Welcome to the first installment of Buddy Nixon’s 2013 Draft Previews. The purpose of this series is to give you a quick overview of the players the Buffalo Bills will be evaluating heading into the draft, with special considerations about how they might fit into the current roster.
We’ll begin with tight ends. We’ve been consistent in our opinion that Buffalo needs another tight end, however if Fred Davis ends up signing with us, this position will be of less emphasis in the draft. Regardless, tight ends are versatile, effective players that will be critical to Marrone’s version of the west coast offense. Let’s take a look at this year’s draft class.
Tyler Eifert – Notre Dame (6-6, 250)
Clearly the top overall tight end this year and a guy who figures to go in the middle first round or higher. Eifert was Notre Dame’s main weapon on offense, and the only Fighting Irish player who looked like he belonged on the field with Alabama. When Buddy Nix and Doug Whaley talk about drafting a player who is “open when he’s covered,” Tyler Eifert represents the best chance to get some one like that in the draft. Eifert uses his big frame to create distance between the defender and the ball, even if he has not got separation. However, Eifert is able to get decent separation by being much more fluid and agile than a normal tight end.
In the blocking game, Eifert is solid as well, and gets a good push on defenders. All in all a guy like Tyler Eifert could really help a team like the Buffalo Bills. The problem is other teams will feel the same way, so he would cost the Bills their 8th overall pick or they would have to trade up, so it’s not likely (but not impossible).
Zach Ertz – Stanford (6-5, 249)
Some draft analysts had Zach Ertz ranked higher than Tyler Eifert at certain points this off season. I wouldn’t go that far, but Ertz is almost as promising as a tight end prospect. Ertz has seam busting ability, fluidity and a good pair of hands. Ertz uses the receiving skill of a wide out to torch linebackers and doesn’t drop too many passes. Also, Ertz is a dependable blocker, though he could stand to add some strength in the department. If the Bills don’t wind up adding a tight end in free agency, they should think twice before passing on Ertz in the 2nd round, if he even makes it that far.
Jordan Reed – Florida (6-3, 236)
In some ways Jordan Reed is the most athletic looking tight end in this year’s draft. Reed is very quick for a TE, possessing the ability to push down the field on the seam and quicly pivot in front of a linebacker, making him an ideal player for “Stick” or “Snag,” both West Coast Staples. Like many of the other TEs this year, Reed lined up all over the place, from TE, H-Back, to wide out. Reed is also the most dangerous after the catch tight end in this year’s draft, who has good agility and can make tacklers miss. The questions about Reed mostly revolve around his size and blocking. Reed is only 6′ 2-1/2″ and weighs 236, which limits his ability to really attack as a blocker. Reed generally gets in the right position, but can’t always be counted on to seal off the edge as he may be asked to do in the NFL. Also, his slight lack of ideal size raises questions about whether he can take a shot from a linebacker and still come down with the ball. Reed’s elusiveness and receiving ability should allow him to contribute early in his NFL career, the challenge for him will be blocking well enough to get on the field in potential run situations, as the Bills will likely want their tight ends to do.
Gavin Escobar – San Diego State (6-6, 254)
Like Jordan Reed, Escobar is another tight end that looks and plays like a flanker/TE hybrid (a la Aaron Hernandez) a little bit more than a standard TE. Escobar is longer than Reed, but both receivers are very good receivers. Escobar is particularly good at “high pointing” the ball and making plays in traffic. Another positive is that he can split wide, which is sure to be something that will appeal to evaluators. This is a player who has experience as the focal point of his college offense, and his tape shows a natural sense for finding the ball and coming down with it. In the blocking game Escobar does a decent but not particularly outstanding job. The encouraging part about this “con” is that his long frame has room for him to get stronger without adversely affecting his mobility. Overall, Escobar isn’t a guy you would draft to block, but is absolutely one of the more polished receivers among this years group and guy you can count on to get open.
Dion Sims – Michigan State (6-5, 262)
If there’s a sleeper in the year’s tight end class, it might be Michigan State’s Dion Sims. Sims is very large for a tight end, although not as large as he used to be after losing 25 pounds coming into his senior season. However, as big as he is, Sims doesn’t look any slower or more sluggish than his tight end peers. Sims shows a nice burst of acceleration down the field especially for a guy his size. Combined with his size, Sims has the potential to be a match up nightmare as he can also “post up” defenders and use his wide frame to shield defenders away from the ball. In the blocking game, Sims doesn’t always have the right instincts as to which defender to block. On the other hand, once he can get engaged, Sims does a nice job of powering linebackers backwards. Sims has been banged up throughout his career, missing games for a broken ankle and hand in 2012 and 11, respectively- this will hold him in the mid rounds. But a team willing to take that risk could be rewarded with an athletic talent. If you project Sean Payton’s emphasis on creating mismatches forward to his former lieutenant Doug Marrone, Sims could be an invaluable asset to that end.
Vance McDonald – Rice (6-4, 267)
Vance McDonald is a player with excellent potential that would probably not be ready to contribute any time in the near future. At 6-4, 267, McDonald has excellent size for the position and quickness that allows him to get behind linebacker hook zones in order to attack the seam- something very important to “K-Gun” applications. His smooth route running is also above average for a tight end; McDonald would often split out into the slot as a receiver. However, McDonald has some shortcomings that would give NFL team’s pause, such as poor hands, and average blocking ability. Some have graded him as a 2nd rounder or the 3rd best tight end in this class, but he has to find a way to soften his hand and drop less passes before he’ll have the ability to get on a NFL field consistently.
Travis Kelce – Cincinnati (6-5, 255)
Travis Kelce is yet another player that appears to have excellent talent for the position. At 6-5 with 4.6-7 speed, Kelce is probably a guy that compares to Rob Gronkowski better than any other player in this draft. However, that’s not to say he’s as good, just his style of play as a big, long guy with very good straight line speed is similar. Kelce is also one of the better blockers in this year’s class, and might be the player who blocks the most aggressively. While Kelce has good ball skills and ability to come down with balls while covered, which is necessary considering he doesn’t really do a great job of getting separation. Kelce looks very stiff and has sloppy footwork when running routes, which means he would need some time before he would have the ability to contribute in the passing game. Some of that, like the footwork, is correctable, although agility is much tougher. Kelce seems like a more talented, less polished Scott Chandler in a lot of ways, which makes me wonder if the Bills wouldn’t be as interested due to redundancy.
This looks to be a very deep group of tight ends; all 6 players on this list possess the talent to be elite NFL players at the position. The first four players are more technically sound players that would be the most ready to come in and be productive immediately. The last 3 project more as long term prospects that will need some refinement.
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