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Eifert could be first-round pick

Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert has done enough to merit a first-round selection in the NFL draft, according to ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.

"He's clearly the top tight end in terms of the overall grade," Kiper said during a teleconference Tuesday. "Zach Ertz from Stanford would be another junior, and if he came out would be No. 2 overall on the board in terms of tight ends. Both potential first-round picks. Eifert, I have at 18 right now on the big board."

Eifert decided to return to Notre Dame for his senior season after flirting with entering the draft after he had 63 catches for 803 yards and five touchdowns as a junior.

The Bishop Dwenger didn't have the same production this year, catching 44 passes for 624 yards with four touchdowns.

But the 6-foot-6, 251-pounder improved his blocking as the No. 1 Irish went 12-0 and earned a spot in the BCS championship game against No. 2 Alabama (12-1) on Jan. 7 in Miami.

"You don't want a tight end who is a glorified wide receiver," Kiper said. "If you have it fine, some of these guys are just basically pass catching options. H-backs tight ends that you flank out, and he has done that. He's been very effective, basically making up for the loss of Michael Floyd, giving them that red zone, basically advantage, mismatch with his size and his ability to adjust to the football. He's had great ability to adjust, great ball skills, go up and get it, and his blocking has significantly improved.

"He's complete tight end now. You can do a lot of things with him. It's an era of tight ends that are doing great jobs in this league. They are being utilized and have great value, more so than they have in a long time."

Eifert, who only played in one game as a freshman before a back injury shut him down, does have a year of eligibility remaining.

But after winning the John Mackey Award, top tight end, and becoming Notre Dame's most productive tight end ever with 134 receptions and 1,779 receiving yards, Eifert is not expected to return to the Irish for a fifth year.

"I think he will be a first-round pick if he comes out, I assume he will," Kiper said. "The blocking was the big thing that he answered very positively and definitively this year."