INDIANAPOLIS – Size, strength, speed and versatility is the combo every offensive coordinator in the NFL is looking for in a tight end, a player who can seal an edge as a blocker and make an explosive play down the seam as a receiver.
The total package that strikes fear in defensive coordinators.
Those players are rare, but we’re seeing more and more of them over the last decade at the tight end position.
The successful model seems to be finding former basketball players and turning them into athletic tight ends using some of the skill sets that made them good basketball players. The Antonio Gates’, Jimmy Graham’s and Ron Gronkowski’s of the world have revolutionized the position.
They’ve also increased its value.
The tight end position isn’t one normally considered a value position in the top 10 of the draft. In fact, only Vernon Davis (2006) and Kellen Winslow Jr. (2004) have been selected in the top 10 since 1996.
It takes a special talent for teams to go that high at that position.
“It depends on what the market dictates to where they’ll be chosen,” Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said.
“Vernon Davis was a high pick because he could have an immediate impact on a team. He can stretch it down the field and score touchdowns for you, but also he can handle the line of scrimmage. It just depends on the team’s value of the position.”
Davis, who was selected No. 6 overall in the 2006 NFL draft, is who former North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron says he tailors his game around.
“I play fast,” Ebron said. “I’m a little bit faster than most. I play the tight end role like no one else.”
Ebron, who is considered the most athletic, and top tight end in this year’s class, has the same build as Davis (6-3, 254). Ebron is 6-foot-4, 250 pounds.
One difference might be the top-end speed between the two, however. Davis ran a 4.38–second 40-yard dash in 2006. Ebron will probably fall somewhere in the 4.5 range, potentially 4.4.
The question facing the Lions is whether Ebron’s combine numbers and his game film will add up to a top 10 pick – the No. 10 to be exact.
Ebron caught 62 passes for 973 yards (15.7) average and three touchdowns last season, but will have to prove he can “take care of the line of scrimmage” as a run blocker.
The Lions could be in need for a tight end depending on the future of free agent
He is coming over from a New Orleans team that featured the All Pro Graham.
If it's determined No. 10 is too high for Ebron, the Lions can find value later in the first round, into the second round and into Day 3 of the draft.
While Ebron is considered the top prospect in the class, close behind is Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who won the 2013 John Mackey Award awarded annually to the most outstanding tight end.
Seferian-Jenkins might be the most complete tight end in the group.
"I think there are a lot of talented guys in this draft class at every position, and specifically at the tight end position you've got a lot of great players,” Seferian-Jenkins said.
“But what I think I do is if you watched me play I split out and played receiver. I've done fullback. I've played in-line. I think I have showed I'm very capable of being a playmaker down the seam and run regular routes as a receiver and I've shown the capability of being a blocker and I'm an every down guy who can get out there immediately on the field.''
Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro (6-5, 257) is also a guy to keep an eye on into the second round. He caught 106 passes for 1,352 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013.
The Lions have options, they now have to put a value at the position and the player over the next five days of the NFL Scouting Combine.