Ranking Top 21 Tight Ends

Why settle for opinions on eight or 10 tight ends when you can get scouts' pecking order and commentary on 21 draft-worthy tight ends? This is a deep class, with Tyler Eifert and Gavin Escobar leading the way.

Here is how Packer Report ranks this year's prospects at tight ends, based on conversations with three scouts, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, and the NFL's longtime lead scout, Dave-Te' Thomas.

1. Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame (6-6, 250): He's our Best in Class.

2. Gavin Escobar, San Diego State (6-6, 254): He is the unanimous No. 2 tight end. "Gavin Escobar is pretty damned good," a scout said. "He's better than I thought he would be. My impression is that he's a better player than Ertz from Stanford." Escobar 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. Interviewed with the Packers at the Scouting Combine. He's an OK blocker. "The thing that I like about him is he's got good leaping ability," Thomas said. "At tight end, I like athletes. At tight end, I like guys that were basketball players. At the end of the day, what's going to happen is most of the time you're going over the middle of the field. What's going to happen when you're going over the middle of the field? The quarterback's in a panic mode. So, if the quarterback goes to you, more than likely he's going to throw an off-target pass. This kid's got reachability, good timing. The thing I like about him is he's got those long arms and those big, spider fingers."

3. Zach Ertz, Stanford (6-5, 249): 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. Caught 65.1 percent of the balls thrown his way. Also a 3.4 student. In high school, he learned the finer points of the position by former 49ers tight end Brent Jones. It shows, too, because Ertz blocks about as well as Jones did. "I think that Ertz got a lot of media publicity but Ertz cannot block worth a (crap) and Ertz is too stiff for me," a scout said. "Let me put it to you this way: If Coby Fleener was able to beat him out, if (Levine) Toilolo ended up starting more games than him at Stanford ... Remember a guy with Miami back years ago, Joe Rose? They'd bring him in to catch the ball because he couldn't do any(thing else) whatsoever on the field? That's Ertz."

4. Vance McDonald, Rice (6-4, 267): 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. Also served as long-snapper for two games. The former walk-on ranks fifth in school history with 15 touchdown catches and sixth with 119 receptions. He showed shaky hands at the Senior Bowl, though. "If you're looking for a kid that's going to go out there and be a very good second-level blocker, I like him," Thomas said. "He takes good angles. He's got good speed getting into the second level. The thing is, he keeps his head on a swivel. He makes a block, boom, he's looking for a secondary target to hit. That's what I want from my tight ends." Added a scout: "I can see a team jumping up and taking him in the third round, even though he's more of a fourth." Ran in 4.69 and led tight ends with 31 reps on the bench at the Combine.

5. Ryan Otten, San Jose State (6-5, 230): First-team all-conference for the second consecutive season. As a senior, he posted 47 receptions for 742 yards (15.8 per reception led the nations tight ends) and four scores. Caught 69.1 percent of passes thrown his way. As a junior, he had 52 catches, 739 yards and five touchdowns. Talk about toughness: At the Senior Bowl, he caught the flu and started throwing up at the first practice of the week. Later, he suffered a small cut on his middle finger, with the minor injury turning into staph infection. Still, he pressed on — impressing scouts with his tenacity as much as his playing style. The infection is why he's listed at 230 rather than 248. "I like Otten," Thomas said. "To me, he's a good, solid, blue-collar type. I'm going to get good blocking out of him. Not great blocking but good blocking. My God, man, this guy can find the soft area in the zone better than anybody I see out there among the tight ends." Talked to Packers at Combine.

6. Jordan Reed, Florida (6-3, 236): First-team all-SEC before entering draft a year early. 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. He caught 72.6 percent of the passes thrown his way. Has been compared to Florida-turned-New England standout Aaron Hernandez. "He could be better than Hernandez if he grows up," one scout said. Added another: "I think Jordan Reed might be the most overrated tight end in this draft. I just don't see the quickness that I need for him to play H-back. He's definitely not a fullback and he definitely doesn't have the size to be a classic tight end. They're comparing him to Aaron Hernandez. Outside of him going to the same school, I just don't see it."

7. Zach Sudfeld, Nevada (6-7, 253): He's our Sleeper.

8. Travis Kelce, Cincinnati (6-5, 255): The brother of Eagles lineman Jason Kelce 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. His 80.4 percent catch rate led the nation's tight ends. The former high school quarterback played tight end and wildcat quarterback in 2009. Was suspended for 2010 and caught just 13 passes in 2011. Scouts were beyond frustrated with Kelce during the draft process, when he had his own private pro day when he said he wasn't ready at the Combine and Cincinnati's main pro day. "He is a knucklehead but he is talented. He's a talented player. He's a second-round talent and a sixth-round character, so put him in the fourth and you've got yourself something," a scout said.

