USA TODAY Sports
The NFL Combine is well underway. We must wait until Saturday for the on-field testing portion of the Combine to begin, but in the meantime, here's the tale of the tape for the the tight ends group, in a handy sortable table, all courtesy of Alfie Crow over at Big Cat Country.
I would have to say that the most physically impressive player in this group, in my opinion, would be Rice's Vance McDonald. On tape, McDonald doesn't look huge - Rice used him on bubble screens a lot, and move him around as a joker almost exclusively - but he measured in at a very impressive 267 pounds - actually heavier than Michigan State's Dion Sims, who had until recently been listed in the 280's! McDonald, at 6'4, 267, with absurd 34.38" arms and 10.13" mitts, checks off a lot of boxes for what the Seahawks are looking for in a joker. He's going to run fast this weekend, too, I'd bet, and of all the guys on this list, could see his stock soar by the time it's all said and done.
The thing that makes you like McDonald's prospects in the NFL are the way he's built - not to get too weird about it, but the dude's probably packing about 50 pounds in his glutes, and frankly that translates to explosiveness and power on the field. He's built like an NFL player - and some of the guys you see in this 'joker' category just look skinny and lanky running around against college competition, which will only get worse at the next level. McDonald is not one of them. He's getting comparisons to Gronk purely because of his size. Dude is big. And cut.
Now - I got pretty excited after hearing about how well McDonald was playing at the Senior Bowl, but when I went and looked at his tape it was a tad underwhelming. Not bad, per se, but with the way he was used in the offense and the limitations Rice had at quarterback - he does strike me as the type of player whose best football is still ahead of him. This is a Pete Carroll type of player.
He worked out of a spread style offense and he lined up literally everywhere - in the slot, as an H-Back, a receiver, and in-line. A good amount of his passes were either screens or intermediate underneath routes, but with a 12.7 ypc average on the season, you know he's getting a good amount of YAC. I like this - and it goes back to his solid frame and power derived from his lower body. When you see him run after the catch, he's a little reminiscent of a really tall running back.
Another late-round tight end prospect that I'm high on (Jared Stanger and Matt Erikson are too) is South Carolina's Justice Cunningham. Cunningham is probably going to run really well this weekend too, and when you match that likely scenario with his 6'3, 258 pound frame, 33.88" arms, and 10" hands, you've got an intriguing developmental project with a lot of physical upside. He's a tad on the short side for an in-line tight end, but he made his hay in college as a respected and tenacious blocker. If you can use Cunningham as a move tight end - assuming he does well in the gauntlet and shows he can use his wide catching radius effectively - I'm picturing Seattle reaping some of the benefits of his blocking ability downfield in addition to his ability as a pass catcher. I know the Hawks are looking for a pass-catching TE whose responsibilities in blocking are minimal, but a well-balanced guy with some speed is always preferable for a team that runs 34 times a game.
Travis Kelce is the best blocking tight end in the group, and his stock is soaring at the moment. I'm not sure how explosive he'll be when the tight ends run on Saturday, but he's built, physically, like a starting caliber Y tight end. 6'4, 255, with 33.75" arms and 9.63" hands. San Diego State's Gavin Escobar has pretty comparable numbers. Zach Ertz had the second shortest arms of the group, which might impact his stock a little. His former teammate, Levine Toilolo, on the other hand, had incredibly impressive measureables - 6'8, 260, 34.5" arms and 10.25" hands. I could see the Seahawks being interested in Toilolo simply for his jump ball skills in the redzone and absurd length. Let Russell Wilson throw it up and Toilolo has an immediate advantage. The problem for Tiololo though, is that his 2012 season tape was pretty bad - drops, poor blocking, slow release, etc. He's a project, but you can't coach that type of size.
One sleeper developmental project type is D.C. Jefferson, out of Rutgers. Jefferson had so-so numbers in college but has every bit of the size you're looking for. He's pretty raw still, from what I understand, and will need to work on his blocking and route-running, but at 6'6, 255 with 34.25" arms and 10.13" hands, he's got the measureables. UCLA's Joseph Fauria has impressive size as well, with the biggest hands in the group.
This class of tight ends is super interesting. I know that much.
|Justice Cunningham||South Carolina||6-3||258||33.88||10|
|Tyler Eifert||Notre Dame||6-5||250||33.13||9.13|
|Gavin Escobar||San Diego State||6-5||254||33.63||9.75|
|Ryan Otten||San Jose State||6-5||230||33.38||9.63|
|Chris Pantale||Boston College||6-5||254||33.25||10.25|
|Dion Sims||Michigan State||6-4||262||33.13||10.25|
|Jake Stoneburner||Ohio State||6-3||252||32.25||9.38|