What tight end draft prospects could be Buccaneers? Which tight end is underrated? Pewter Report draft analyst Eric Dellaratta breaks it all down in this article.
With the hectic stages of free agency over, the Buccaneers did not sign any of the top free agent tight ends such as Martellus Bennett, Jared Cook, Dustin Keller, or Brandon Myers. This leaves Bucs fans wondering what the teams’ plans are at the tight end position moving forward. The team is currently carrying six tight ends on their roster heading into April.
The Buccaneers let veteran tight end Dallas Clark walk in free agency and he yet to sign with another franchise. Clark played decently in his situational pass-catching role in the Tampa Bay offense and was third on the team with 76 targets. The former Indianapolis Colt was an important part of the Buccaneers offense, despite logging just 435 yards and four touchdowns. The one area of that Clark did not contribute much was run-blocking. The veteran tight end was never known for his great blocking skills in Indianapolis, and he wasn’t asked to do it much with Tampa Bay.
The Buccaneers traded up in the 2011 draft to select Luke Stocker, who has been a disappointment thus far in his NFL. The former Tennessee Volunteer appeared in all 16 games during his sophomore campaign in 2012, but only managed to snag 16 passes for 165 yards and one touchdown. Stocker didn’t put up great numbers as a receiver at Tennessee. He never finished a season over 417 receiving yards and totaled just 8 touchdowns over four collegiate seasons. Stocker will be entering his third year as a Buccaneer and the team has yet to see significant production from the former fourth-round pick.
Tampa Bay is also developing tight ends Nate Byham, Danny Noble, and Drake Dunsmore.
Byham flashed some potential during the 2012 season. He caught a three-yard touchdown pass against the Carolina Panthers in week 11. Danny Noble played well in the 2012 preseason and earned a roster spot before injuring his hamstring and ending up on injured reserve.
The Buccaneers signed former Green Bay Packers tight end Tom Crabtree, who was a reserve receiving tight end for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Tampa Bay also added former Jacksonville Jaguar Zach Miller. Both will compete at the tight end position.
Adding tight ends has kept the Buccaneers busy over the last few years, but the position still lacks significant talent and long-term potential. Will the Buccaneers want to bring in another receiving specialist at the tight end position or will the team target a more complete tight end? There is even a possibility that the Buccaneers won’t draft a tight end at all. Whatever they choose to do, Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik will have plenty of options to choose from in the upcoming NFL Draft.
In this article, draft analyst Eric Dellaratta will outline one tight end for each round of the NFL Draft that could be future Buccaneers. ROUND ONE – TYLER EIFERT/NOTRE DAME
The first round of the NFL Draft will likely only produce one tight end. Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert has the best chance of hearing his name called on day one. The Notre Dame product has great receiving skills and is a matchup nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators. His 6-foot-5 frame allows him to box out defenders and high-point the football, making him a deadly red zone weapon.
Eifert has some issues with run-blocking technique, but the big tight end improved significantly from 2011 to 2012. He’s a willing blocker that should only improve as his career goes on.
It’s unlikely the Buccaneers draft a tight end with their current first round selection; however Eifert could be a target in a potential trade-up later on in the draft. The Buccaneers showed last year they were not afraid to move around to get the players they wanted (Mark Barron, Doug Martin, Lavonte David). ROUND TWO – GAVIN ESCOBAR/SAN DIEGO STATE
Reports have linked San Diego State tight end Gavin Escobar to the Buccaneers recently. According to Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net, Escobar had lunch with the Buccaneers on the day of his pro day. The San Diego State product is a tall (6-6, 254) tight end with a ton of receiving talent. Escobar has some of the best hands in the draft, as he does a tremendous job of catching the ball away from his body and not allowing the ball into his big frame. Escobar runs crisp routes and shows some explosiveness in and out of his cuts.
The biggest issue with Escobar is in the run-blocking department. The former Aztec can be overpowered and is frequently thrown out of position by opposing defenders. He will definitely need to improve that aspect of the game in order to see extended playing time at the next level. That being said, Escobar is brimming with potential and should be a second-round pick in April. The Bucs are interested in Escobar, so it would make a lot of sense for the team to draft him in round two or round three. ROUND THREE – VANCE MCDONALD/RICE
McDonald is quite athletic for his size (6-4, 260). He does a nice job of getting open on outside breaking routes, where he generates consistent separation. He also proved to be a nice commodity on screen passing plays out of the slot. The former Owl is tough to bring down in the open field, as he uses his size and strength well after the catch.
