Heading into last season, the Chicago Bears thought they had a secret weapon with Kellen Davis. The club's starting tight end was re-signed to a two-year deal in the offseason with the expectation he would finally break out and be a pass-catching threat down the seams.
That never materialized. In fact, Davis ended up dropping more passes than any other tight end in the league in 2012 and was a borderline liability in the passing game. Despite all the talk of him finally living up to expectations, Davis finished last year with just 19 catches for 229 yards and two touchdowns.
Going forward, that wont' be good enough, which means the Bears will be in the market for a quality receiving tight end this offseason. There are a number of veteran options in free agency but there is also some quality young talent in this year's draft, guys that could work the seams under Marc Trestman for years to come.
With that in mind, here is a full breakdown of the early round tight ends in this year's draft class.
**Editor's Note: Due to the Brandon Marshall trade last year, the Bears do not have a third-round pick in this year's draft. Yet we will still include third-round prospects in our analysis in case the club trades into that round.**
Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame (6-6, 250)
As a sophomore in 2011, Eifert led the nation's tight ends with 63 catches for 803 yards and five touchdowns. He dropped off in production his junior year, due mainly to a rookie quarterback, yet he still earned the Mackey Award as the country's best tight end. Eifert is a beast down the seams who uses his big body to shield defenders and his leaping ability to high-point the ball. His best attributes are his hands and body control, as well as his ability to make catches in traffic. He improved his route running and blocking last year and is a very well rounded tight end. At the combine, he was a top performer at his position in every single drill, which included a solid 4.68 40-yard dash. In Chicago's offense, Eifert would provide the middle-of-the-field threat, particularly in the red zone, this team has been missing since Greg Olsen's departure after the 2010 season. If he's on the board when the Bears pick at 20th overall, expect GM Phil Emery to give Eifert serious consideration as Chicago's first-round selection.
Projected: Round 1
Zach Ertz, Stanford (6-5, 249)
Physically, Ertz is nearly a mirror image of Eifert. Yet Ertz falls short in terms of natural athleticism. Still, he's a quality pass-catching tight end that could be selected in the first round, although he's more likely to land in the second. He was the featured tight end his junior season in 2012, catching 69 passes for 898 yards and six scores. He's a smooth athlete and a great route runner who can separate from linebackers out of his breaks. He's a smart receiver who can deceive defenders and find soft spots in zones. He's an inconsistent blocker but has improved in that area. He's a step behind Eifert but if the Bears decide to draft an offensive lineman in the first, then Ertz would make a nice consolation prize in the second round. Unfortunately, it appears unlikely he'll drop down to 50th overall. But if he's there, Emery will be hard pressed to pass him.
Projected: Round 2
Vance McDonald, Rice (6-4, 267)
McDonald was a three-year starter for the Owls, lining up mainly as a slot receiver. As a result, he was rarely asked to block, so it's an area of his game that needs a lot of work. Yet as a pure pass catcher, McDonald is a weapon. He has tight end size yet the athletic ability of a wide receiver. He's a fluid runner who is great with the ball in his hands. His after-the-catch ability, which includes great field vision, gives him the ability to turn short plays into big gainers. He ran a lot of receiver screens at Rice , showing good patience and an ability to make defenders miss in space. McDonald is also very strong, posting 31 bench-press reps at the combine, by far the most at his position. If Eifert and Ertz are off the board and McDonald is staring Emery in the face at 50th overall, the former Rice tight end could be wearing Navy and orange next season.
Projected: Round 2
Gavin Escobar, San Diego State (6-6, 254)
Escobar was a very productive four-year starter for the Aztecs. He's a natural receiver that can be a mismatch problem at the next level. He has great hands and playmaking ability down the field. He's a fluid receiver who is comfortable making catches in traffic. He's not very agile and is more of a straight-line runner, and he struggles as a blocker. He has room for improvement but Escobar is a very talented receiving tight end. The Bears could do much worse than grabbing him in the third round, as he'd immediately add another dimension to the passing attack.
Projected: Round 2-3
Travis Kelce, Cincinnati, (6-5, 255)
Kelce was unable to participate in both the Senior Bowl and the combine due to an abdominal strain, so his pro day will go a long way toward deciding his draft stock. Coming into his senior season in 2012, he had caught just 14 career passes. He then exploded onto the scene, catching 45 balls for 722 yards and 8 touchdowns, ranking among the nation's leaders in tight end production. He's a solid receiver, although he's not as athletically gifted as the tight ends ahead of him on this list. That said, his physical blocking makes him the most well-rounded player at his position. He was expected to run a 4.60 40-yard dash at the combine. If he approaches that mark at his pro day, he could jump into the third or possibly the second round. The Bears would be getting one heck of a player if he somehow falls to the fourth.
Projected: Round 3-4
Jordan Reed, Florida (6-3, 236)
Reed was a quarterback coming out of high school. In his first two years at Florida, he switched from quarterback to receiver to running back, and then back again, before finally landing as a tight end his junior season. As a senior, he led the Gators with 559 yards and three touchdowns on 45 receptions. With the ball in his hands, Reed is the most dangerous tight end in this class. He can make defenders miss at ease, often looking like a running back when toting the rock. He's also a willing blocker. But beyond that, Reed is very raw and it will take time before he becomes an NFL starter. He has a ton of potential though and could be valuable even in a limited role his first few years in the league. There are also questions about his attitude, which landed him on the bench Florida's bowl game last year. Still, as a fourth rounder with upside, he would definitely be worth the risk, and could turn into a draft-day steal.
Projected: Round 3-4
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.