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Monday, February 25, 2013
Updated: March 27, 9:43 AM ET
Fantasy rookie class of 2013

By Christopher Harris
ESPN.com

For years, I've been writing that you'll rarely go broke in fantasy football if you just avoid rookies altogether. Oh, sure, occasionally you'll be bummed that you didn't catch lightning in a bottle. But if you weighed the number of times you avoided the over-hyped rookie who busted compared to the over-hyped rookie who lived up to his billing, historically the former would usually far outstrip the latter.

And then last year happened.

Russell Wilson
Even for those who liked Russell Wilson's upside, he far exceeded his fantasy expectations as a rookie.

By any measure, the NFL's skill-position rookies in '12 were spectacular. We saw perhaps the second-greatest rookie class of quarterbacks in league history (1983's roster of John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly is pretty good), as Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson may have permanently shaken the fantasy landscape. Running backs Doug Martin, Alfred Morris and Trent Richardson propelled any number of fantasy squads to winning records and/or league titles. It was easily the best-producing rookie class since I've been doing this for a living, with four first-round picks last April easily exceeding their lofty expectations and several later-round picks contributing mightily.

Expecting this to be a trend, however, is probably folly. First off, the skill-position prospects for the 2013 NFL draft just aren't as exciting as last year's. And second, there's always a danger in overreacting to recent stimuli. Remember when it was important to grab a first-round QB heading into '12? Or how you'd be behind the 8-ball if you didn't grab one of the elite tight ends last year? Or how such diverse characters as Michael Vick, Jordy Nelson and Darren Sproles were going to redefine how we thought about fantasy? Standing by what you know -- drafting proven players on the upswing, emphasizing scarcity -- will always give you a better-than-even chance for success. And that's why investing heavily in rookies is still a shady game plan.

Nevertheless, 2012 certainly proved that you can get an unexpected boost of value from rookies, and this weekend's combine provided a solid opportunity to see some of the best prospects in action. This is the point in our proceedings when those among us trundle out the whole "The combine is useless!" routine. (Michael Wilbon, hello!) And of course, it's correct that collegiate game tape is the best and safest way of evaluating players. But to proclaim that it doesn't matter how fast a player runs in shorts is an oversimplification. Of course it matters. If I watch the University of Georgia's game film against the University of Buffalo (which I've done), those Georgia players look unbelievably fast! But that's because they're playing against lesser talent. We need some kind of apples-to-apples way of comparing raw tools, and then adding that into the hopper as we evaluate.

So do I consider the measurables I'm about to quote in this article as a Holy Grail of talent assessment? Of course not. But there were some eye-opening performances (both positive and negative) this weekend, and we'd be foolish not to consider them at all. Let's break down the skill-position rookies:

Quarterbacks

2012 Rookie Review: Last year's class was hyped as the best in decades, and it didn't disappoint. Luck and RG III were drafted first and second overall, and in standard fantasy leagues they finished ninth and tied for fifth among QBs, respectively. Russell Wilson lasted until the 75th overall pick, then finished 11th and averaged an incredible 21.9 points per game in his final seven contests. By way of comparison, in '11 Cam Newton and Andy Dalton finished fourth and 15th, and in '08 Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco finished 15th and 19th in fantasy points among QBs, and they're the only rookie QBs to land in the top 20 in the same year during the past decade. Heck, even Ryan Tannehill (24th) and Brandon Weeden (26th) were quasi-respectable and showed some promise, and Nick Foles and Kirk Cousins had a few decent fill-in flashes. Expecting any QB class to match the depth and breadth of production achieved by the '12 group is nuts. This year in particular, however, figures to pale by comparison.

Geno Smith
Geno Smith may be the first quarterback taken in the draft, but don't expect immediate fantasy returns from him.

