NFL offenses are now utilizing tight ends in the passing game more than ever.
This new breed of tight ends in the NFL have the size and strength to out-muscle even the biggest cornerbacks, yet are too fast for linebackers dropping back in coverage. These elite tight ends are a matchup nightmare for defensive coordinators across the league.
In the upcoming 2013 NFL Draft, many teams will be looking for the next big tight end prospect.
They are searching for the next Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez or Jimmy Graham. While none of those three were drafted in the first round, the success in their first three years has upped the value that teams place on the position.
Here are three of the top tight ends available in this April's draft.
Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
The top-ranked tight end in the class is Tyler Eifert. The Notre Dame senior had 50 receptions for 685 yards in his final season.
Eifert combines great size with excellent athleticism for his position. He measured 6'6" and 250 pounds at the combine, which is big enough to be an excellent red-zone threat in the NFL.
He also tested well at the combine.
Eifert ran a 4.68 second 40-yard dash (fifth among tight end prospects) and managed 22 bench press reps (good for fourth). His 35.5" vertical leap will give him the ability to catch jump balls against most players.
The knock against Eifert is that he is not yet a great blocker.
He is too thin to match up against big defensive lineman, and hybrid defensive ends will may be too quick for him in the NFL.
Eifert looks like a lock for the first round at this point. ESPN's Todd McShay has him off the board at No. 19 to the Giants where he would replace Martellus Bennett. Mel Kiper has Atlanta drafting him at No. 30 to replace Tony Gonzalez.
Zach Ertz, Stanford
This should be the second-straight year that Stanford has a tight end selected in the first 34 picks of the draft. In 2012 Coby Fleener was selected in the second round to join Andrew Luck on the Colts.
This year it should be Zach Ertz who is taken in the mid-to-late first round.
The junior had 898 yards and six touchdowns in 69 receptions in his final season at Stanford. NFL.com compares him Jason Witten, the only tight end in the NFL to have 1,000 yards receiving last season.
Ertz's 6'5", 249-pound frame is very similar to Eifert; however, they differ when it comes to combine performance.
Ertz ran a 4.76 40-yard dash at the combine, which was just a bit slower, but he had two more reps on the bench than Eifert.
He does need to add more strength to block NFL defensive lineman, but that is something that he can improve throughout his career. Ertz's other big issue is that he had just a 30.5 inch vertical, which is the worst among tight ends.
Teams will be concerned about his ability to make contested catches despite his 6'5" frame.
Kiper and McShay have him flipped with Eifert in their latest mock drafts.
Kiper has him going No. 19 to the Giants, while McShay has him being drafted No. 30 to Atlanta. The Giants and Falcons look like the two teams most likely to draft a tight end in the first round.
Jordan Reed, Florida
Three years after Aaron Hernandez left the University of Florida, another tight end prospect is intriguing NFL front office people.
Jordan Reed is a tight end that plays like a running back in the open field. At 6'2" and 236 pounds he is smaller than either of the first round guys, but his ability to make players miss after the catch is something that neither of them can offer a team.
Reed played both quarterback and wide receiver at Florida before having a breakout season at tight end as a junior. He managed 559 yards and three touchdowns with 50 receptions his final college season.
He is raw as a tight end because of his position changes, but Reed should turn into a very solid receiving tight end in the NFL. He is way to small to block lineman, so he may not be able to play as many downs as Ertz or Eifert.
As a receiver, however, NFL.com compares him to fellow Gator Hernandez.
This should bode well for his future.