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Top 5 tight end prospects
Washington's rising junior leads the early look at the tight ends
Originally Published: May 15, 2013
By Mel Kiper Jr. | ESPN Insider
Steven Bisig/USA TODAY Sports
Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a matchup problem at tight end for Washington.
Twenty years ago, Shannon Sharpe was the only tight end in the NFL who finished the season ranked among the top 15 players in catches. Sharpe piled up 81 catches, an extremely high number for a tight end at the time. Of course Sharpe was, in some parts, maligned because his official position at the time was defined as "Not Quite a Tight End." He played at about 225 pounds and was often split out, and thus wasn't considered "complete" because he wasn't as skilled at blocking as he was at catching passes.
In 2012, three NFL tight ends caught 85 or more balls, and a whopping 16 tight ends were thrown at 80 or more times. That's a big spike based not only on what the league looked like 20 years ago, but also on the numbers from as recently as 2008, when fewer than half as many tight ends were thrown at 80 or more times.
The position has been redefined. You're no longer an "incomplete" tight end if blocking isn't your greatest strength; your value is also defined by your hands, your length and your ability to make tough catches not just down the seam, but all over the field. The position has changed, and the evaluations have changed with it.
And the skills we look for at the NFL level are now more often found in the college ranks because of it. After a deep class of tight ends in the 2013 draft, here's a look at some of the top prospects for the 2014 draft.
1. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Junior, Washington
This is the definition of a matchup problem: a tight end with the size (6-foot-6, 265 pounds) to block and the hands and athleticism to be split out, where he can overwhelm smaller corners. Extremely productive, Seferian-Jenkins had 109 catches in his first two years in college, and he already holds the school record for catches, touchdowns and receiving yards by a tight end.
Seferian-Jenkins has big hands and is adept at catching the ball away from his body. He has the size to work the middle of the field but makes plenty of catches on the perimeter, where he's like a power forward posting up a point guard. He isn't explosive, but he runs pretty well after the catch.
2. Colt Lyerla, Junior, Oregon
Don't mistake Lyerla's lack of catches for lack of talent. The one-time star high school running back and linebacker might be the best athlete in this group, and Oregon was eager to find ways to get him the ball. He even rushed the ball 13 times last season, to go along with his 25 catches.
At 6-5 and a hair under 250 pounds, Lyerla has plenty of size and the frame to add more, and he becomes a running back when he catches the ball in space, with great explosiveness for his size. Oregon moved him all over, from the line to the edge and into the backfield. He should take another step forward in his production in 2013.
3. Eric Ebron, Junior, North Carolina
He has the athleticism to be split out at the next level a la an Aaron Hernandez, but I like that Ebron displays a willingness, and even a bit of a nasty streak, when called on to block.
He finished 2012 with 40 catches for 625 yards, and I think he could probably be better utilized as a target inside the red zone because he can stretch out and high-point the ball, making him a difficult matchup for even the tallest defenders. He fits the prototype of the modern tight end.
4. C.J. Fiedorowicz, Senior, Iowa
A huge target who can be effective working the middle of the field, what he gives up in athleticism he gives back in the ability to block. He took a big step forward last year, with 45 catches, and I expect Iowa to move him around more in 2013 and look for more opportunities to take advantage of his hands and size. In the mold of former Iowa tight end and current Buffalo Bills starter Scott Chandler, Fiedorowicz will have a long NFL career.
5. Xavier Grimble, Junior, USC
He was actually the third-leading receiver for the Trojans in 2012, but you didn't see enough of Grimble because he came next in the pecking order after Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, who gobbled up a whopping 192 combined catches. But make no mistake: Grimble is a weapon. At 6-5 and 255 pounds, he's capable of working the middle of the field but is also a matchup problem outside.
What I like about Grimble is that he can make catches in traffic, and when he has the ball in his hands, he seems to enjoy looking for people he can run over. The USC offense should see more of him in 2013.
Jacob Pedersen, Senior, Wisconsin
Would be more productive with more targets; Pedersen can really run when he gets the ball in space.
Jace Amaro, Junior, Texas Tech
With good length, Amaro looks like a receiver, particularly after the catch.
Ben Koyack, Junior, Notre Dame
Buried on the depth chart behind the likes of Tyler Eifert in 2012, he'll make his mark this season.
Arthur Lynch, Senior, Georgia
The Bulldogs consistently send tight ends to the next level, and Lynch could be next.
Kaneakua Friel, Senior, BYU
He has soft hands and good size to work the middle of the field.