and H-back. Tough, physical, competitive blocker. Uses his size, strength and hands well. Aggressive, finishes blocks and moves onto second level, great downfield blocker, stays active, plays to the whistle, solid in pass protection too.

Dangerous receiving threat, can beat defenses short or deep (particularly dangerous on drags and seam routes), good, soft, hands in tight spaces and will attack the ball in the air. Good field awareness finding soft spots or seams, deadly at times running loose down a seam. Has a big frame (6′4 7/8″, 255 lbs.) and uses it to his advantage, in blocking and pulling in catches in traffic. Tough, physical receiver who will fight for extra yards and has deceptive speed and play-making ability in the open field, quick turn up field, downfield vision and can break tackles and make defenders miss.

He is still raw as a route runner and will need to work on running cleaner routes and sometimes runs/plays too fast and choppy. Also needs to improve his ability to improvise after his route is complete and work his way back to help his quarterback. He needs some work as a receiver, but ready to contribute as a blocker immediately. I see enough potential to rank him here.

Zach Ertz (Stanford) - Ertz has a higher floor than Kelce, but a much lower ceiling. Ertz is more NFL ready as a receiving tight end than Kelce and he should turn into a really good tight end, I feel confident in saying he will but I don’t see him as being much more than that. Ertz is a better all-around receiver than Kelce at this point (Kelce only has an edge after the catch), but I’m not a fan of Ertz’s blocking.

His blocking has improved, but too often he simply whiffs on blocks or runs around launching himself at either no one or someone that’s already double teamed. When asked to go straight to the second level to block he has a tendency to wander around like a dog deciding where to do their business. He has shown the ability to win one-on-one blocks, if he locks the defender up, but he rarely does. He struggles getting a clean block in space, doesn’t close out or finish block enough and stays flat-footed too often.

As a receiver, he has a big frame (6′5″, 249 lbs.) and is a good, crisp route runner. Gets a quick jump off the line, clean breaks in and out of routes, makes good use of head fakes to create separation. Has good soft hands, does a great job of following the ball in air and making adjustments to position his body to make the catch. Can go up and snatch the ball in traffic, puts hands up ready to catch the pass as he’s coming out of his break and is a tough, physical receiver and runner after the catch, tough to tackle and will deliver contact and pick up extra yards.

Played in Stanford’s pro-style offense and lined up all over the field, on the line, slot, outside, backfield. Can run all the routes in the playbook, can create mismatches and wins all over the field and will find and exploit soft spots in the defense. Provides for a reliable security blanket for his quarterback, good field awareness.

4) Jordan Reed (Florida) - Once again I’m bumping a guy up a bit because of potential, there’s a few others who could fit here and might be safer picks, but Reed simply has too much play-making ability for me to ignore. He’s extremely versatile, lines up all over the field, runs all the routes and is a threat to break a huge play anytime he touches the ball. Has great downfield vision and will make big plays out of nothing, beats defenses all over the field and is very dangerous in the open field, reminds me of a more physical Aaron Hernandez after the catch.

Reed’s athleticism shows up all over his tapes, smooth, fluid route runner, clean breaks in and out of routes, possess excellent field awareness and good footwork and head fakes/body movement to create separation.

Needs to be a more consistent receiver (that horrendous Florida offense didn’t do him any favors though), but will attack passes in air, does a good job locating and snatching the ball and makes proper adjustments and uses his body to create separation and can make tough catches in traffic. Has a lot of room to grow as a blocker, but he is an active and willing blocker and has the ability to improve this part of his game but will be limited by his size (6′2 1/2″, 236 lbs.) and lack of strength (only 16 reps at combine). Has had numerous minor injury issues which is a cause for concern, but his potential play-making ability is something no team should overlook.

5) Gavin Escobar (San Diego State) - Good size (6′5 7/8″, 254 lbs.) and length (33 1/2″ arms), has good initial burst off the line and deceptive straight line speed (dangerous on seam routes) and displays surprising quickness, excellent downfield vision, uses his blockers well and sets up defenders as he moves down field. Has naturally soft hands, great body movement/positioning, locates ball well and uses these tools to win jump balls. Needs to develop his route running further but does a good job disguising his routes before hitting his breaks.

Lacks breakaway speed (4.84 40), but plays deceptively faster. Is a willing and competitive blocker, but must develop better technique and learn to use his size to create leverage, but seems to still be adjusting to his large frame and once he fills out and gets coached up he should improve his blocking.

