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Steelers could find value at tight end

Getty Images - Zach Ertz of the Stanford Cardinal catches the ball in front of Josh Hill of the California Golden Bears at California Memorial Stadium on Oct. 20, 2012 in Berkeley, California.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Getty Images</em></div>Zach Ertz of the Stanford Cardinal catches the ball in front of Josh Hill of the California Golden Bears at California Memorial Stadium on Oct. 20, 2012 in Berkeley, California.
Getty Images - Tyler Eifert of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs with the ball against the Purdue Boilermakers at Notre Dame Stadium on Sept. 8, 2012 in South Bend, Indiana.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Getty Images</em></div>Tyler Eifert of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs with the ball against the Purdue Boilermakers at Notre Dame Stadium on Sept. 8, 2012 in South Bend, Indiana.

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Scouting the tight ends

There's temptation at this position for the Steelers: Tyler Eifert probably could step in for the injured Heath Miller immediately. But with Miller due back at some point in 2013, do the Steelers — with all their needs — dare use a pick on what would be a complementary player until Miller's career ends?

Top 5

1. Tyler Eifert

6-6, 250, Notre Dame

2012: 50 catches, 685 yards , 4 TDs

• A skilled receiver and an improving blocker, he excelled at the NFL Scouting Combine.

2. Zach Ertz

6-6, 250, Stanford

2012: 69 catches, 898 yards , 6 TDs

• Needs to improve as a blocker. Like Eifert, he sometimes lined up against cornerbacks and safeties rather than linebackers. A potential matchup problem.

3. Gavin Escobar

6-6, 255, S.D. State

2012: 42 catches, 543 yards , 6 TDs

• Pair of 100-yard games in 2012. Doesn't get much separation after the catch but grabs everything thrown his way.

4. Vance McDonald

6-5, 260, Rice

2012: 36 catches, 458 yards , 2 TDs

• 5 TDs in 2011. Mostly a slot receiver despite his size. Good blocker but prone to drops.

5. Travis Kelce

6-5, 255, Cincinnati

2012: 45 catches, 722 yards , 8 TDs

• 13 catches in 2011. Injury kept him out of Scouting Combine but is a strong blocker and perhaps the most on-the-rise player in the group.

steelers' dream pick

Tyler Eifert. Everything the Steelers want in a two-way tight end. If they take a Notre Dame player in the first round, it will be Eifert and not Manti Te'o, and no one would have projected that five months ago.

hidden gem

Kyle Jurszczyk, Harvard. Wasn't even invited to the Scouting Combine, but could wind up as a mid-round pick. Excelled as a lead blocker in the Senior Bowl; any team looking for a fullback (remember them?) will be tempted to take him.

best of the rest

Best remaining free agents: Dallas Clark, Buccaneers; Kellen Winslow, Patriots; Chris Cooley, Redskins.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013, 11:50 p.m.

Jarvis Jones? Kenny Vaccaro? Cordarrelle Patterson? Tavon Austin?

No, no, no and no.

For all of their multiple needs — and they might have more than in any recent draft — the Steelers simply must take one player if he is available with the No. 17 pick in the NFL Draft, according to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.

And that's Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert.

Eifert would almost be a luxury to a team that already has Heath Miller — who caught a team-high 71 passes last season — even though it is uncertain when Miller will return from a torn ACL. But to Kiper, he would be a must-take pick.

“If he's there for the Steelers, he helps that offense. He helps Big Ben (Roethlisberger) a lot,” Kiper said. “You need two tight ends in this league. Look at all the options that teams have with two tight ends, how viable and problematic for a defense having two very good tight ends is.”

For all the attention given Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o during and after the season, Eifert separated himself from the rest of the tight ends at the NFL Scouting Combine in February and likely is to be the first Fighting Irish player taken in the draft.

“I'm lucky to be coming in at a time when the type of tight end I am is being used quite a bit in the passing game,” Eifert said. “But (I'm) also a guy that can stay in the game on every down throughout the game and can block, create mismatches in the passing game. ... I strive to be a complete tight end.”

Zach Ertz (6-foot-6, 250) is the same size as Eifert and put up huge numbers at Stanford not only with Andrew Luck at quarterback but after him, too. Eifert and Ertz probably will go 1-2 among tight ends, though Ertz probably won't go until the second round.

“Both these kids are what today's tight ends are all about, an ability to move around and do different things,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “They're both big enough to line up on the line if you ask them to.”

He added, “I thought Eifert did a better job blocking this year than he did in past years and a little better job than Ertz.”

But, Ertz said in his defense, “At Stanford, we were a run-first offense. I took a lot of pride in my run blocking. As a receiver, that stuff kind of came more naturally.”

Another intriguing tight end is Gavin Escobar, who might have the best hands of the group. He is one of the few San Diego State players of recent vintage to pass up their senior season to turn pro. He made 51 catches as a sophomore and 42 more last season.

Tight ends who could go in the mid to late rounds yet offer value include Nick Casa, who was more of a blocker than a receiver at Colorado, and Kyle Jurszczyk, who was employed mostly as a receiver at Harvard only to unexpectedly show off his blocking skills at the Senior Bowl.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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