2013 NFL Draft – Rookie Tight Ends Pre-Season Update

By PFC Draft Writer Andrew Kinsman @PFCAndrewK

Now that the dust has settled on the final roster cuts, it’s time to recap on the status and prospects for the 2013 rookie tight ends class.

Ultimately there were 16 tight ends taken in the draft, 14 of whom have made the 53-man rosters. In addition, 8 undrafted rookie tight ends have also made the final 53, with 4 others on practice squad. Here is my preseason analysis, in the order that the players were drafted.

CREAM OF THE CROP

The first seven players were all featured in my individual scouting reports (and were selected in the exact order of my positional rankings, with the sole exception that Escobar and Kelce were flipped).

My pre-draft positional rankings are in paratheths after the player’s name and the team that drafted him. The links on the name of each player go to the initial detailed scouting report

1-21. Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati (1)

Pre-season stats: 3 catches, 32 yards, 0 TDs

Eifert was clearly the best tight end in this year’s draft, and provides as nice 1-2 punch at the position with Jermaine Gresham.

Although he missed the final two pre-season games with a minor wrist injury, Eifert figures to play a major role in the Bengals’ offense as the season progresses. Here is what Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden said about him early in camp: “He’s done everything we thought and more. He’s just one of those guys that when he makes a play, you kind of look around and see if anybody else saw what he just did. … He can beat man coverage no problem. He can beat zones. He’s got a great feel for the game.”

2-35. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia (2)

Pre-season stats: 6 catches, 63 yards, 0 TDs

The Eagles have prolific receiver James Casey at H-back and Brent Celek as the primary blocking tight end, so Ertz ‘s opportunities may be somewhat limited in the first half of his rookie season.

The Eagles have been working on improving his blocking since the draft: “[Receiving] is his strength,” said tight ends coach Ted Williams in May. “But he is big enough, he’s strong enough, he’s willing and we’ve got to be able to get him to be an in-line tight end. We have to produce that skill in him because … you’ve got to be able to do both.”

2-47. Gavin Escobar, Dallas (5)

Pre-season stats: 11 catches, 64 yards, 1 TDs

Given that Escobar is not much of a blocker, I didn’t see him as a great fit in Dallas, where they already have a very similar but better player in Jason Witten. I still feel that drafting him in the 2nd round was a reach.

Although he caught a lot of balls in the five pre-seas0n games, his camp performance was poor, and he has not even managed to beat out James Hanna for the No.2 tight end spot yet. Here is his TD reception against the Cardinals:

http://www.nfl.com/videos/arizona-cardinals/0ap2000000231159/Gavin-Escobar-5-yard-touchdown

2-55. Vance McDonald, San Francisco (4)

Pre-season stats: 7 catches, 96 yards, 0 TDs

The 49ers are grooming Vance McDonald as Delanie Walker’s replacement, and he will be allowed time to develop alongside Vernon Davis.  With the 49ers having been forced to put WRs Crabtree and Manningham on the PUP, they may well show a lot of 2 tight end sets in the early going.

Despite missing one of the pre-season games with injury, McDonald put up fine numbers in the pre-season, including 4 catches for 66 yards in the opener.

3-63. Travis Kelce, Kansas City (3)

Pre-season stats: 2 catches, 28 yards, 0 TDs

I had Kelce as my 3rd-rated TE, but he does have character issues that may have scared some teams away.

Kelce had a mixed start in camp, while bothered with a knee injury that caused him to miss one pre-season game and key time in his development. However, with Tony Moeaki having been placed on IR, Kelce is entrenched as the No.2 TE for the Chiefs.

3-85. Jordan Reed, Washington (6)

Pre-season stats: 6 catches, 55 yards, 0 TDs

Reed missed the whole of the off-season OTA program with an injury and then promptly hurt his foot early in camp and missed the pre-season opener. All this lost time means that he is currently buried on the Redskins’ depth chart.