9. Dion Sims, Michigan State (6-5, 262): Second-team all-Big Ten this season with 36 catches, 475 yards and two touchdowns. Had a strong Combine with a 4.75, 22 reps and 35-inch vertical. 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. "He's an intriguing kid," said a scout who thought Sims would be taken at the end of the second round or early in the third. Added Thomas: "It's going to be hit or miss with the guy. As far as a receiver goes, he has no receiving ability whatsoever. Blocker, he's a good physical blocker. Honestly, I'd put weight on him and make him an offensive tackle."

10. Chris Gragg, Arkansas (6-3, 244): 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. He caught 41 passes in 2011, catching 74.6 percent of the passes thrown his way. Ran eye-catching 4.50 at Combine but also had second-smallest hands among the tight ends there. "Honestly, I thought Gragg was going to walk away with the Mackey Award earlier in the season — he's that good," Thomas said. "Pass-catching ability, I put him in the same category as a Vernon Davis. Blocker? Not so great, but he brings a lot of other things to the table. Solid third-round draft pick."

11. Nick Kasa, Colorado (6-6, 269): 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. Also had seven touchdown-producing blocks. "Didn't know much about him until the Senior Bowl and I wound up really liking him. There's some potential to be a little like Jason Witten as a threat catching and blocking." Added Thomas: "If I had to take him as a tight end, it would be, ‘OK, I've got a pick at the end of the draft. What am I going to do? Let me throw a dart up on the board."

12. Levine Toilolo, Stanford (6-8, 260): 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. Started more than Ertz and handled the in-line blocking duties. Three of Toilolo's uncles were NFL linemen: Dan Saleaumua, Edwin Mulitalo and Joe Salave'a. "Throw it in his ZIP code, and he'll catch it. You look at his size on paper and think he can block but he can't," a scout said.

13. Matt Furstenburg, Maryland (6-3, 242): Caught 16 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns as a senior as Maryland went through five quarterbacks and finished the season with a linebacker throwing the ball. 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. Ran 4.62 at Combine but the smallest hands among the tight ends.

14. Ryan Griffin, Connecticut (6-6, 261): The Scouting Combine snub is a double-threat tight end as a quality blocker and receiver. The four-year starter caught 29 passes for 484 yards (16.7 average) and six touchdowns as a senior. Ran just 4.87 at his pro day. "He'd be a good fit for what you guys do because he's lined up on the line, slot and in the backfield," a scout said. Had pre-draft visit with Packers.

15. Joseph Fauria, UCLA (6-7, 259): 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 and topped the nation's tight ends. His height and enormous hands made him a major weapon near the goal line. A quality blocker, as well. Ran 4.72 at pro day. 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.

16. Lucas Reed, New Mexico (6-6, 249): The brother of Houston linebacker Brooks Reed, Lucas Reed was a Combine snub who had a big pro day with a 4.76 in the 40, a 37-inch vertical and 25 reps on the bench. He's tall with the second-longest arms in the tight end class (behind Toilolo). He caught just five passes for 37 yards as a senior but was key component of a running game that averaged a staggering 301.2 yards. He tallied 23 knockdown blocks. Caught 22 passes for 241 yards as a junior and 33 for 459 and five scores as a sophomore. "Big-time sleeper," a scout said. "Do me a favor and don't brag him up too much."

17. Mychal Rivera, Tennessee (6-3, 242): 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. "You wanted him to run faster for his size. I thought he blocked OK," a scout said.

18. Jake Stoneburner, Ohio State (6-3, 252): 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, where he posted 16 catches, 269 yards (16.8 average) and four scores. He was a high school All-American receiver who was recruited to play receiver by Ohio State before moving 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. Ran 4.65 at Combine. Ran 4.76 at pro day.

19. Michael Williams, Alabama (6-6, 278): He's our Overrated.

20. D.C. Jefferson, Rutgers (6-6, 250): 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 strained his pectoral doing the bench at the Combine. He ran a plodding 4.97 at his pro day with a 32.5-inch vertical. "He's more of a blocker but he's a capable receiver and he's a pretty damned good player," a scout said.

21. Justice Cunningham, South Carolina (6-3, 258): 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. He ran 4.94 at the Combine; at his pro day, he ran in 4.87 with some explosion with a 35.5-inch vertical. Could serve a Tom Crabtree-style role for an offense.

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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.

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