Very quietly, this is developing into a very strong year for tight ends. Certainly the strongest we’ve seen for a while. Maybe it’s just the current penchant for big, athletic difference makers, but there seems to be a few of those types this year.
While Zach Ertz and Tyler Eifert have received most of the focus, others are starting to get some attention. Florida’s Jordan Reed has unnatural speed for his size, good hands and will create mismatches for slot corners, linebackers and safety’s. I’m looking forward to watching Cincinnati’s Travis Kelce over the next couple of weeks, while Rice’s Vance McDonald is being tipped for a big combine.
There are others who will go a little later that could have some impact at the next level such as UCLA’s Joseph Fauria, Michigan State’s Dion Sims, Tennessee’s Mychal Rivera and Stanford’s massive 6-8, 263lbs Levine Toilolo.
One player who could force his way into first round contention is San Diego State’s Gavin Escobar. He’s listed at 6-5 and 255lbs. The tape above (vs Boise State) from Aaron Aloysius is the first full look we’ve been given. It’s never ideal to make snap judgements on one game — however — it’s hard not to be impressed.
Blocking isn’t a major strong point for Escobar, but you’re drafting this guy for his receiving talents and his ability to create problems at the second level. In the tape above he appears to have soft hands and an ability to not only high point catches, but also make difficult grabs. It looks like he can create separation and find soft spots in the coverage. And he has the size and mobility to be a Kellen Winslow type at the next level.
Not long ago former Chiefs GM Scott Pioli listed Escobar as his 10th best underclassmen in the 2013 draft.
“Three-year starter who was hampered this season by a knee injury that he played through. Good height-weight-speed prospect at 6-6 and 255 who right now is more receiver than blocker. I’m high on his ability to produce as an offensive tight end right now in the more wide-open NFL offenses. He’s what we call an “F-type” tight end, a receiver who can play off the line probably more productively than as a blocker right now.”
If you’re wondering what a ‘F-type’ tight end is, it’s another way of saying H-back. Basically they line up just off the line, technically in the backfield and normally as the second tight end in a 2TE set. Norv Turner is the most recent coach to use a lot of this in his schemes, but Joe Gibbs is often credited with being the inventor of this particular wrinkle.
To break it down you’re asking a H or F back to run receiver routes in multiple sets while still incorporating blocking responsibilities on certain calls. The way the game has changed and moved more towards passing, the role of the orthodox tight end has shifted towards more of these H/F back types anyway. However, as we’ve seen with Zach Miller in Seattle, teams that are run-centric still ask their tight ends to do a lot of blocking.
When the Seahawks brought in Kellen Winslow it looked to be a way of getting a productive, bigger receiver on the field rather than a pure second tight end. Obviously he didn’t make the cut and Anthony McCoy in my view did enough as the #2 to warrant some faith. However, with the team still lacking a big target for Russell Wilson outside of Miller and 6-4-but-skinny Sidney Rice, they could look at one of these ‘joker’ tight ends that can act predominantly as a receiver. McCoy would still have a role, but you’re opening up the play book. More 2TE sets, sometimes putting three big targets on the field for Wilson. New England made multiple tight end sets feasible. It’s not a bad lead to follow.
Gavin Escobar might not be the most talked about player but his potential as a receiver is clear. San Diego State were run-focused in 2012 so he didn’t make many big, highlight reel plays or generate fantastic production. At the next level, with a quarterback like Wilson, he could be the league’s next intriguing game changing tight end. If you’re looking for the next Jimmy Graham, this guy has as good a chance as anyone.
The only question is whether the Seahawks would consider making such a pick at #25. Because it’s unlikely he’ll last until #56. During our coverage this year there’s been some interest in Zach Ertz, so why not Escobar? It could be argued Escobar possibly has a higher upside, but Ertz is the more natural receiver and already looks accomplished running different routes and acting as the main focus of a passing game. Daniel Jeremiah mocked receiver Keenan Allen to the Seahawks today. He too is pretty under-developed given the weak passing game at California and the restrictions it placed on the skill players. Escobar is no different really, but again might have better upside.
Have a look at the tape and let us know what you think. I’d also recommend checking out this detail-filled piece on tight ends by Danny Kelly, published today. It’s an incredible read.