4-106. Dion Sims, Miami (7)

Pre-season stats: 7 catches, 69 yards, 1 TD

Although the Dolphins picked up Dustin Keller to replace Anthony Fasano in free agency, the injury-prone Keller has already gone on injured reserve, leaving the Dolphins’ tight end situation in flux. Here is his TD reception against the Saints:

http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-game-highlights/0ap2000000235719/Sims-8-yard-TD-catch

“I like [Sims] a lot,” coach Joe Philbin said, early in camp. “He’s doing a lot of good things. He has a chance to be a very good blocker in this league. He’s got soft hands. He’s had a very good camp. He’s going to be a good player.”

 

BEST OF THE REST

I only wrote seven individual TE scouting reports, as it seemed to me that there was a big drop off after Dion Sims, but there were another nine TEs drafted. All these tight ends were discussed in more detail in my ‘best of the rest’ scouting reports here.

4-133. Levine Toilolo, Atlanta (17)

Pre-season stats: 1 catches, 8 yards, 0 TD

For me, Toilolo was a reach in the 4th rd. While I did anticipate that the Falcons would draft a TE to groom as Tony Gonzalez’s replacement, I don’t think Toilolo is that guy, as he isn’t a very reliable receiver.  His single reception in four pre-season games bears out the feeling that he is likely an over-drafted blocker.

5-158. Luke Willson, Seattle (21)

Pre-season stats: 8 catches, 82 yards, 0 TD

Seattle has a terrific recent record with their late-round picks (such as CB Richard Sherman), and Willson showed enough in pre-season (starting all four games) to suggest that he could be a keeper. The fact that the Seahawks only kept two tight ends suggests that Willson should see plenty of action this season.

“There’s a lot for him to work on, just getting a grasp of our offense and things,” said Seahawks’ OC Darrell Bevell, early in camp. “We want to see him block well. We feel like we know what we can expect out of him in the pass game and we want to see the speed in the pass game, but we need to see how he is going to fit in as a blocker in the NFL.”

6-172. Nick Kasa, Oakland (8)

Pre-season stats: 3 catches, 46 yards, 1 TD

and

6-184. Mychal Rivera, Oakland (12)

Pre-season stats: 3 catches, 40 yards, 0 TD

Needing to find a long-term replacement Brandon Myers, the Raiders went back-to-back on TEs. Rivera missed the final pre-season game and both he and Kasa are very much ‘work in progress’.

Here is Kasa’s TD reception against the Bears:

http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-game-highlights/0ap2000000233413/Nick-Kasa-catches-zip-line-pass-from-Terrelle-Pryor-for-TD

6-201. Ryan Griffin, Houston (14)

Pre-season stats: 14 catches, 173 yards, 0 TD

Despite putting up stellar pre-season numbers (including 5 catches for 87 yards in the last game), Griffin is the No.3 TE on the roster, behind Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham.

7-211. Michael Williams, Detroit (16)

Pre-season stats: 1 catches, 6 yards, 0 TD

Williams broke his hand in the third pre-season game, and has been placed on injured reserve.

7-219. D.C.Jefferson, Arizona (25)

Pre-season stats: 5 catches, 45 yards, 0 TD

I honestly didn’t expect Jefferson to be drafted, but (with Jeff King being assigned to injured reserve) he did enough in pre-season to make the final 53.

7-222. Chris Gragg, Buffalo (9)

Pre-season stats: 5 catches, 38 yards, 0 TD

Gragg managed to secure a roster spot as the No.3 TE.

7-254. Justice Cunningham, Indianapolis (20)

Pre-season stats: 4 catches, 43 yards, 0 TD

Taken as ‘Mr Irrelevant’ as the very last pick in the whole draft, Cunningham was initially left in the final 53, but then bumped in favor of Dominique Jones and undrafted rookie waiver signing Jack Doyle. He has instead been placed on the practice squad.

 

UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS

Joseph Fauria, Detroit (10)

Pre-season stats: 6 catches, 72 yards, 1 TD

I had anticipated that despite his obvious deficiencies as a blocker, some team would draft Fauria as a red-zone threat. Although he went undrafted, he scored a 22-yard TD against the Patriots and went on to win the job as the Lions’ No.3 TE.

