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NFL: Panthers Draft Preview – Tight Ends

By: Danny Guy (For the Mac Attack)
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Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

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[Ed note: With the rapid rise of former Mac Attack Intern turned NFL draft savant Josh "Casper" Norris, we're at it again. This time, former Mac Attack intern/draftnik Danny Guy will be covering the lead up to the NFL Draft for the show here on WFNZ.com, with a focus on the Panthers specific needs and breaking down the draft class by position. Have any questions, ask in the comments or interact with Danny on twitter: @danny_g13]

Grading the 2013 Draft: Tight Ends

Another area on offense that the Panthers could look to add a dynamic playmaker is Tight End.  While it’s not the critical need that Wide Receiver is in my opinion, a great pass catching Tight End could provide Cam Newton with another reliable target in the red zone.  Whether they address the Wide Receiver position, or get a weapon at Tight End, I expect the Panthers to give Cam a new weapon in the Draft.  With that said, here are four Tight Ends I like in this class.

Zach Ertz – 6’5” – 249 lbs – Stanford – My favorite in the 2013 class is Stanford’s Zach Ertz.  He may not be as smooth of a pass catcher as Tyler Eifert, but he’s pretty close and he’s a better blocker.  He’s a big target, with soft hands and deceptive speed who could be another safety valve along with Greg Olsen.

Strengths

Athleticism: Ertz is a very good athlete for a player of his size.  He’s got fluid hips, and quick feet throughout routes.  He’s deceptively fast, and seems to have a second gear in the open field.
Physical: Ertz shows a great level of physicality both as a receiver and a blocker.  He doesn’t shy away from contact with the ball in his hands, instead lowering his shoulders and trying to bull through tackles.  As a blocker he is very good getting downfield and delivering powerful blocks to seal lanes for ball carriers.
YAC: For a Tight End he performs very admirably after the catch.  He’s got enough shake to evade the first tackler at times, and can power through tackles when needed.  Averaged over 13 yards per catch last season.
Versatility: Much like former teammate Coby Fleener and his fellow 2013 classmate Tyler Eifert, Ertz is a weapon you can line up in a lot of places depending on the situation.  While at Stanford he was used as an in-line tight end, fullback, slot receiver, and even played some snaps outside at the X and Z positions.

Weaknesses

Route Consistency: At times Ertz can be a good route runner, coming out of his breaks smoothly allowing him to create maximum separation.  However, he has consistency issues, and can have snaps where he rounds off his cuts more and runs sloppy routes.
Hand Consistency: Much like the route consistency, at times Ertz shows soft hands and looks the part of a natural hands catcher.  However in competitive situations he tends to let the ball hit his pads before securing it, and has shown that he will drop easy passes at times.
Inexperience: Only has one year as the starter due to Coby Fleener’s stand out career with the Cardinal.  Will need to show he can produce at a high level consistently.

Projection: While Eifert will likely go before Ertz in the 2013 Draft, Ertz is my favorite Tight End target for the Panthers for several reasons.  He’s a very good blocker down field, and he’s still a guy that you can move around to create mismatches.  He also is a more physical player than Eifert, something I feel the Panthers have been missing since Shockey left.  There are some consistency issues, but I still see Ertz as a late first to early second round selection.

Gavin Escobar – 6’6” – 254 lbs – San Diego State – The other early round Tight End prospect I like (and one the Panthers have shown interest in), is San Diego State’s Gavin Escobar.  Escobar is a big pass catching Tight End with great length, who has room to grow as a blocker.

Strengths

Size: Simply put, Escobar has exceptional size.  He’s got a large frame, with great arm length and good sized hands.
Hands: Escobar is a natural pass catcher, who shows consistent soft hands.  He plucks the ball out the air with ease, and shows great ability to make over the shoulder catches, and extend his catch radius with his length when needed.
Ball Skills: Escobar tracks the ball well, and competes for 50-50 balls better than most.  He knows how to shield defenders with his body, and has great leaping ability to get up and high point the football.  He shows the ability to contort his lengthy frame to make plays on the ball, and puts himself in winning position more times than not.
Versatility: Much like Ertz, Escobar can be lined up in different positions to create mismatches.  He flourished as a slot receiver at San Diego State, but also made plays as an in-line player, and split out wide.

Weaknesses

Strength: Escobar lacks the ideal strength to be an in-line blocker in the running game.  He struggles to maintain blocks, often losing the leverage battle to his man.
Difficulty Getting Off The Press: At times he has trouble with defenders who jam him.  Needs to continue to improve his hand technique to fight through a strong press.
Straight Line Speed: Doesn’t have the top end speed that you want out of a primarily pass catching Tight End.  Also seems to lack the second gear to run away from Linebackers and Safeties.