• It looks like the Kansas City Chiefs won't be selecting Geno Smith (West Virginia) with the first overall pick. Instead, rumors are circulating that the Chiefs may be on the verge of trading for Alex Smith. Regardless, where that leaves Geno is up for debate. He's not a read-option signal-caller in the RG III mold. As a collegian, he was a passer first, though Smith has enough pocket awareness and mobility to extend plays. Overall, though, he posted a frustrating senior year. If you watch the tape long enough, you'll see him make every kind of throw, but there were many times where he overshot open men, especially late in the season. Smith is not a can't-miss player. As such, it's difficult to imagine him being draftable right away in standard-sized fantasy leagues.
Recent comparable: The guy you hear most is Sam Bradford. Smith has enough size (6-foot-2, 218 pounds), good arm strength and ran a 4.59 40 (which is significantly faster than Bradford), making him a polished prospect who seems just shy of dominant in every area.

• The race to be the No. 2 QB is wide open. For the moment, I'll cast my lot with Tyler Wilson of Arkansas. His senior year was a mess, as the Razorbacks completely fell apart, and it showed in Wilson's play. He was blasted by defenders, but to his credit he kept getting up. He has good enough size and enough in-pocket mobility to protect himself, though his arm strength is up for question. Listen, earning all-SEC honors as a junior means you've got skills. But the raw tools aren't so overwhelming that his NFL team will feel obliged to start him Week 1.
Recent comparable: I think Christian Ponder is a decent comparison, though Ponder didn't stay healthy enough in college to put up the numbers Wilson did. Rex Grossman strikes me as another name, though that's not a super-flattering note for Wilson's pro prospects. Maybe Wilson's upside is Tony Romo: A tough, less-than-huge player with an arm nobody will claim is elite, but with great moxie.

• If Matt Barkley (USC) proves his throwing shoulder is sound at his pro day, he still has time to recapture some of the hype that saw him enter '12 as the Heisman favorite. His senior season was rough, though: Barkley folded in some big moments, and now suddenly his arm strength and in-game intelligence are up for debate. Now, that said, he still produced 75 TD passes in his final two years, so it's not like he can't play at all. He's 6-foot-3 and 227 pounds, so size isn't a question. In the end, though, coming back for his final collegiate year looks like it'll cost this kid millions, because unless he can alleviate worries about arm strength, he probably won't go in the first round.
Recent comparable: Everyone and their brother will worry that Barkley is Mark Sanchez, which is a bit unfair because Barkley was a four-year starter, and Sanchez was one-and-done. But the stigma of recent USC QB failures is there (Matt Leinart also comes to mind). Maybe Barkley is a bigger version of arm-challenged Andy Dalton: Not my favorite, but serviceable in the right kind of short-passing offense.

Mike Glennon
Mike Glennon tossed 62 touchdown passes in his two seasons as a starter at NC State.

• Other names to know include: Mike Glennon (NC State) may have the biggest arm in this QB class, and he's 6-foot-7. But his accuracy, both on game tape and in combine drills, is lacking. He's got career upside if he puts things together, but as a rookie doesn't look like a contributor. … Ryan Nassib (Syracuse) is a favorite of my Fantasy Underground cohort Field Yates, which counts for something in my book. But when I saw Nassib play in college, I didn't see him make a lot of zinging deep throws, so he may be a West Coast kind of system QB. … E.J. Manuel (Florida State) has the best chance of this year's class to be a read-option NFL QB. He doesn't have ridiculous speed (he ran a 4.65 40 at the combine) but is a whopping 6-foot-5 and 237 pounds, putting him in Cam Newton territory. Manuel's issue is whether he can be an accurate enough thrower.

Running Backs

'12 Rookie Review: It was a pretty solid year for fantasy RBs. The first two rushers selected were terrific: Martin rode several phenomenal games to a tie for the No. 2 spot in fantasy points. Richardson finished 11th despite some health issues. And incredibly, Morris, selected 173rd overall, made a believer out of fickle Mike Shanahan, earned the Washington Redskins' starting job and finished fifth in RB fantasy points. There were disappointments: first-rounder David Wilson wound up tied for 43rd, while Isaiah Pead, LaMichael James, Ronnie Hillman and Lamar Miller had a hard time finding playing time. Vick Ballard took over as the Indianapolis Colts starter in Week 6 but found the end zone only thrice, Bernard Pierce and Robert Turbin showed promise in handcuff roles, and Bryce Brown (taken 229th overall) had two games of glory but then slowed way down. Compared to previous seasons, this is a pretty great cumulative output. In '09, three rookies (Knowshon Moreno, Beanie Wells and LeSean McCoy) finished among the top 50 backs (Moreno was highest at 18th). In '10, five rookies did so (Jahvid Best, Ryan Mathews, Chris Ivory, LeGarrette Blount and Keiland Williams, with Best highest at 23rd). And again in '11, five rookies were among the top-50 RBs (DeMarco Murray, Roy Helu, Mark Ingram, Kendall Hunter and Daniel Thomas), but none were higher than Murray at 30th. That means Martin, Morris and Richardson all submitted better fantasy seasons than any rookie rusher since Steve Slaton finished sixth in '08. And by my back-of-the-envelope calculations, Martin's was the highest-ranked fantasy rookie RB season since Edgerrin James in '99. (Adrian Peterson was No. 3 in '07; Clinton Portis was No. 4 in '02.) Wow.

• There are no Richardson-level prospects among the RBs in this year's draft. But T-Rich's former teammate, Eddie Lacy (Alabama), seems to be separating himself as the only rusher with a chance to be selected in the first round of April's draft. There's no question some of his highlight runs are ridiculous. Now, Lacy didn't participate in the combine because of a hamstring injury, but at 231 pounds his power is unquestioned, and his film shows he has decent elusiveness in the hole. The questions about Lacy are whether he's fast enough in space to make initial NFL tacklers miss, and (relatedly) whether his punishing style will allow him to hold up for a full season.
Recent comparable: The reason Lacy is exciting for fantasy is that he's built to immediately become someone's short-yardage back, almost no matter where he lands in the draft. I've heard Jamal Lewis as a comparison, but I don't believe Lacy will wind up having that kind of speed. I think Lacy's upside is someone like Larry Johnson, which would be just fine.

Giovani Bernard
Giovani Bernard has some special physical tools packed into his 5-foot-8 frame.

• The consensus No. 2 man among rookie RBs appears to be Giovani Bernard (North Carolina), whose quickness and change of direction are unparalleled in this draft class. At the combine, Bernard ran a 4.53 40 which is relatively pedestrian for a 5-foot-8 and 202-pound player, but that doesn't preclude him from being a home-run hitter. He's fast enough, and he's just unreal when he gets to a hole. He's a terrific pass catcher and sick return man, but because he didn't put a ton of physical runs on tape, Bernard will cause some NFL teams to question whether he can be a three-down back.
Recent comparable: For me, the guy who springs to mind is my old favorite, Kendall Hunter, who hasn't been able to catch a break in his first two seasons with the San Francisco 49ers. Bernard would have to put on some muscle to get into LeSean McCoy territory, but maybe that's his upside. Which means perhaps the fairest, down-the-middle comparison is someone like a pre-neck-injury Steve Slaton.

