Each year a unique set of prospects enters the professional ranks with a chance to make an immediate impact on the country’s most powerful sport. The 2013 NFL Draft, held April 25-27, won’t be any different. The evolution of the tight end position has been interesting to track over the last few seasons. Smaller, quicker players are being lined up in the slot while bigger, more physical options are getting time in the backfield. Even the Colts drafted two tight ends last year, one to catch passes and stretch the field and the other to block and be a red-zone target. Just ask Bill Belichick how valuable a good tight end can be — he uses his like no other coach in history. Be it pure pass-catchers or complete three-down options, this should be another solid collection of rookie tight ends.
Measurables: Height, Weight, 40-time, 225-lb reps
1. Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame (Jr.)
Measurables: 6-5, 250, 4.68, 22
Final Stats: 140 rec., 1,840 yds, 11 TD
The big Fighting Irish tight end is easily the top prospect at his position for this upcoming draft. But poor quarterback play has limited his statistical production throughout his career. He entered his final season as more of a pass-catcher, but has gotten stronger at the point of attack as ND looked to pound the football more in 2012. He projects as an excellent receiver on the next level and, should he continue to develop as an in-line blocker, he should hear his name called somewhere in the first round.
2. Zach Ertz, Stanford (Jr.)
Measurables: 6-5, 249, 4.76, 24
Final Stats: 112 rec., 1,434 yds, 15 TD
Ertz is a slightly less talented version of Coby Fleener. He isn’t quite as fast and isn’t quite as a explosive, but he doubled Fleener's production from the year before. He is a very similar player with similar skills and might be the better all-around prospect. He has played in a pro-style attack that focuses on NFL skills at the tight end position and has excelled all over the formation. Few programs have prepared this position for the next level like Stanford.
3. Jordan Reed, Florida (Jr.)
Measurables: 6-3, 236, 4.72, 16
Final Stats: 79 rec., 945 yds, 6 TD, 77 att., 328 yds, 5 TD, 252 pass yds, 3 TD, INT
He will likely function more as an H-Back due to his overall lack of size and elite speed, but there are no weaknesses to his overall game. He is strong, physical and solid in a blocking role. He has quickness on the outside in the passing game and will stretch the middle of the defense. And he showed loads of versatility as a runner and quarterback prior to the Gators switching to a pro-style attack in 2012. He dealt with three different coordinators in three seasons in Gainesville, so he is only scratching the surface of his overall potential.
4. Dion Sims, Michigan State (Jr.)
Measurables: 6-5, 262, 4.75, 22
Final Stats: 59 rec., 707 yds, 8 TD
Sims entered his final season with no help at quarterback or wide receiver and was arguably the top target in a one-dimensional offense. He is a powerful blocker with a huge frame and solid athleticism. He won’t wow scouts with his overall speed or quickness, but he has enough talent to stay on an NFL field due to his physicality and overall size for years to come. He should be a solid first- and second-down option with red zone potential.
5. Vance McDonald, Rice (Sr.)
Measurables: 6-4, 267, 4.69, 31
Final Stats: 119 rec., 1,504 yds, 15 TD
Rice has produced solid tight ends of late and McDonald is the next one. He is extremely versatile and can be used all over the offense. He is a smooth pass-catcher with excellent athletic ability and will be a matchup nightmare in the open field. He also showed excellent strength with 31 reps on the bench at the combine. However, he needs to develop as a blocker and could refine his ball skills. He has some of the biggest upside in the draft at this position.
6. Philip Lutzenkirchen, Auburn (Sr.)
Measurables: 6-3, 258, 4.94, 21
Final Stats: 59 rec., 628 yds, 14 TD
Without being elite at any one thing, Lutz could be the complete package at tight end. He has suffered through horrendous quarterback play, multiple offensive systems and complete coaching turmoil. Yet, back in 2010 with Cam Newton as his quarterback, he produced in key situations and was a big part of the championship run as only a sophomore. He delivers big plays in clutch situations — short yardage third downs and in the red zone. While not overly athletic, he can be a difficult matchup. As an H-back he also has proved to be a solid blocker and his ability to move around in the formation gives him some upside.
