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Seeking the next Tony Gonzalez

Posted Apr 18, 2013

The trio of Stanford’s Zach Ertz, Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert and San Diego State’s Gavin Escobar has teams seeking a Tony Gonzalez-like tight end looking their way in this year’s NFL Draft.


(The opinions and analysis contained in this feature are those of the author and others credited and do not necessarily represent the thoughts and opinions of the Seahawks' coaching staff and personnel department)

BEST OF THE BUNCH: WIDE RECEIVERS

A look at the position heading into the April 25-27 NFL Draft

Rank Player, School Ht Wt Projection
1/13 Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee 6-2 216 1st Round
2/15 Tavon Austin, West Virginia 5-9 174 1st Round
3/27 Robert Woods, USC 6-1 227 1st or 2nd Round
4/34 Keenan Allen, California 6-2 206 1st or 2nd Round
5/37 DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson 6-1 214 1st or 2nd Round

Rankings (position/overall) and projections by Rob Rang, NFLDraftScout.com

BEST OF THE BUNCH: TIGHT ENDS

A look at the position heading into the April 25-27 NFL Draft

Rank Player, School Ht Wt Projection
1/21 Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame  6-5 250 1st Round
2/45 Zach Ertz, Stanford  6-5 249 2nd Round
3/27 Vance McDonald, Rice 6-1 227 2nd or 3rd Round
4/81 Travis Kelce, Cincinnati  6-5 255 3rd Round
5/95 Gavin Escobar, San Diego State 6-6 254 3rd Round

Rankings (position/overall) and projections by Rob Rang, NFLDraftScout.com


ANALYZING THE DRAFT CLASS

The word: Let's start at the top, with Patterson. He possesses off-the-chart physical skills, but has only one season at a university on his resume. Or as NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock puts it, "From a height, width, speed, talent perspective, he might be one of the most talented physical specimens in this class. I think he's taking your breath away from his ability to make plays, especially after he gets the ball in his hands. He's a special talent. The problem is he's got one year of Division I experience after two years at a junior college. That's a red flag for me, especially at the wide receiver position. There are a bunch of those guys that have failed over the past 20 years." And that pretty much says it all.

What about: Marquess Wilson. When Mike Leach was hired as the coach at Washington State last year, Wilson was expected to do for the Cougars' offense what wide-out Michael Crabtree (now with the 49ers) had done for the Red Raiders' offense when he and Leach were at Texas Tech together. And why not? Wilson had an 82-catch, 1,388-yard, 12-touchdown season in 2011. Why not? Because Leach and Wilson had a falling out that resulted in Wilson being suspended and then quitting the team. So instead of being regarded as a top prospect in this draft class, Rang ranks him 32nd among the wide receivers and 258th overall, which translates into a projection as a seventh-round draft choice, at best.

Don't forget about: Escobar. He didn't run as fast as expected at the NFL Scouting Combine (4.84 seconds in the 40-yard dash), he's not a knock-them-off-the-line blocker and Rang recently dropped him from the No. 4 spot among the tight ends to No. 5. But Escobar was a productive receiver for the Aztecs while lining up at tight end, in the slot and even wide. After catching 51 passes for 780 yards and seven touchdowns from Ryan Lindley as a sophomore in 2011, Escobar had 42 receptions for 543 yards and six TDs last season and then decided to forego his senior season. While he doesn't fit the traditional mold for the position, he could fit with one of the growing number of teams that don't use their tight ends in the traditional fashion.

Seahawks situation: Zach Miller is the all-round tight end in the Seahawks' evolving offense. He blocks for leading rusher Marshawn Lynch. He gets open for quarterback Russell Wilson, especially when the Falcons decided not to cover him in the divisional playoff loss and Miller caught eight passes for 142 yards – after tearing the plantar fascia in his left foot on the opening series of the game. Anthony McCoy had career-bests in receptions (18), receiving yards (291) and TD catches (three) when the No. 2 spot fell to him after Kellen Winslow was released. But the passing game could use a tight end with more speed to stretch the middle of the field that should be exploitable with the addition of slot receiver Percy Harvin to go with flanker Sidney Rice and split end Golden Tate.

Who could have envisioned the impact Tony Gonzalez would make on the National Football League when the Kansas City Chiefs selected him with the 13th pick overall in the 1997 NFL Draft?

Since then, Gonzalez has become the most prolific tight end in the 93-year history of the league (1,242 receptions for 14,268 yards and 103 touchdowns), been voted to 13 Pro Bowls as a member of the Chiefs (1997-2008) and Atlanta Falcons (2009-present) and revolutionized the position.

"Nobody can cover him," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said the week of the NFC divisional playoff game against the Falcons – a game where Gonzalez caught seven passes for 51 yards and a touchdown in Atlanta's two-point victory that sent the Falcons to the NFC Championship game and the Seahawks into their offseason.

"He has just killed everybody his whole career. He's a fantastic football player. The film I've watched already, he made six or eight catches in a game with people hanging all over him – in the end zone, in third-down situations. He's just a great receiver, an all-time receiver."

The type of receiving tight end that has become one of the more coveted items in the NFL. So much so that the tight ends in this year's class for the April 25-27 NFL Draft should send Gonzalez a rather large token of appreciation for enhancing their value.

"I think the skill set that Tony Gonzalez has is basically the standard that most teams are looking for when they are talking about a tight end," Falcons coach Mike Smith said the NFL Scouting Combine. "He was really the first one – the more athletic tight end that could extend from the formation, line up outside, line up in different places."

Smith and the Falcons have benefited from having Gonzalez the past four seasons, when he has averaged 81.5 receptions for 832 yards and 6.8 touchdowns – at the ages of 34, 35, 36 and 37. They will have him for at least one more season, after Gonzalez recently decided not to retire.

Even if he had walked away, Gonzalez already has left an indelible mark on his position and the league.

"I think the tight end position, more and more in the NFL, is becoming a very integral part," Smith said. "I talk about it to our players and coaches. It's like in a chess game, and the tight end position is like becoming the queen. You can move it all around the board. It's not like a rook or bishop. That position is one that you can move all around the board and you can use it to your advantage. You can get a lot of great matchups with the athleticism of the tight ends. It creates concerns for defenses in terms of who you're going to put on them."

The tight ends in this draft class are led by Stanford's Zach Ertz and Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert.

"Both those kids are what today's tight ends are all about – an ability to move around and do different things," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "They're both big enough to lineup in line if you ask them to."

Mayock also includes San Diego State's Gavin Escobar among his tight ends that could be selected in the first round, or early in the second round.

"I like the tight ends," he said of the entire class. "But there is a drop-off after the first three, so you could see a little bit of a run. A team wants a tight end, but they want to make sure they're in that top three.

"We haven't had a tight end drafted in the first round in the past two years, so I think that's going to change this year."

Whether it's one, two or all three, Ertz, Eifert and Escobar can thank Tony Gonzalez for blazing the tight end trail they have followed.

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