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Eifert could break first-round drought

Posted Apr 8, 2013

As we go down the Road to the Draft, Driven By Liberty Ford, here’s a look at the tight ends of the 2013 NFL Draft class.

With the 2013 NFL Draft fast approaching on April 25, ClevelandBrowns.com will take a deeper look at the prospects, position-by-position. Today’s spotlight is on the tight ends.

Overview:

The 2013 class of tight ends is looking to break a two-year first-round drought at the position.

There has not been a tight end selected in the first round of the NFL Draft since the Cincinnati Bengals chose Jermaine Gresham out of the University of Oklahoma with the 21st pick in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Since that time, Kyle Rudolph (Notre Dame) and Coby Fleener (Stanford) were the highest-picked tight ends in the last two drafts.

Rudolph went to the Minnesota Vikings with the 11th pick (No. 43 overall) in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft, while Fleener was reunited with his college quarterback when the Indianapolis Colts took him with the second pick of the second round last April.

“I like the tight ends, but there is a drop-off after three, so you could see a little bit of a run, a team wants a tight end, but they want to make sure they’re in that top three,” NFL Network Draft Analyst Mike Mayock said. “You could see some guys going to get all three of those guys.”

Key Players:

*Tyler Eifert (Notre Dame), Zach Ertz (Stanford), Gavin Escobar (San Diego State), Travis Kelce (Cincinnati), and Vance McDonald (Rice).

At 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, Eifert caught 50 passes for 685 yards and four touchdowns and served as a playmaker for the Fighting Irish on their march to the National Championship Game in 2012. He matched a season-best with six receptions for 61 yards in the title game loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide.

In his three years with the Fighting Irish, Eifert caught 140 passes for 1,840 yards and 11 touchdowns.

“I thought that Eifert did a better job blocking this year than he did in past years and a little better job than Ertz did who was more of a move guy,” Mayock said. “If you asked me to rank them today, it would be Eifert first, because I could line him up in line, even though he's not a stone killer. Trust me, he’s not, but he can at least play leverage and block in line. However, both of their strengths are getting downfield and catching the football.”

Ertz ended his season with three catches and 61 yards receiving in a 20-14 Stanford win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, but made a consistent impact throughout the regular season.

He finished the year with 69 catches for 898 yards and six touchdowns, all of which were career highs, and gained 100 or more yards in three games this year. His high-water mark for catches was 11 in a 17-14 overtime win at Oregon on Nov. 17, and he gained 134 yards in a 21-3 win at California on Oct. 20.

“As far as Zach Ertz, there are three guys at the top of this class that are very similar,” Mayock said. “Eifert, Ertz, and Escobar from San Diego State, all of them are 6-6, plus or minus 250 (pounds). It will be interesting to see how the three run against each other, because they're all clumped together by most teams right now. You watch Ertz, and they move him all over the field.”

After catching 42 passes for 543 yards and six touchdowns as a junior, Escobar elected to forgo his senior season and enter the 2013 NFL Draft. In three years with the Aztecs, Escobar caught 122 passes for 1,646 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Escobar had his most productive season in 2011, when he caught 51 passes for 780 yards and seven touchdowns, all of which were career highs.

During his career at Cincinnati, Kelce showed an ability to produce while playing through injuries and the mental strength to recover from off-the-field issues that cost him the 2010 season due to a team-mandated suspension.

Despite suffering a sports hernia early in the 2012 season, Kelce caught 45 passes for 722 yards, averaged 16.0 yards per reception and scored eight touchdowns for the Bearcats, who went 10-3 and represented the Big East Conference with a 48-34 victory over Duke in the Belk Bowl.

“I’ve played through a lot of injuries,” Kelce said at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine. “Unfortunately, I’ve been hit with a shoulder injury twice. I played through that in the 2011 season, hadn’t had a problem with that since. Being able to playing through this, I think teams want to have a guy on their roster that’s going to keep playing knowing that the team needs him on the field.

“Mentally, I’m fine. I’m as confident as I’ll always be. Whether or not I get injured, I’m going to bounce back and be ready to go. I’ve had injuries before and have shown I can get through that and be able to play at a high level, be able to excel and produce at a high level.”

McDonald was on pace to set new career highs for receptions and yards until he missed three of the final five regular-season games in 2012, but still managed to haul in 36 passes for 458 yards and two scores, including a season-best 99 yards on nine catches in a 33-24 win at UTEP on Nov. 24.

McDonald caught 119 passes for 1,504 yards and 15 touchdowns in his four years at Rice.

*ClevelandBrowns.com utilized the players’ list by NFL Network’s Mike Mayock.

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