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Lyerla Could Be Best Of Pac-12 TE Bunch

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Tight end Colt Lyerla is one of the best-kept secrets in the country at the tight end position — except to NFL scouts. Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images.
Tight end Colt Lyerla is one of the best-kept secrets in the country at the tight end position — except to NFL scouts. Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images.

As usual, the Pac-12 is loaded with big-play receivers, including several tight ends who can break games open. Most of the talk centers around guys like USC's Xavier Grimble or Austin Seferian-Jenkins at Washington. But tucked slyly into that big net of playmakers for the Oregon offense is a guy who may be one of the best in the nation before the 2013 season is complete in Colt Lyerla.

Blessed with athleticism nearly the equal of Seferian-Jenkins, the standard-bearer for athletic tight ends in the country this season, Lyerla often gets overlooked in the grand scheme of the Ducks' offense. With De'Anthony Thomas electrifying crowds with big-time plays, a stable of fast receivers all lusting for the ball, a running game that has produced massive numbers the last five years and a quarterback in Marcus Mariota who may finish the year among the Heisman finalists, Lyerla clearly can get lost in all the hype.  

His ability, however, demands respect.

The 6-foot-5, 240-pounder plied his trade as a running back in high school and earned all-state honors. He moves quickly, cuts like a running back and certainly has the speed and skill to make teams pay down the field with big plays. He just hasn't gotten a lot of opportunities during the last two seasons as the Ducks love to spread the yardage and scoring wealth. New coach Mark Helfrich said that's one of the challenges for 2013 — injecting more of Lyerla into the offense.

A year ago, Lyerla tied for third on the team with 25 catches (392 yards, six scores) and also rushed 13 times for 77 yards and a touchdown. He's not the typical receiver-turned-tight end, the guy who has to learn to function with more weight. Lyerla comes by his size and athleticism naturally, a combination that makes him nearly impossible to cover and darn near impossible to bring down 1-on-1 once he's caught the ball. He's on the watch list for the John Mackey Award (for the nation's top tight end) and certainly has the attention of opposing team's defensive coordinators.

Look for his numbers to increase this season. Oregon always has been a hotbed of good tight ends, producing guys like David Paulson, Ed Dickson and Dante Rosario for the NFL during the last eight years. Lyerla has better speed, skill and athleticism than any of those three and should draw plenty of interest from NFL teams if and when he decides to take that step. Oregon tight ends in recent history top out in the 35- to 45-catch range when they have big years. Expect Lyerla to be in that range this year. He likely will see time at running back and perhaps be a part of another wrinkle or two.

Lyerla may be a guy who doesn't command the buzz of Oregon's other offensive weapons, but NFL scouts know exactly who he is. Becoming a first-day talent before next year's NFL draft may be possible.