Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert has coveted skills
BY MARK POTASH firstname.lastname@example.org April 20, 2013 1:00AM
Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert is known for his ability as a receiver, but he says he has been working hard on his blocking, too. | Getty Images
Updated: May 22, 2013 6:59AM
Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert, who got his first big chance when Kyle Rudolph suffered a season-ending injury in 2011, always seems to be at the right place at the right time.
‘‘I’m lucky to be coming in at a time when the type of tight end that I am is being used quite a bit,’’ said the 6-5, 250-pound Eifert, who won the Mackey Award as the best tight end in the country last season. ‘‘Create mismatch problems in the passing game but also can stay in the game on every down and can also block.’’
With his soft hands, the size to catch balls in traffic, a 351/2-inch vertical leap to win jump balls and a frame to grow into a steady blocker in the running game, Eifert is just about the prototype NFL offenses are using at tight end. While his stock seemed to take a hit in the aftermath of Notre Dame’s disappointing performance in the BCS championship game against Alabama, his vertical leap and 4.65-second time in the 40-yard dash helped elevate him just ahead of Stanford’s Zach Ertz among tight ends in the draft.
Eifert’s best skills are as a receiver who can work out of the slot or as a wide receiver. But the best tight ends of his ilk are also effective blockers. And he sounds earnest in his desire to improve that part of his game.
‘‘I strive to be a complete tight end,’’ Eifert said. ‘‘I don’t think I’m there yet. But guys like Jimmy Graham, [Rob] Gronkowski, Rudolph, those guys I like to watch and see myself being similar players to them.’’
As for his improved blocking . . .
‘‘That’s been what everyone said I was lacking, so I’ve spent a lot of time working on my blocking with coaches, working on the technique things, the little things, the footwork, hand placement,’’ Eifert said. ‘‘I think I’m better. I’m still not where I want to be. There is still a lot of room to improve. I’ve made a conscious effort to improve, and I think I have.’’
Eifert is a popular mock-draft pick by the Packers at No. 26 in the first round, but he said he’s not concerned about the type of offense he goes to.
‘‘I never really look at it like that,’’ he said at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. ‘‘Obviously, you see the Patriots with the two tights ends and how they utilize that. An offense like that would be beneficial to me. But I’m just trying to do my best . . . and let the pieces fall where they do.’’
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS
Because the Bears signed Martellus Bennett in free agency, it might appear they have found their pass-catching tight end. But if the right guy is available at the right place in the draft — whether it’s at No. 20 or No. 34 — general manager Phil Emery won’t hesitate to jump at the opportunity.
At least one mock draft still has the Bears going for Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert. The Bears lost receiver Johnny Knox, who retired after missing all of last season after having spinal injury in 2011. Brandon Marshall is a Pro Bowl receiver and Alshon Jeffery showed promise as a rookie in 2012, but Emery would like to add a deep threat at wide receiver to the mix.
FIVE oF iNTEREST
Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia: At 5-8 and 175 pounds, he’s one of the most intriguing players in the draft because of his raw speed (4.34 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and his Devin Hester-like ability to change direction at top speed.
Keenan Allen, WR, California: He doesn’t have blazing speed, but he has big, soft hands and runs faster with the ball than without it.
Robert Woods, WR, USC: At 6-0, 200 pounds with 4.5-second speed in the 40-yard dash, Woods has excellent hands, can catch the ball in traffic and relies on instinct. He probably won’t turn an offense around, but he’ll be a great fit for a team with a No. 1 in place.
Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee: He’s 6-4, 200 pounds, runs a 4.4-second 40-yard dash and has a 39-inch vertical leap. A team that wants to roll the dice on a deep threat can’t overlook him.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson: Coming off a big season (82 catches, 1,405 yards, 18 TDs), Hopkins has a knack for the physical aspect of the game and a mental toughness that is hard to measure.
THE tHREE bEST
Cordarelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee: He’s a little raw, but he has the speed (4.42 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and is dynamic with the ball in his hands. He also has big potential as a kick returner.
Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame: With his size (6-5, 250), speed (4.65 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and leaping ability (35 1/2-inch vertical leap), he’s everything NFL teams are looking for in a downfield passing threat at tight end.
Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford: A virtual carbon copy of Eifert without the exceptional leaping abillity, Ertz has wide-receiver hands and is physical enough to win battles at the line of scrimmage.
THE tHREE sLEEPERS
Denard Robinson, WR, Michigan: Former star quarterback has the athletic ability (4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash, 38 1/2-inch vertical leap) to play in the NFL, but he needs to find a spot.
Travis Kelce, TE, Cincinnati: Much more of a traditional tight end, but he has enough speed and desire to be productive in the right offense.
Robby Toma, WR, Notre Dame: Overshadowed with the Irish, the 5-9, 188-pound Toma plays bigger, tougher, quicker and faster than he looks.