Related: Athlon's 2013 NFL Mock Draft 2.0
7. Michael Williams, Alabama (Sr.)
Measurables: 6-5, 268
Final Stats: 51 rec., 503 yds, 7 TD
The pros for Williams: A huge frame. A nasty, powerful run blocker. He played in a pro-style system coached by football czar Nick Saban. He was a huge part of three BCS national championship runs and he is as dependable as any prospect in the draft. His pass-catching skills are limited, particularly down the field, but there is plenty of room in the NFL for a guy with his in-line blocking talents and overall skill set.
8. Gavin Escobar, San Diego State (Sr.)
Measurables: 6-6, 254, 4.84
Final Stats: 122 rec., 1,646 yds, 17 TD
He is a very natural pass-catcher with good ball skills and great awareness in the passing game. He isn't overtly athletic and won't make people miss in the open field or run away from defenders. He also isn't a developed run blocker yet either. He is a great third-down, passing game option but lacks the complete skill set needed to play all three downs.
9. Travis Kelce, Cincinnati (Sr.)
Measurables: 6-5, 255, N/A
Final Stats: 59 rec., 875 yds, 10 TD
The Bearcats prospect might have the best overall frame for an NFL tight end of anyone in the class. He has excellent strength and power and uses his frame well in the passing game. There is a major red flag as he was suspended for an entire season for violating team rules. He also doesn't have elite speed or burst. He was an excellent blocker and has an excellent frame, but with only one season of production, Kelce has some question marks.
10. Levine Toilolo, Stanford (Jr.)
Measurables: 6-8, 260, 4.86, 17
Final Stats: 50 rec., 763 yds, 10 TD
No player at this position will bring a bigger, better frame to the next level than Toilolo. His is massive. He can be used equally as a pass-catcher and in-line blocker, but needs to refine his talents at both. He is a more of a long-term project than some of his peers, but few can match his raw upside. When it comes to working vertically down the seam or in the red zone, few have the potential to be as dangerous as the 6-8 monster from out west. He has experience in a pro-style attack that has developed a number of NFL tight ends of late.
11. Joseph Fauria, UCLA (Sr.)
Measurables: 6-7, 259, 17 reps
Final Stats: 88 rec., 1,139 yds, 20 TD
From a pure athletic stand point, few players in the nation will match the size and speed combination Fauria brings to the table. He has more upside as a receiver than a blocker but is adequate at both. He needs to polish his overall game and prove his dedication and commitment to being a great player. Developing a killer instinct might be his only weakness.
12. D.C. Jefferson, Rutgers (Sr.)
Measurables: 6-6, 255
Final Stats: 47 rec., 560 yds, 2 TD
Unfortunately, Jefferson's combine was cut short due to a pectoral injury sustained during his bench press. However, he has intriguing athleticism and upside. He has drawn comparisons to Martellus Bennett — physically, not mentally. He was talented enough to enter college as a quarterback and will have to prove his skills across the board to make an impact on the NFL level. But size, speed and work ethic are all solid aspects of his game.
Other Names to Watch:
13. Ryan Otten, San Jose State (6-6, 245, Sr.)
14. Ryan Griffin, UConn (6-6, 245, Sr.)
15. Jake Stoneburner, Ohio State (6-5, 245, Sr.)
16. Justice Cunningham, South Carolina (6-3, 258, Sr.)
17. Chris Gragg, Arkansas (6-3, 236, Sr.)
18. Mychal Rivera, Tennessee (6-3, 245, Sr.)
19. Nick Kasa, Colorado (6-6, 260, Sr.)
20. Matt Furstenburg, Maryland (6-4, 245, Sr.)
2013 NFL Draft Positional Rankings: