Philadelphia, PA – Most of the attention surrounding the tight ends available in the upcoming NFL Draft has focused on the two potential first round picks -- Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert and Stanford's Zach Ertz.
San Diego State's Gavin Escobar, however, may provide the most bang for the buck when it's all said and done.
Although he's not quite as athletic as Eifert and doesn't have the high- profile program on his resume like the Fighting Irish star or Ertz, the 6- foot-6, 253-pound Escobar compares favorably to his peers.
A 2012 All-Mountain West first-team selection and a semifinalist for the Mackey Award as the nation's top collegiate tight end, Escobar led the Aztecs in receptions, yards and touchdowns as a junior before deciding to come out a year early.
"Ultimately I was just really confident in my abilities to play at the next level," Escobar said when discussing why he decided to leave college behind. "Over the few seasons I've been playing, I've been playing against guys in the NFL now."
A high school basketball background has a lot of people comparing Escobar to another San Diego tight end, the Chargers' Antonio Gates.
Like the five-time NFL All-Pro, who was once named runner-up for Mr. Basketball in the state of Michigan, the hardwood seems to have helped Escobar develop excellent hand-eye coordination, body control and leaping ability, which makes him a great jump-ball player in red zone situations.
"The way they use tight ends these days is really translating with my body frame and abilities," Escobar said, "being able to be a red zone target and threat, being able to create mismatches."
Meanwhile, Escobar's hands, perhaps the best of any tight end in this draft class, really fits the role of today's slot threats, making Escobar a potential seam-buster and matchup headache in the mold of the Saints' Jimmy Graham or the Patriots' Aaron Hernandez.
"Watching him catch a football is like ballet." NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said.
A slower than expected 40-time (4.84) at the NFL's Scouting Combine certainly gave some scouts reason to hit pause but Escobar answered at least some of the questions by improving his time to the 4.7 range at San Diego State's pro day late last month.
The bigger knock on Escobar, though, is the fact that he rarely lined up as a traditional tight end with the Aztecs so his technique as a blocker is very raw, and his ability to hold up and block consistently at the NFL level is suspect.
That said, he has the frame to eventually excel with sound and patient coaching and the continued specialization of the game may make his greatest deficiency less of a black mark than it would have been in past years.
"They moved me around a lot," Escobar said when talking about the Aztecs' system. "I'm fine with my hand in the dirt. I think some people look past my blocking ability because of my pass catching ability. It' something I'm willing to do and I'm always working hard to get better at."
Well over 20 teams were represented at San Diego State's pro day and all of them reportedly spoke to Escobar.
Local reporters indicated that the NFC champion San Francisco 49ers, who lost backup Delanie Walker in free agency, along with Tampa Bay and Miami showed the most interest in Escobar, a player who seems to have now cemented himself as a likely second-round pick.
"The feedback I've been getting from most teams is they like my pass catching ability," Escobar said. "They're a little concerned with the run game. I've been trying to tell them I'm willing to do that and I've been working hard at that, and over time I can only improve."
THE 2013 NFL DRAFT: TSN'S TOP TIGHT ENDS
1. - Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
2. - Zach Ertz, Stanford
3. - Gavin Escobar, San Diego State
4. - Travis Kelce, Cincinnati
5. - Vance McDonald, Rice
6. - Jordan Reed, Florida
7. - Levine Toilolo, Stanford
8. - Chris Gragg, Arkansas
9. - Dion Sims, Michigan State
10. - Ryan Otten, San Kose State
SKILL REPORT: THE TIGHT ENDS
Best Route Runner: Zach Ertz, Stanford
Fastest: Jordan Reed, Florida
Best Hands: Gavin Escobar, San Diego State
Best Blocker: Levine Toilolo, Stanford
Underrated: Nick Kasa, Colorado
Biggest Risk: Dion Sims, Michigan State