The bar for the tight end position in terms of size, speed and skills seems to get higher and higher every year. This season, three very good athletes who were former college basketball players made the Pro Bowl as tight ends -- the Saints' Jimmy Graham, the Browns' Jordan Cameron, and the Broncos' Julius Thomas -- and their success means there will only be more athletic tight ends in coming years.
The idea of turning basketball players into tight ends isn't new -- in the 1970s, the Cowboys drafted Ron Howard, a forward from Seattle University who had never played football, and played him at tight end -- but NFL teams have been much more active in trying this out recently than they have in the past.
This year's class of tight ends is another good one and is led by the eight names listed below. All eight have very good speed, otherwise we wouldn't be mentioning them -- slow tight ends have a much tougher time making it these days.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington: Earlier this week Seferian-Jenkins announced he will enter the 2014 draft. He didn't have as good a season as he did last year, but he made a big touchdown catch in Washington's win in the Fight Hunger Bowl that gave you a good idea of why teams are so high on him. I think he's going to be a really good player in the NFL. He needs to work on his blocking, but he's a very talented receiver.
Eric Ebron, North Carolina: Ebron is an adequate blocker, has excellent size and is a very good receiver. Seferian-Jenkins might have more long-range potential, but I think Ebron will be the first tight end drafted in 2014 because he's the better player right now. Seferian-Jenkins also comes with some baggage, and his off-the-field problems bring him down a bit.
Jace Amaro, Texas Tech: Amaro announced after Tuesday's Holiday Bowl that he will enter the 2014 draft. He's been a very productive player for the Red Raiders, totaling 98 receptions for 1,240 yards and seven touchdowns in the regular season. Amaro caught eight passes for 112 yards in the Holiday Bowl, finishing the season with 1,352 receiving yards to set the new NCAA single-season record for a tight end. He is an excellent athlete whom I expect to be the third tight end drafted, behind Ebron and Seferian-Jenkins. Amaro is a big, lean tight end who's got room to fill out; he's 260 pounds now, but could probably bulk up to 280.
Arthur Lynch, Georgia: Lynch has good size at 6-4 3/4, 246 pounds, and has pretty good speed with about a 4.75 time in the 40. Georgia doesn't throw a lot to its tight ends, but when they did this season, Lynch usually proved he has good hands. He's also a very good blocker. Lynch did not have a memorable Gator Bowl on Jan. 1, as he dropped two passes, including a very catchable ball on a fourth-and-3 from Nebraska's 16 with 25 seconds left.
Crockett Gillmore, Colorado State: Gillmore was impressive against Washington State in the New Mexico Bowl, with four catches for 44 yards. At 6-5 3/4, 250 pounds, he moves around pretty well for a big guy and shows good hands.
Marcel Jensen, Fresno State: Jensen (6-5 1/8, 268 pounds) wasn't featured as much in the offense as the Bulldogs' other receivers, but he caught the ball very well when they went to him, with 26 catches for 353 yards and three TDs.
Chris Coyle, Arizona State: Coyle is a shorter H-back type of tight end, at 6-2 3/8, 230 pounds, but he was named first-team All-Pac-12 ahead of Seferian-Jenkins. Teams usually like their tight ends to be 6-4 or better, giving them a bigger target and more strength in blocking. Coyle isn't a heavy guy, so he's going to have a hard time being an in-line blocker. He reminds me a little of the Ravens' Dennis Pitta and makes up for his size with his ability to move around in space and catch passes.
Blake Annen, Cincinnati: Annen (6-4 1/4, 250 pounds) surprised me a little bit when I looked at his tape. He didn't look that impressive early in the year against Illinois, but he progressed as the year went along and played really well in a couple of late games.
Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.