April 21, 2013

Tyler Eifert could be a tight fit for Miami Dolphins in NFL Draft

Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert has the kind of athleticism sought in today’s NFL, making him an option for Miami’s No. 12 pick.

If the Dolphins take the talented Tyler Eifert in the NFL Draft this week, culture shock shouldn’t be a concern.

He can handle media attention. Most every snap Notre Dame’s stud tight end has taken has been on national TV.

Plus, Eifert would know his environment. He already has dressed in the Dolphins’ locker room, practiced at their facility, and played a high-pressure game at their stadium.

Was Eifert’s visit to South Florida for the BCS Championship Game — which Notre Dame lost to Alabama in a one-sided result — a sneak preview of a career to come?

He didn’t hurt his chances in early January. Unlike most of his teammates — including Manti Te’o, who was a nonfactor in the game — Eifert had a characteristically productive evening. Six catches in all, including a marvelous sideline grab over Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner — another potential first-round target for the Dolphins.

Taking it all in: Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland, a championship game attendee who was on the field during warm-ups.

We’ll soon see how much of an impression the first-hand evaluation left on Miami’s personnel chief.

By his own accounts, Ireland doesn’t normally value tight ends as much as he does the Dolphins’ positions of need, such as cornerback and defensive end.

“I wouldn’t call it an absolutely core piece,” Ireland said this month.

The highest Miami has taken a tight end in the Ireland Era is the third round — and that was last year, when the Dolphins picked Michael Egnew, a disappointment thus far.

In doing so, Ireland has continuing a long-standing franchise trend. In their 47-year history, the Dolphins have never used a first-round pick on a tight end.

Decades ago, that wasn’t so odd. Teams used the position mostly as a third tackle.

“But the tight end position altogether has gotten very athletic,” Ireland said. “It’s gotten fast. It’s gotten big. It’s gotten athletic. And I think that’s made the NFL trend that way too.”

Eifert continues that trend. He’s 6-6 and 251 pounds, but ran a 4.68-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine and jumped nearly three feet vertically. His physical gifts come, in part, from his father, Greg, who played basketball at Purdue.

A Fort Wayne, Ind., native who also played defensive back in high school, Eifert took over as Notre Dame’s starting tight end after Kyle Rudolph went pro in 2010.

He went on to win the Mackey Award — given to the nation’s best player at his position — last fall, leading the Irish with 50 catches for 685 yards and four touchdowns.

“Tyler Eifert has clearly differentiated himself from the pack,” NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock said.

And that’s saying something. It’s a relatively deep crop of tight ends this year, the best of whom can make plays down the seam. Still, Mayock likes Eifert most because he is faster and a better blocker than the other top prospects, which include Stanford’s Zach Ertz and San Diego State’s Gavin Escobar.

Eifert has shown a knack for catching the ball in traffic and creating physical mismatches. At the combine, he said he would prefer to play in an offense such as the Patriots’, which is built around the tight end position.

There are concerns about his blocking, however, which Eifert acknowledges and is working to improve.

Eifert comes from a proud tight end tradition at Notre Dame. Former Dolphin Anthony Fasano is among the Irish alums who have counseled him during the draft process about life in the NFL.

And yet, he might be the best pure prospect his storied program has produced at that position. Former pro scout Daniel Jeremiah is high on Eifert, rating him as the 10th-best player in the draft. In Jeremiah’s mind, Eifert would be good value for the Dolphins with their No. 12 overall pick.

But does Ireland feel the same way? We’ll find out Thursday.

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