Projection: Despite his flaws, Escobar is one of the best pass catching Tight Ends in the Draft.  He has a great combination of size, length, exceptional hands and good ball skills, and is a versatile player that you can line up all over the field.  He needs to increase his strength to be a more effective blocker, and he also needs some technique work, but I think he would be very good value in the late second to early third round.

Sleepers

Jordan Reed – 6’3” – 236 lbs – Florida – One of my favorite sleepers at the position is Reed, who has drawn comparisons to Patriots X-factor Aaron Hernandez.  Reed like Hernandez can line up all over the field, though his best place may be creating havoc in the slot.  I think the best thing to call Reed is a term I’m going to steal from John “Chucky” Gruden, which is a joker Tight End.

Strengths

Athleticism: Very good athlete, who shows great body control and balance.  At times you will mistake him for a big Wide Receiver, especially after the catch where he can make people miss with quick feet.
Route Running: Shows good ability as a route runner, creating maximum separation with sharp cuts and quick transitions throughout his routes.  He’s got quick feet throughout the route, and shows good hip flexibility.
Hands: Reliable hands catcher, who doesn’t drop many easy passes.  Competes well for 50-50 balls, and can contort and extend his catch radius.
Versatility: Can be lined up in the slot, split out wide, and as an in-line receiver to create mismatches.  Will be a difference maker schematically in the passing game.  He also played snaps at H-back, Running Back, and has former experience as a Quarterback.

Weaknesses

Size: Lacks the ideal size at the Tight End position.  Has a lean frame with limited length.  Will need to bulk up to be more effective as a blocker and fighting off jams; however his frame may not support the weight well.
Blocking: His blocking needs to be improved significantly.  Shows good effort, but lacks consistency and power in his blocks.  At times he can get his hands too far outside and attract holding calls.
Route Tree: Ran primarily Outs and plays to the flats where he was asked to make tacklers miss.  Will need to show he can expand his game to a much more complete route tree.

Projection: Much like the two previous Tight Ends I mentioned, Reed is a player who can be a mismatch in the passing game.  He’s a fluid route runner, with good hands and great athleticism.  He also is deceptively fast, and has the ability to generate YAC on a consistent basis.  He does have some size and strength limitations, and must expand his route tree, but I see him as a solid fourth round selection.

Ryan Otten – 6’5” – 230 lbs – San Jose State – One other sleeper whose potential I ‘m enamored by is San Diego State’s Ryan Otten.  Otten is a lengthy target, who shows good ability as a pass catching Tight End.  He also shows a competitive nature, and some intangibles you love to see.

Strengths

Length: Otten has great length at 6’5 and with 33.5” arms.  He uses it well to compete in jump ball situations, and shows good ability to extend his catch radius.
Ball Skills: Tracks the football well, and puts himself in position to make a play on the ball.  Shows the ability to make clean catches in tight space, and flashes natural hand catching.
Competitor: Otten competes throughout the route, using good technique to fight through the press.  He shows the ability to get up and high point the football in jump ball situations.  Doesn’t shy away from contact, and is a physical runner after the catch powering through tackles.

Weaknesses

Frame: Possesses a lean frame that may not support weight well.  Will be a detriment to his development as he needs to bulk up to be more effective as an in-line player.
Explosiveness: Doesn’t show the burst off the snap, as well as through his routes that you would like to see in a pass catching Tight End.  Also his movements throughout his routes are slower which will likely cause trouble at the next level.
Blocking: Flashes some physicality and power in his blocking at times, but needs to be more consistent.  Does not have the strength to maintain blocks throughout the play.

Projection: A common trend throughout this piece, Otten is a good pass catching Tight End, with questionable blocking that has room for improvement.  He’s got good ball skills for a late day three pick, and his length would make him a good red zone target for Cam Newton.  He lacks the athleticism and speed that the other three Tight Ends in my write up have, but he’s a tough player who competes well.  He needs to bulk up which may be hard with his frame, and he isn’t as explosive as the other three, but I still see him as good value in the sixth to seventh round.

Overall this class is solid but not spectacular.  It lacks the standout elite playmaker in my opinion, and the depth of quality players could certainly be better.  Still, I feel as there are good players to be found at the Tight End position, and wouldn’t mind the Panthers adding any of the above mentioned players.  While we have a great pass catching Tight End in Greg Olsen, competition never hurt and having another large target will only help our offense as the field condenses.  As for the grade that I’m handing out to the 2013 Tight End class?  I see it as a B-.

Previously from Danny Guy:
NFL Combine Standouts: Panthers Edition
Panthers Draft Preview: Defensive TacklesPanthers Draft Preview: Defensive Ends
Panthers Draft Preview: Linebackers
Panthers Draft Preview: Cornerbacks
Panthers Draft Preview: Cornerback Sleepers
Panthers Draft Preview: Safeties
Panthers Draft Preview: Offensive LinePanthers Draft Preview: Wide Receivers

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