Combine tight-end competition tight

Posted by Vic Carucci on February 21, 2013 – 11:25 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

INDIANAPOLIS – Tight end is among the more interesting positions to watch during the NFL Scouting Combine, because of the anticipated competition to determine who in the group will be first off the board in April’s draft.

And it is a competition.

The tight-end prospects here are looking at the workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium as a chance to gain an edge and convince teams they merit a first-round grade … and a higher one than the others.

It is generally believed that the cream of this year’s tight end crop includes Tyler Eifert of Notre Dame, Zach Ertz of Stanford, and Gavin Escobar of San Diego State.

“I’m just looking toward the opportunity to go up against them in some of the drills,” Ertz told reporters here.

It should be a significant challenge, given the talent of some of the better players at the position.

For instance, Eifert, who is entering the draft as a junior, established himself as the top offensive player on a Notre Dame team that competed for a national championship. He led the Fighting Irish with 50 receptions for 685 yards and four touchdowns. That earned him the Mackey Award, recognizing him as the top tight end in the nation.

The 6-foot-5, 252-pound Eifert has demonstrated superb versatility. He lined up as a wide receiver, his high school position, in addition to the normal tight end spot. NFL scouts rave about his reliable hands, his ability to make difficult catches, and knack for holding onto the ball on catches in traffic over the middle.

The 6-6, 252-pound Ertz also is known for being highly versatile. He, too, lined up at receiver, as well as at the traditional tight end position. He, too, has shown an ability to run a wide variety of pass routes, including deep patterns, and enjoyed some of his better performances against top opponents.

All NFL teams see the vital importance of having a high-impact tight end, capable of taking advantage of favorable matchups against safeties and otherwise finding room to operate underneath zone coverage.

The tight ends in this year’s draft class are encouraged about seeing so many difference-making players at the position in the league.

“I think seeing what all those tight ends do and all those things they’ve been doing, it is very neat,” Ertz said. “You see Jimmy Graham (of the New Orleans Saints) out there against corners all the time. And just seeing what he does is very impressive.

“It’s something that I just hope I can do at that same level.”

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