2014 NFL Draft Prospects: Tight Ends
By David Seigerman
Not too terribly long ago, the expectations an NFL team had for its tight ends were pretty straight forward: block and catch passes in the middle of the field. And usually, they had a player dedicated to each task.
Those days are gone. Now, tight ends are vertical threats and outlet options. They line up tight to the tackle and split out wide, in the slot or as H-backs. They run a full receiver's route tree, occasionally run the football and, of course, still have to block like a sixth offensive lineman.
And, now, teams are starting to look for two tight ends who can do all that (or at least a pair with multiple dimensions each) and put them on the field together.
As you can imagine, the demand for this kind of state-of-the-art tight end has grown faster than the colleges can supply them. Here's a first look at 10 top tight ends who are expected to be available in the 2014 NFL Draft.
1. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
6-foot-6, 266 pounds
2012 season: 69 rec., 850 yds., 7 TDs, Mackey Award finalist
The distinction of being the top tight end prospect in the nation comes with the smallest of caveats: Seferian-Jenkins needs to be on the field in order to maintain his standing. He was suspended in April following an arrest for a misdemeanor DUI, but he’s not expected to miss time during the fall. And when he’s on the field, there is no question about the top tight end in the land. For a big man, he’s a blur off the line of scrimmage, making his routes look effortless. He has terrific hands, comfortably catching balls in traffic, in the red zone, along the sidelines. Seferian-Jenkins lines up occasionally as an H-Back, but he’s really an inline tight end, primarily because he’s a surprisingly effective blocker for a guy whose true strength is as a receiver. And now that he’s forsaken basketball in order to prepare for football season, Seferian-Jenkins’ stock is about to take off.
2. Colt Lyerla, Oregon
2012 season: 25 rec., 392 yds., 6 TDs
Lyerla is the Zach Ertz to Seferian-Jenkins’ Tyler Eifert: he is clearly the second-best tight end in the 2014 draft class. Whereas Seferian-Jenkins looks like more like an overgrown wide receiver, Lyerla is positively Bavaroan. Defenders bounce of this Duck’s back like, well, like guys who can’t bring down this throwback tight end. Lyerla’s hard-nosed style will appeal to NFL decision makers; his tendency toward thick-headed conspiracy-theorizing tweets surely won’t.
3. Eric Ebron, North Carolina
2012 season: 40 rec., 625 yds., 4 TDs
Just a few highlights from 2012 are all you need to see to get excited about the potential of this full-package prospect. Watch the pancake block against NC State or the acrobatic grab in the end zone against Wake Forest, and you see everything you want a tight end to be able to do. He’s a smooth route runner, with a good feel for finding space in a zone. He’ll make good initial contact on blocks but needs to lock up his man a bit longer.
4a. Xavier Grimble, USC
2012 season: 29 rec., 316 yds., 5 TDs
4b. Randall Telfer, USC
2012 season: 12 rec., 100 yds., 4 TDs
It is tough to separate the two components of USC’s tight end tandem. Grimble and Telfer are the same weight, have the same number of career touchdown catches. Grimble has a couple more starts and the slightly better numbers, though Telfer may be the more natural receiver of the two. They’re likely to continue lining up together in two-TE packages in 2013, though both of them lost time in the spring to injury (Grimble suffered a fractured chest bone early in spring practice; Telfer missed the spring game with a torn meniscus that likely will sideline him until the end of June.) Both better get healthy or they are both likely to see their playing time cut into by sophmore Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, who may surpass both guys by the time he’s draft eligible.
6. Jacob Pedersen, Wisconsin
2012 season: 27 rec., 355 yds., 4 TDs
Pedersen extends the Badgers’ recent run of productive tight ends, following in the wake of Lance Kendricks and Travis Beckum. He’s not a state-of-the-art stretch-the-field tight end as much as a reliable receiver in a more traditional mode. It will be interesting to see how much of Wisconsin’s old pro-style offense sticks under new coach Gary Andersen. If the Badgers start incorporating more spread into their offensive philosophy, it might not necessarily suit the talents of Pedersen, the reigning Big Ten Tight End of the Year. Or it will add to what he's able to do at the next level.
7. C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa
2012 season: 45 rec., 433 yds., 1 TD
Whoever wins the Iowa quarterback job should feel good about one thing: having a 6-7 target like Fiedorowicz. He finished the 2012 season strong, playing a much bigger role in the passing game in the final two games (14 catches, 155 yards), a role that should continue this fall.
8. Chris Coyle, Arizona State
2012 season: 57 rec., 696 yds., 5 yards
Coyle had a breakout season in 2012, leading he Sun Devils in both catches and receiving yards. His 57 catches were a school record for a tight end. As the ASU offense grows around him, Coyle may distinguish himself in a conference brimming with top tight end talent.
9. Nick O’Leary, Florida State
2012 season: 21 rec., 252 yds. , 3 TDs
Traditionally, tight end has not been a production position at Florida State. The priority is blocking ability, which is the strongest part of O’Leary’s game. But he is not limited to being an inline tight end. Rather, O’Leary, a capable pass-catcher in the middle of the field, will line up as an H-Back or split wide like a receiver. His versatility allows for an expanded role in the passing game, and it should surprise no one if he blows past last season’s modest career-best numbers.
10. Arthur Lynch, Georgia
2012 season: 26 rec., 448 yds., 3 TDs
There’s nothing that jumps out at you about Lynch, though he did have a respectable first season as starter. With the departure of two of Aaron Murray’s favorite receivers, the opportunity exists for Lynch to play a much greater role in the passing game. He will benefit from something no one else on this list has at his disposal: the opportunity to play with a top-tier NFL-bound quarterback.