Bill's Combine Research: Tight Ends
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Bill's Combine Research: Tight Ends

After a few years of glorified receivers showing up as tight ends at the Scouting Combine, this year has more of an old-school feel. Of the 19 who will be testing and talking, 13 of them tip the scales at 250-plus pounds. Plus, some good genes and interesting position switches.

A total of 333 players will be at the Scouting Combine, which begins Feb. 20 in Indianapolis. We're sharing our homework as we get ready for the big week. In Part 8, here are the 19 linebackers.

Note: All heights and weights are from the school, unless noted.

Justice Cunningham, South Carolina: Cunningham (6-4, 264) was a key contributor as a blocker. He caught 23 passes for 324 yards as a senior, practically matching his first three seasons of 27 receptions for 257 yards. Scouts no doubt like this sort of toughness.

Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame: Early entrant. Eifert (6-6, 251) won the Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end. A year after leading the nation's tight ends with 67 receptions, Eifert hauled in 44 balls for 624 yards and four touchdowns in 2012. He leaves Notre Dame was the most productive tight end in school history with 134 receptions and 1,779 yards. His chance to play at Notre Dame almost never happened. The Irish showed no interest in the home-state product. Eifert took part in a one-day camp and lit up whoever tried to cover him. Eifert's father played in 115 games for Purdue's basketball team.

Zach Ertz, Stanford: Early entrant. Ertz (6-6, 252) had a monster season, beating out Eifert and becoming Stanford's seventh unanimous all-American. After catching 44 passes in 2010 and 2011, he piled up 66 catches for 837 yards and six scores this season. The receptions and yardage figures led BCS tight ends. His touchdown at No. 1 Oregon sent the game to overtime and he had the winning scores against No. 2 USC and No. 13 Oregon State. His father played football at Lehigh. In high school, Ertz had his eyes set on playing basketball in college. His football coach, instead, set him up with former 49ers tight end Brent Jones.

Gavin Escobar, San Diego State: Early entrant. Escobar (6-6, 255) was an honorable mention on Pro Football Weekly's All-America team. He led the Aztecs in receptions (41), receiving yards (519) and touchdown catches (six) this season. He was all-Mountain West all three seasons and finished with 121 receptions, 1622 yards and 17 scores.

Joseph Fauria, UCLA: Fauria (6-7, 255) caught 46 passes for 637 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior. That's the most scoring grabs by a UCLA player since J.J. Stokes' school-record 17 in 1993. His height made him a major weapon near the goal line. As quarterback Brett Hundley put it: "Put it on the top shelf where the kids can't get it." He played three games for Notre Dame in 2008 before transferring over off-the-field issues. If his last name rings a bell, it should: His uncle, Christian, played tight end for 13 seasons in the NFL.

Matt Furstenburg, Maryland: Furstenburg (6-4, 245) caught 16 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns as a senior. In 2011, he caught 31 balls for 348 yards and two scores. An excellent athlete, Furstenburg was a four-star recruit in football and an honorable mention All-America in lacrosse. In November, he won an entrepreneurship contest with an aerosol spray that quickly brings back the stick to football gloves. It could be a big deal financially; the school spends $30,000 a year on gloves.

Chris Gragg, Arkansas: Gragg (6-3, 242) played in just five games due to a bruised knee, finishing with 22 catches, 289 yards and three touchdowns. Gragg started his career at receiver before moving to tight end in 2009, but he broke his ankle in preseason practice and was redshirted. His career totals are 72 catches, 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns.

D.C. Jefferson, Rutgers: Jefferson (6-6, 250) was one of the nation's better prep quarterbacks at Winter Haven (Fla.) High. He redshirted in 2008 and was moved to tight end midway through fall camp in 2009. A four-year starter, he caught a career-high 20 passes, turning those into 168 yards and a touchdown. That gave him modest totals of 47 receptions 460 yards and two scores. Jefferson played for four tight ends and three offensive coordinators during his college career.

Nick Kasa, Colorado: Kasa's position change came much later in his career. Kasa (6-6 271 at the Senior Bowl) entered Colorado as the nation's fourth-ranked defensive end in the 2008 recruiting class. He never made a splash, though. Late in his junior season and desperate to make an impact, he asked the coaching staff to give him a shot at tight end. Kasa settled into his new role as a senior, posting 25 catches for 391 yards and three touchdowns. Including a 70-yard touchdown, he had three of Colorado's 10 longest offensive plays this season.