Ryan Otten, Jacksonville (11)

Pre-season stats: 1 catches, 1 yard, 0 TD

I thought Otten had a fine opportunity at Jacksonville, but thing just didn’t work out for him and he was cut.

Zach Sudfeld, New England (13)

Pre-season stats: 8 catches, 101 yards, 1 TD

Back in April it looked like Pats were absolutely stacked at TE: Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Michael Hoomanawanui and Daniel Fells all started games for the Pats last season, while they also had Jake Ballard  returning from injury. However, with Hernandez out of the picture, Sudfeld then promptly beat out Fells and Ballard to earn a surprise roster spot on the back of outstanding plays like this:

http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-game-highlights/0ap2000000230896/Patriots-TE-Sudfeld-bobbles-and-catches-22-yd-TD-pass

Jake Stoneburner, Green Bay (15)

Pre-season stats: 3 catches, 12 yards, 1 TD

Although Stoneburner failed to make the final 53, he did earn a spot on the practice squad.

Brandon Ford, New England (18)

After missing time at the start of training camp due to injury, Ford was waived/injured by the Pats on Aug 12.

Matt Furstenburg, Baltimore (19)

Pre-season stats: 4 catches, 54 yards, 0 TD

Furstenburg showed enough in camp and in the pre-season games to suggest that he may have a future in the NFL. Although he failed to beat out Billy Bajema for the No.3 TE spot, he did earn a spot on the practice squad.

Jack Doyle, Tennessee (22)

Pre-season stats: 6 catches, 56 yards, 1 TD

Doyle didn’t manage to beat out the three established TEs on the roster (Delanie Walker, Craig Stevens and Taylor Thompson). However, the divisional rival Colts evidently saw enough they liked to snatch him up for their 53-man roster when he was placed on waivers.

T.J.Knowles,  Unsigned (23)

Knowles was given a post-draft work-out by the Chiefs, but not signed.

Lucas Reed, Denver (24)

Reed suffered a right hamstring injury early in training camp and was waived/injured on July 27.

Philip Lutzenkirchen, St Louis (26)

Pre-season stats: 2 catches, 18 yards, 0 TD

Lutzenkirchen was given a shot by the Rams, but didn’t make enough of an impression to crack the final 53.

Chris Pantale, NY Jets (27)

Pre-season stats: 3 catches, 29 yards, 0 TD

Pantale didn’t make the final 53-man roster, but he was signed to the practice squad.

RIGHT OUT OF LEFT FIELD

There were also five undrafted  tight ends who weren’t discussed in my previous analysis who surprisingly managed to make final 53-man rosters.

Brandon Williams, Carolina

Pre-season stats: 2 catches, 29 yards, 0 TD

Williams was a basketball player at college who has come from absolutely  nowhere to land a roster spot. He missed the whole of OTAs with a knee injury but made giant strides through training camp.

MarQueis Gray, Cleveland

Pre-season stats: 1 catches, 13 yards, 0 TD

Gray played QB and WR with the Minnesota Gophers and was signed by the 49ers after the draft as a developmental H-back/TE prospect. He was claimed by the Browns after the 49ers waived him on final cutdown day.

Keavon Milton, Cleveland

Pre-season stats: 1 catches, 10 yards, 0 TD

At 6’4″ and 293lbs Milton projects as an in-line blocker, or possibly even an offensive tackle conversion project.

Josh Hill, New Orleans

Pre-season stats: 0 catches, 0 yards, 0 TD

Having failed to make a reception in pre-season, Hill was a shock selection for the Saints 53-man roster.

Tim Wright, Tampa Bay

Pre-season stats: 2 catches, 20 yards, 0 TD

Wright was a wide receiver for head coach Greg Schiano at Rutgers, but the Bucs decided to switch him to tight end in June. He is undersized but has the ability to stretch the field.

 

All comments/feedback welcome via Twitter @PFCAndrewK

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