• Who comes next? I'll nominate a group of four, and probably change my mind about the order a dozen times over the next couple months. Mike Gillislee (Florida) had only one year as a feature back, but what a year! He burst into the lead spot in the Gators' offense and made a ton of huge plays including a dominating performance against LSU. At 5-foot-11 and 208 pounds, I think he's got size enough to play on early downs. … Andre Ellington (Clemson) may have a tougher time sticking as a feature back, but don't be fooled by his 4.61 40 time at the combine; he pulled a hamstring during his run. Watch his highlight package and you'll see mega-burst, as well as some nice inside runs, albeit against smaller-college competition. Importantly, Ellington is considered one of the most ready-to-contribute backs of '12 in pass blocking. … To me, Johnathan Franklin (UCLA) is an Ellington clone in terms of speed and shiftiness, not quite at the Bernard level but with an extra level of physicality Gio doesn't have. Franklin, too, will start on the borderline, where we wonder if he's big enough to handle the week-to-week punishment, but I think there'll be times where he's a game breaker right away. … You certainly can't top Montee Ball (Wisconsin) for productivity, but that might be part of his problem: He had nearly 1,000 touches from scrimmage in his collegiate career. Not huge (5-foot-11, 214 pounds), not a burner (he ran a 4.66 40 at the combine) and not a powerhouse (he benched only 15 reps of 225 pounds), I do worry Ball's incredible productivity might not translate, especially because he hasn't done much pass-blocking in his career. But to overlook how well he played in big-time college football would be a mistake.
Recent comparables: Gillislee is high on my list because I think he's made for a zone-blocking system: He's a patient runner who can explode when he finds a crease. In my mind, he's also the best pass-blocking back at the position. And those two factors lead me to DeAngelo Williams as a comparison. (Yeah, I guess I like Gillislee.) … Ellington's comparable is boring because it's another Clemson guy: C.J. Spiller. If after Spiller's breakout season that's too much praise, then maybe we go with Jahvid Best, minus the concussions. … Franklin doesn't evoke Ray Rice just yet, but remember at the '08 combine, Rice weighed in at 199 pounds (Franklin is 205). Rice now plays somewhere around 212. It's nuts to say Franklin will definitely have Rice's career -- because if I could guarantee that, Franklin would be a first-round pick -- but for me the guts and ferocity on Franklin's tape does evoke the Baltimore Ravens star. … For Ball's comparison, I used to hear Priest Holmes. But by now I think we all can agree that Ball doesn't have Holmes' speed, though his maneuverability and power are similar. I've also heard Curtis Martin. But I'm concerned that Ball won't be great in any area in the NFL, and it's a rare back who can gut his way to a stellar career. (Holmes and Martin would be examples of guys who did.) Maybe Stevan Ridley is a more reasonable comparison?

• I feel bad not including Joseph Randle (Oklahoma State) or Stepfan Taylor (Stanford) in the foregoing group. Randle had more than 3,000 yards from scrimmage over the past two seasons, and Taylor is a great pass-protector who does everything else well and is his school's all-time leading rusher. Each of these guys will be drafted on Day 2 or Day 3 in April, and each should have a legit chance to get involved in his NFL team's backfield as a rookie. But I have reservations. Randle had fumbling troubles and ran a disappointing 4.63 40 this weekend, which will send scouts back to the tape to judge whether he was a beneficiary of bad Big 12 defenses. Taylor is even slower, at 4.76, and simply isn't enough of a battering ram or elite athlete to be an obvious fantasy star.
Recent comparables: For Randle, I'm looking for a tall, thin, upright runner with good catch and blocking skills and solid quickness but without elite speed. Laurence Maroney comes to mind; remember, whatever his intangible limitations, Maroney was first-rounder and a good physical specimen. … For Taylor, BenJarvus Green-Ellis seems like a clean comparison. BJGE was a red zone monster with the New England Patriots, and Taylor was very tough in such situations for Stanford.

• Other names to know: Jawan Jamison (Rutgers) is a redshirt sophomore who struggled with an ankle injury late in the season, but could be a good fit for a power scheme. He's a downhill runner, but like Randle, Jamison is neither all that physical nor all that fast. … Le'Veon Bell (Michigan State) can be elusive and has decent top-end speed, but his acceleration is lacking, which makes some scouts worry that his huge junior season was a product of a down Big Ten. At 237 pounds, Bell looks like a candidate to be a short-yardage back, but wasn't known as an overly physical runner in college. … Christine Michael (Texas A&M) is an intriguing physical specimen who suffered a broken leg and torn ACL in different collegiate seasons, and also was suspended for a game this past season, plus threw a punch in a different game. In short, he has a bad reputation, and it isn't just talk. But he ran a 4.54 40 this weekend, did 27 bench reps, and posted the highest high jump ever for a RB. … Knile Davis (Arkansas) is someone to watch over the next couple months. After a breakout '10 performance, Davis missed all of '11 with a serious ankle injury and fell prey to Arkansas' disastrous year in '12. But this weekend he ran 4.37 at 227 pounds and had 31 bench reps. A Ben Tate-like rise could be in the offing. … Marcus Lattimore (South Carolina) is still recovering from his catastrophic knee injury, and while he may be drafted well before some of the other names here, he doesn't figure to be a big contributor in '13.

