NFL Draft 2014: Why This Year's Tight End Class Could Be Truly Special

BJ KisselContributor IApril 6, 2014

North Carolina's Eric Ebron (85) runs the ball as East Carolina's Rocco Scarfone (10) chases during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The last time two tight ends were drafted in the first round, LaDainian Tomlinson and Larry Johnson were the top two running backs in the NFL

The year was 2006.

Vernon Davis was taken No. 6 overall by the San Francisco 49ers, and Marcedes Lewis went No. 28 to the Jacksonville Jaguars. 

And for the first time in eight years, there's a good chance two tight ends are taken in the first round again. North Carolina's Eric Ebron and Texas Tech's Jace Amaro both have a good chance at going within the first 32 picks this year.

That's especially the case for Ebron, who's of the same mold as Davis from an athletic standpoint, according to Bleacher Report's Lead NFL Draft writer Matt Miller, via email. 

The 2014 tight end class is helped greatly by North Carolina's Eric Ebron. He's an elite talent in the Vernon Davis mold that makes the overall ranking of the crop much better. Jace Amaro has late-first round potential and could have a very early impact in a passing offense given his hands, toughness and route-running experience.

The NFL has seen a change over the past couple of years, thanks in large part to players like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, showing how tight ends can be used in non-traditional ways.

It's also not like the NFL hasn't seen exceptional receiving threats at tight end over the past decade with Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates, but the sudden use of splitting out tight ends and not using them just as in-line players has changed things considerably. 

All of the sudden, teams have to figure out how to defend players of their size, strength and speed split to the outside of the formation. 

Ebron and Amaro provide the athleticism teams demand from these "Joker" tight ends, which results in the mismatches coaches are looking for when trying to establish a strategic advantage on offense. Defenses have to either match up with a nickelback or safety, and this normally gives the tight end—especially those with the athleticism of Ebron and Amaro—a big advantage in space.

But in regard to Amaro specifically, he'll need to prove to teams that he's more than a split-out receiving option. He'll need to show that teams have to respect his ability and willingness to play in-line and block when asked. 

The whole reason it's considered a strategic advantage is because teams have to decide how to mix up their defensive personnel when there are multiple tight ends on the field together.

Ebron and Amaro aren't the only tight ends who have been receiving buzz heading into this draft. Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Notre Dame's Troy Niklas are two opposite but equally intriguing prospects.

Niklas is more the prototypical block-first tight end we've come to know throughout the years, while the 6'6", 276-pound Seferian-Jenkins provides the raw natural athleticism that potentially brings something to the NFL we haven't seen before. 

As NFL offenses continue to figure out ways to gain strategic advantages, players with the size, strength, speed and hands of players like Ebron and Amaro will find themselves in high demand. 

Now that teams know how to use these kinds of players, there's no reason to think the impact of this tight end group won't be on par with some of the best tight end classes we've seen in recent years. We're already looking at two possible first-round picks in Ebron and Amaro, which sets this class above most over the past eight years.

But factoring in the new style of play and how the NFL is now a pass-happy league, there's good reason to see this collection of tight ends becoming a truly special class that we'll appreciate for years to come. 

Led by Ebron and Amaro, expect big things from the tight end class of 2014.