McDonald had a good week of practices in Mobile at the Senior Bowl. He displayed very good blocking skills, which is something he needed to prove coming from a Rice system that split him out wide often.
One of the issues with McDonald is he doesn’t have great hands. He has a tendency to bobble catches and he often drops them all together. Another thing hindering the tight end’s draft stock is the program he played for. Rice did not run an offense designed for a tight end like McDonald. He fits best as an inline tight end, rather than a slot receiver that is used in the screen passing game. McDonald has a ton of potential which will likely get him drafted in the third round of the NFL Draft. The Buccaneers could add McDonald on day two of the draft to compete with Luke Stocker and others for the Buccaneers starting tight end job. ROUND FOUR – TRAVIS KELCE/CINCINNATI
Travis Kelce is one of the most well-rounded tight ends in this year’s draft class. The Cincinnati product is a tremendous blocker that displays excellent footwork and blocking technique. Kelce plays with a nasty demeanor and is always looking to bury his assignment. He’s very good at blocking in space and will surely be an asset in the screen game. Kelce is one of the top blockers in this class, and those abilities will definitely catch the eye of scouts and NFL talent evaluators.
The former Bearcat is also valuable in the passing game. Kelce caught 45 balls for 722 yards and 8 touchdowns. He had a monster game against Duke in the Belk Bowl in which he caught a game-winning 83-yard touchdown pass.
PewterReport.com believes that Kelce is the most underrated tight end in the 2013 draft class. One of the reasons the tight end is being pushed down is because of concerns regarding a one-year suspension from the Cincinnati program. If everything checks out with his background, Kelce should at least be a fourth-round selection. Kelce is the brother of Philadelphia Eagles interior offensive lineman Jason Kelce. The senior could compete for Tampa Bay’s starting tight end spot from day one. ROUND FIVE – LEVINE TOIOLO/STANFORD
Toiolo is a mammoth of a tight end, checking in at 6-foot-8, 260 pounds. He’s a huge threat in the redzone and down the seam in the passing game. He’s also a willing and capable blocker that shows a good amount of strength and bending ability. While he is still raw, he has all the tools to become a successful NFL tight end.
The Stanford product’s size also works against him. In the blocking game, Toiolo understandably has trouble staying low, which allows defenders to consistently gain better leverage. He isn’t very explosive and is somewhat slow out of the three-point stance.
The former Cardinal will likely be a day three draft pick because of his elite size and solid athleticism. New Director of College Scouting for the Buccaneers has shown interest in big athletes with lots of potential, which perfectly describes the junior out of Stanford. ROUND SIX – MYCHAL RIVERA/TENNESSEE
Rivera is an undersized (6-3, 242) tight end that has very good receiving skills. He has soft hands and shows the ability to create separation with his route-running. The senior is tough to take down in the open field and shows natural instincts with the ball in his hands. Rivera isn’t the most athletic tight end out there, but he shows more than adequate qualities that should allow him to be successful at the next level.
His size will limit his blocking potential, but Rivera showed solid blocking ability during his time at Tennessee. He was asked to block some very talented SEC defensive players and he held his own. Rivera will need to add more mass to hold up in the NFL.
Rivera would be a nice fit as a situational receiving tight end that is valuable on third downs. The former Volunteer doesn’t have starting upside, but he would be a nice threat to have one coming off the bench as a number two tight end. Adding Rivera near the end of the draft would give the Bucs some flexibility and competition at the tight end position. ROUND SEVEN – JOSEPH FAURIA/UCLA
Fauria could be an intriguing option for the Buccaneers near the end of the draft. The UCLA tight end is huge, standing 6-foot-7 and tipping the scales at 259 pounds. At this point in the draft, teams are looking for players that you can develop over time, which is exactly what Fauria needs.
The former Bruin is a major threat as a receiver. His huge frame and athleticism allows him to make catches that others simply can’t. He can immediately be a threat in the redzone and down the seam.
UCLA did not use Fauria as a blocker very often, which isn’t a bad thing because Fauria is not a great one. The reason Fauria is being pushed down so far on draft boards is because of recent names such as Miami’s Michael Egnew and former Buccaneer Chase Coffman. Both have very good size and put up great college numbers as receivers, but both had major issues blocking which limited the amount of playing time they saw. Fauria is a similar type of player.
Instead of being drafted in round three, like Egnew and Coffman, Fauria will likely be drafted in the later rounds to a team that could use a mismatch. If the Buccaneers are looking for a late round tight end with a big frame and receiving skills, then Joe Fauria could be the selection.
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