Wide Receiver

'12 Rookie Review: The WRs seemed to change places with the RBs. Whereas the previous several seasons had seen Percy Harvin, Hakeem Nicks, Mike Wallace, Austin Collie, Mike Williams, A.J. Green, Julio Jones and Torrey Smith all finish among the top 30 WRs in their respective rookie years, in '12 only unheralded T.Y. Hilton (21st) and relatively disappointing No. 5 overall pick Justin Blackmon (30th) met that standard. First-round picks Michael Floyd (tied for 70th), Kendall Wright (59th) and A.J. Jenkins (three games played, zero catches) were dreadful. Second-rounders Brian Quick, Stephen Hill, Alshon Jeffery, Ryan Broyles and Rueben Randle showed intermittent flashes but all were well outside the top 50. Chris Givens, Mohamed Sanu and Rod Streater made for interesting dynasty players but made minimal '12 contributions. Supplemental pick Josh Gordon was actually the No. 3 rookie wideout (tied for 38th), and did it in Pat Shurmur's lousy Cleveland Browns offense. Otherwise the rookie WRs were pretty much a wasteland. Are we looking at a new era, where rookie RBs will become the reliable guys, while the WRs only frustrate? Well, one year doesn't make a trend, and at this weekend's combine, it certainly seemed like the top WR prospects had more buzz than the top RBs. Let's take a look.

Cordarrelle Patterson
Cordarrelle Patterson exhibited special playmaking ability in his one season in Knoxville.

• Despite limited Division I collegiate experience, Cordarrelle Patterson (Tennessee) has emerged as the favorite to be the first WR taken in April, and he might just wind up being the highest-drafted skill-position player overall. Patterson was a JUCO transfer whose lack of polish could put him in the Stephen Hill category in his rookie year, but at 6-foot-2 and 216 pounds with 4.42 speed, Patterson probably has close to Hill's athletic upside, and unlike Hill, Patterson actually had the opportunity to make receiving and open-field plays in a pro-style collegiate offense. Just look at him in the open field and you see what kind of ridiculous elusiveness he has for a guy his size.
Recent comparable: Of course, there's a potential downside to drafting a "one-and-done" WR so early. Sure, former JUCO transfers Chad Johnson (2001) and Javon Walker (2002) worked out great, but remember Robert Ferguson (2001) and Devin Thomas (2008)? A player with so little major-college tape carries extra risk, for sure. You're going to hear all kinds of Demaryius Thomas comparisons for Patterson, and that may be right, especially since Thomas carried his own kind of added risk, having played in the triple-option at Georgia Tech.

Keenan Allen (California) could still threaten Patterson to be the first receiver off the board. He figures to be less risky than the one-and-done Patterson, as Allen played three collegiate seasons, though Allen didn't partake in this weekend's combine because of a left knee injury. Speed continues to be the lingering question when it comes to Allen. But there isn't a better combination of route-running, physicality and hands in this group, and as you can see in his highlight reel, it's not like he never broke away from defenders at Cal.
Recent comparable: ESPN's Bill Polian believes Allen is a carbon copy of Reggie Wayne: A polished player who'll get open less because of his speed, and more because of his precision. Allen is a bit bigger than Wayne, though, and if his legs prove slower than desired at the NFL level, he may turn out to be more of an Anquan Boldin type, which is still awfully good.