Travis Kelce, Cincinnati: Kelce (6-6, 260) resurrected his career with an outstanding season of 45 catches for 722 yards and eight touchdowns to earn first-team honors in the Big East. That's more yards than any tight end in school history. A quarterback at Cleveland (Ohio) Heights High, Kelce redshirted in 2008 and played tight end and Wildcat quarterback in 2009. He was banished to the scout team in 2010 due to a one-year suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules before the 2010 Sugar Bowl. In 2011, he caught just 13 balls. His brother, Jason, started all 16 games as a rookie center for the Eagles in 2011 before missing most of 2012 with a knee injury.

Philip Lutzenkirchen, Auburn: Lutzenkirchen (6-3, 255 at Senior Bowl) was limited to 15 catches, 139 yards and no scores, limited to six games by a season-ending hip injury, which required surgery. He was second-team all-SEC in 2011 with 24 catches, 238 yards and a team-leading seven touchdowns — playing through a torn labrum that required surgery. His 14 career touchdown catches is most by an Auburn tight end. Lutzenkirchen was selected to the AFCA Good Works Team and nominated for the Senior CLASS Award for his deeds on and off the field.

Vance McDonald, Rice: McDonald (6-4, 262 at Senior Bowl) was a consensus all-Conference USA selection with 36 receptions for 458 yards and two touchdowns. He missed three games but caught 16 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown in the final two regular-season games. He's fifth in school history with 15 touchdown catches and sixth with 119 receptions. McDonald was helped by Rice graduate assistant Davis Sloan, a two-time Pro Bowl tight end for the Lions.

Ryan Otten, San Jose State: Otten (6-5, 235 at Senior Bowl) was first-team all-conference for the second consecutive season. As a senior, he posted 47 receptions for 742 yards (team-best 15.8 per reception) and four scores. As a junior, he had 52 catches, 739 yards and five touchdowns. Talk about toughness: He cut his middle finger during Senior Bowl week, with the minor injury turning into staph infection. "I think I'm going to die," he said in a text to his mom. Neither that nor the flu would keep him from practicing and playing in the game.

Chris Pantale, Boston College: Pantale (6-6, 255), a senior captain, closed his final campaign with 21 catches, 189 yards and two touchdowns. He was limited to six games by a broken foot sustained in fall camp. His best production came as a sophomore, with 31 catches for 338 yards. He earned his degree in communications in May.

Jordan Reed, Florida: Early entrant. Reed (6-4, 243) was first-team all-SEC in 2012 (media). Reed was a three-star quarterback from New London (Conn.) High who had designs on replacing Tim Tebow. Late during his redshirt seasons of 2009, the coaches asked if he'd move to tight end. He played both spots in 2010 before catching 28 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns in 2011 and 45 catches for 559 yards and three touchdowns this season.

Mychal Rivera, Tennessee: Rivera (6-3, 237) had a productive senior season with 36 catches, 562 yards and five touchdowns. He was first-team all-SEC (coaches). His yardage mark set a school record for a tight end, breaking the mark held by Jason Witten. Rivera grew up just outside of Hollywood in Valencia, Calif. His father worked in the music industry, his mom was an actress and model and his older sister is a star on the hit series "Glee."

Dion Sims, Michigan State: Early entrant. The mammoth Sims (6-5, 285) was second-team all-Big Ten this season with 36 catches, 475 yards and two touchdowns. Sims caught 11 passes as a freshman in 2009, sat out 2010 for his role in a laptop theft ring that resulted in more than 100 computers being stolen from Detroit public schools, and caught 12 passes while dealing with a broken hand in 2011. A two-sport start at Orchard Lake St. Mary's in Detroit, he finished fourth for Michigan's Mr. Basketball as a senior.

Jake Stoneburner, Ohio State: Stoneburner (6-5, 245) finished his career with 53 receptions, 714 yards and 13 touchdowns. Seven of his 14 receptions as a junior were touchdowns. Moved to a receiver/tight end role as a senior, he posted 16 catches, 269 yards (16.8 average) and four scores. The move to receiver meant his career had come full circle. An All-American receiver at Dublin Coffman High in Dublin, Ohio, Stoneburner was recruited to play receiver by the Buckeyes but was moved to tight end during his redshirt season. He had his scholarship temporarily revoked after a June 2012 arrest for urinating on a building and fleeing arrest.

Levine Toilolo, Stanford: Toilolo (6-8, 265) joined Ertz in being an early entrant. Of his 50 career receptions, 49 — and all 10 touchdowns — came over the final two seasons. As a redshirt freshman in 2010, he caught one pass for 27 yards but tore two knee ligaments upon being tackled. Three of Toilolo's uncles were NFL linemen: Dan Saleaumua, Edwin Mulitalo and Joe Salave'a.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.