6) Chris Gragg (Arkansas) - Gragg put on a bit of a show at the combine running the fastest 40 (4.50) and highest vertical jump (37.5) of any tight end, but he’s more than just a workout warrior. Watching his film you can see the explosive play-making ability and raw athletic talent, but many parts of his game need refining and then there’s also injury concerns. Gragg’s measurables are like a receiver and he plays like it, makes sense because he’s a converted receiver. Has quick acceleration off the line, follows the ball through the air and shows the ability to snatch and grab and make tough, contested catches in traffic. Has breakaway speed and can create mismatches, is a threat to beat defenses over the top as long as he doesn’t get jammed up at the line.

Undersized and lacks ideal strength to be a true blocking tight end, but has shown a willingness and improvement in this are over the years, his injury history has most likely stunned his growth in this area. Frustrating at times, too many drops and mental errors, some of that could be attributed to rust from injuries as well. Gragg has a lot of areas to work on, but if he can stay healthy he can give any team a lot to work with.

7) Vance McDonald (Rice) - McDonald is much more of a receiving tight end than a blocking one, on tape he seemed to line up in the slot far more often than on the line. From the slot McDonald is a good blocker on smaller corners, but when he’s asked to stay in and block d-line or linebackers he tends to get overpowered. McDonald has above average speed (4.69 40) and a big frame (6′4 1/8″, 267 lbs.) with 34-1/4″ long arms and 10-1/8″ hands which he can use to his advantage as he can pluck passes out of the air, but his hands are too inconsistent as he has too many drops/deflections.

He has excellent downfield vision and is a threat with the ball in his hands, will take advantage of open space, but also shows good lateral quickness and the ability to make defenders miss in tight. Lined up in the backfield and ran the ball effectively. As a play-maker McDonald deserves to be higher on this list, but I saw too many easy drops to ignore.

8) Dion Sims (Michigan State) - Big bodied, powerful receiving threat, can make tough catches in traffic and turn up field and rumble and stumble his way for extra yards with multiple defenders draped all over him. Tracks ball well through the air and can extend and snatch balls within his reach, applies his history as a former basketball player to tight end, uses his body to box out/shield defenders. Has good speed (4.75) for his size (6′ 4 7/8″, 262 lbs.), but after the catch he relies on his power and strength to fight for extra yards much more than his speed.

Above average run blocker at the point of attack, locks up well and finishes, can also smoothly move off original block and into the second level. Needs some work on his technique, especially in pass protection, to create leverage but certainly shows the potential for improvement.

Injuries are also a concern with Sims as he broke his hand in 2011 (although he played through earning him toughness points) and missed three games with an ankle injury in 2012. If healthy Sims won’t be breaking big plays in space, but he can earn those tough yards offenses need to move down the field and extend drives as he’ll fight for every extra yard he can.

9) Nick Kasa (Colorado) - A converted defensive end, Kasa is a strong, physical blocker who has continued to make progress as a receiver. Creates good leverage and uses his hands to move defenders and open up running lanes or give his quarterback more time. Locks up defenders, can seal the edge, but still needs to tweak his technique.

As a receiver Kasa possesses a big frame (6′5 7/8″ 269 lbs.) and surprising straight line speed (4.71) and will torch defenses if they fail to account for him. Very raw as a receiver all around, route running needs work and needs to locate and secure the ball better, but clearly has the potential to develop into a quality tight end and cause all types of matchup concerns for defenses.

10) Ryan Otten (San Jose State) - Very good, willing, active and capable run blocker. Good at the point of attack and makes a seamless transition to the second level, however can get overpowered when lined up inside. Good release and route running as a receiver, good feel for soft spot, big frame (6′5 1/4″, 230 lbs.), good speed, soft hands and uses his body well to box out defenders. Would be a bigger name if he went to a bigger school and also if he didn’t have some injury concerns as well. It’s not that he got injured all that often in college, but his slim frame gives cause for concern.

Others to consider:

Michael Williams (Alabama), Mychal Rivera (Tennessee), Philip Lutzenkirchen (Auburn), Jake Stoneburner (Ohio State), Brandon Ford (Clemson), Matt Furstenburg (Maryland), Joseph Fauria (UCLA), Levine Toilolo (Stanford), D.C. Jefferson (Rutgers), Justice Cunningham (South Carolina)

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