Tavon Austin (West Virginia) burned up the turf in Indy this weekend, running a 4.34 40 and making a first-round selection possible. At 5-foot-9 and 174 pounds, Austin is almost certainly a slot receiver in the NFL, but he also played tailback a lot with the Mountaineers and looks like a matchup nightmare. He's both quick and fast, and assuming he lands with a creative offensive mind in the pro game, Austin's will be a name we hear a lot right away.
Recent comparable: Austin has said he patterns his game after Wes Welker, and there's certainly some Percy Harvin in there, too. But he's not the route-runner Welker is (at least not yet), and Harvin has 20 pounds on him. Truthfully, this is a toughie. Dante Hall never became a starting NFL wideout, but his joystick ability on special teams made him famous, and that's the kind of freakiness in a mini-package Austin will bring. If you can imagine Dante Hall crossed with Randall Cobb (who's 17 pounds heavier), that's Austin.

• The next group is tougher to separate, and illustrates that this is a deep, talented class of WRs. Justin Hunter (Tennessee) was a combine star, running a 4.44 at 6-foot-4 and 196 pounds while leading all wideouts in the broad jump and tying for the lead in the high jump. Right now, though, he's too skinny for his frame, and it's tough to say he'll be physical enough or develop good enough hands to contribute as a rookie. Hunter will get drafted early, but it may be mostly as a developmental prospect. … DeAndre Hopkins (Clemson) is a sure-handed player, and he runs well enough (a 4.57 40 this weekend) for his 6-foot-1, 214-pound fame. More than anything, what stands out on tape are his ball skills and his toughness to run any route, anywhere. … Terrance Williams (Baylor) is similar in stature to Hopkins. It's smart to be somewhat skeptical of Big 12 wideouts these days, because they get to rack up pinball numbers in spread offenses against rancid defenses, and I'm not yet buying Williams as a vertical threat. But at 6-foot-2 and 208 pounds, he's at least a strong NFL possession receiver waiting to happen, though he's had hands issues in the past. … Stedman Bailey (West Virginia) was a Biletnikoff finalist for his crazy-great junior season, and while he isn't the speed prospect Austin is, Bailey is a fine candidate for slot work, too. He's small (5-foot-10, 190 pounds) but technical, and he catches everything.
Recent comparables: Hunter is a ways away from being a starting NFL wideout, but if he gets significantly stronger, his upside is really high. You might hear A.J. Green comparisons. I think that's too much, but Kenny Britt isn't out of the question. … On the field, Hopkins kind of even looks like Roddy White, dreads-wise. Hopkins might be a bit bigger and White a bit faster, but their hands are similarly strong. Of course, Hopkins can only aspire to a White-like upside. … Williams ran an awful lot of "go" routes in college for a guy who apparently doesn't have super-elite speed (he ran 4.52 this weekend). As such, he may take time to develop. But ability-wise, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Mike Williams seems like a possible fit. … As Bailey excelled in training leading up to the combine, I saw articles comparing him to the Carolina Panthers' Steve Smith. Stature-wise, that's not a bad call, but I'll say Antonio Brown is probably a safer comp.

• Other names to know: Robert Woods (USC) was unbelievably productive in college, but he fell off during his senior year, partly due to an ankle injury and partly because Marqise Lee is unbelievable. If his speed returns as his ankle heals, he could provide strong value. … Da'Rick Rogers (Tennessee Tech) was kicked out of Tennessee after leading the SEC in receiving yards in '11 because of repeated failed drug tests, but his raw ability is impressive. He's an over-the-middle beast with decent speed (4.52 40) for his size (6-foot-2, 203 pounds). Clearly, though, he'll have to prove his maturity. … Quinton Patton (Louisiana Tech) ran a respectable 4.53 40 at 202 pounds but earned a reputation during Senior Bowl week as an awfully quick player for a man his size. If he lands on a receiver-needy team, Patton is polished enough with elite body control to play early. … Aaron Dobson (Marshall) had a hamstring injury that prevented him from running at the combine, but he belongs in the conversation of WRs who could produce in the right situation. He's another guy with above-average size (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) and good enough speed who's probably destined to be a flanker, possession-receiver type, but might blossom into a deeper threat, too.

