Despite the return of Tony Gonzalez back to the Falcons for what could very well be his final season, many draft experts in our Mock Monitor still have a tight end pegged for the Falcons in the first round. To some, a first-round tight end combined with a future hall-of-famer in Gonzalez, who caught 93 passes last season, seems a bit like overkill when there are perceived needs at other places on the roster, but consistently during this offseason Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert and Stanford's Zach Ertz have been selected in mock drafts for the Falcons. We spotlighted Ertz earlier in the offseason and today we welcome back Bleacher Report's Matt Miller (@NFLDraftScout) to provide the scoop on Eifert and why he could be a great fit both now and in the future.
The potential dilemma for general manager Thomas Dimitroff in this year's draft is where players will fall. There are a number of scenarios where the draft's top two tight ends slide into Atlanta's range. If some of Dimitroff's targeted players are off the board at No. 30, two picks from the end of the round, would it be smart to select Eifert if he's there for the taking?
To understand why that is such a challenging predicament for Dimitroff, we need to know a little about Eifert and his counterpart Ertz. Miller said the two are about as close in talent as any two players at the same position have been during his time scouting. Miller gave them identical grades and ranked them both at No. 28 in his overall list.
"The 2013 draft is unique that there are two very closely graded tight end prospects, Eifert and Ertz, so the top spot comes down to personal preference," Miller said.
Miller said Eifert has room to grow in his blocking, but showed considerable strides during his junior season, a season in which he led Notre Dame in receiving with 50 catches for 685 yards and four touchdowns, earning him the Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end. His sophomore season was even better with 63 catches for 803 yards and five touchdowns. As a freshman and backup to future Minnesota first-round tight end Kyle Rudolph, Eifert caught 27 balls for 352 yards and two touchdowns.
What Eifert's time at Notre Dame shows is he's a dynamic receiver who can make all of the catches. Miller gives Eifert the edge over Ertz in speed and thinks the ND product is the better receiver in traffic and he rarely drops a ball that comes his way.
"Eifert is a natural receiver," Miller said. "He catches everything thrown his way – no matter the coverage– and isn't afraid of contact."
So if a top prospect like Eifert falls to Dimitroff, will he call the tight end's name?
"The short answer is yes, but this depends largely on who is available for the Falcons," Miller said. "If a top cornerback or defensive end happen to fall down the board and Eifert is still available, my advice would be to draft more for need over value in that scenario."
Miller sees the tight end crop this year as deeper than the cornerback one so he feels like a quality tight end can be had later in the draft than cornerback, but he can see scenarios where Eifert falls and if the Falcons go with him as Gonzalez' protégé, they could be getting a player that could step right in behind him and keep the offense moving at the same pace in future seasons after Gonzalez is gone.
"Eifert can do all of the things Tony Gonzalez does," Miller said. "That doesn't mean he's a Hall-of-Fame tight end, but he's a natural fit in the Atlanta offense and would be able to step in and play the similar role. Eifert has the size to be a threat in the red zone and the agility to move around pre-snap. The coaching staff wouldn't have to adjust the offense for Eifert."
A smart player and team captain, Eifert fits the mold of a Dimitroff draft pick and Miller said he's heard nothing at all to indicate any off-field or intangible issues. By all accounts he's a "bright, well-spoken leader." Though Miller sees Eifert fit into the offense like Gonzalez, he sees a different comparison to a player already in the NFL.
"If everything goes as planned, Eifert could be a Jason Witten-like receiver," Miller said of the 6-foot-6, 251-pound Eifert. "I don't know that he can ever be that good as a blocker, but the way he tracks the ball and his strength in securing passes no matter where they are thrown definitely draws a comparison to Witten."
A tough and tall tight end with good hands still sounds very similar to someone already in Atlanta and while the Falcons may have better needs-fits available at No. 30 next week, could a player like Eifert still be a smart move for the consistent growth of the future?