Tight End

'12 Rookie Review: It was supposed to be a poor year for rookie TEs, and it was. Dwayne Allen, who tied for 23rd in TE fantasy points, was the only player in this group who exceeded 40 fantasy points, and he was by far a less-heralded player than fellow rookie teammate Coby Fleener (who finished second among rookie TEs but only tied for 38th overall). That pair of Indianapolis Colts represented the rookie class' only two entrants among the top 50. Players like Adrien Robinson, Ladarius Green and Orson Charles are developmental guys who may be one year closer to fantasy relevance, but if you owned them in '12 you probably weren't paying much attention to your roster.

Tyler Eifert
Tyler Eifert has separated himself as the best tight end in this year's class.

Tyler Eifert (Notre Dame) gained some separation over the weekend and now figures to be the first TE drafted in April. At 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, Eifert ran a 4.68 40 and was top-three in all other measurable drills at his position. More importantly, Notre Dame fans know Eifert as an immense human who can sky for a ball and make a catch when covered. It's difficult to promise fantasy relevance for any rookie TE, especially before we know his NFL team, but Eifert has a chance.
Recent comparable: You can't put Eifert in the Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham mold just yet, but Greg Olsen is probably a decent match. Or if you prefer a different Golden Domer, Kyle Rudolph has a very similar physique, though my memory tells me Eifert was a more dynamic collegiate player in the air than Rudolph.

• Again, we won't get carried away about "disappointing" combines, but Zach Ertz (Stanford) came into the weekend seeking to prove his physical tools are on Eifert's level, and he didn't quite do that. He ran a 4.76 40, and finished with a shorter vertical jump and broad jump than Eifert and ran the cone and shuttle drills significantly slower, though Ertz did barely top Eifert in the bench press. Most importantly, Ertz isn't quite the flyer that Eifert is on game tape. He probably won't be a first-round pick, while Eifert very well may be.
Recent comparable: Ertz might not quite be the leaper Jermaine Gresham is, but their size/speed/strength/style all seem similar. It turns out the Cincinnati Bengals may have overdrafted Gresham at No. 21 overall back in '10, but he did catch a respectable 64 passes last season. The worry for Ertz's prospective drafters is maybe he's Luke Stocker, another big kid whose athleticism turned out to be one notch below ideal, and who's struggled for production in the NFL. (To be fair, though, Stocker was never a first-team All-American, like Ertz.)

• Other names to know: Vance McDonald (Rice) was a star of Senior Bowl practices, ran and jumped at the combine almost as well as Eifert, and he blew the TEs away with 31 bench reps, seven more than his closest competitor. Seeing that strength is key, because the question with McDonald is how well he can transition from a mostly spread collegiate offense into a big-league blocker. … Gavin Escobar (San Diego State) ran quite slow -- a 4.84 40 that was more like an offensive lineman -- which prompted lots of cliches (which could be true) that he "plays faster on tape." I'll admit I haven't seen that much of Escobar because I haven't watched many SDSU games, but suffice it to say he caught 93 passes for 13 TDs in his final two years, often lining up out wide. … Jordan Reed (Florida) played some QB in college, during which time he basically was a run-first player, then found a home at TE later in his career. At the combine, he only ran a 40 (posting a 4.72) and lifted (only 16 reps), and doesn't have the size many of these other players do. But he's a better athlete than he showed here and could be a big glorified slot receiver in the right system. … Travis Kelce (Cincinnati) missed the combine with an abdominal injury and was suspended for the '10 season, raising red flags. He's a mauler in the run game and showed great progress as a receiver in his senior year, plus he ran the Wildcat to some acclaim. Someone will take a chance and could get a steal in the third or fourth round.