Iowa tight end is a throwback player gaining attention at Senior Bowl

Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz runs with the ball against LSU in January.
Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz runs with the ball against LSU in January.(Kim Klement, USA Today Sports)

MOBILE, Ala. — Two players on different ends of the tight end spectrum made their respective bids for NFL job opportunities Tuesday at the Senior Bowl.

North Carolina junior All-American Eric Ebron isn't eligible to play in the Senior Bowl because he declared early for the draft, but is in town this week networking with NFL teams.


Ebron represents the athletic tight end now in vogue, a player with similar traits to receiving tight ends like the New Orleans Saints' Jimmy Graham and the Ravens' Dennis Pitta.

"I'm different," said Ebron, a projected first-round draft pick who caught 62 passes for 973 yards and three touchdowns while frequently splitting out as a receiver during his final college season. "I have versatility, something a lot of other people don't have. Just being a part of what guys like Jimmy Graham already started and taking that step forward, that's exciting."

Meanwhile, Iowa's imposing C.J. Fiedorowicz is playing in the Senior Bowl and has impressed NFL scouts and coaches this week with his blend of size and mobility. He's a throwback to the days when tight ends were mauling blockers who could also provide a downfield threat when called upon.

Both Ebron and Fiedorowicz could potentially figure into the Ravens' draft plans, which are fluid and hinge on what happens with Pitta this offseason and what kind of tight end they're seeking to add to the roster.

Pitta is an unrestricted free agent whom the Ravens are expected to try to retain, either with a new long-term contract or by making him their franchise player, which would involve using a $6.702 million one-year franchise tender to hold onto him. Even if Pitta is back, the Ravens could find ways to use another mobile tight end like Ebron in their offense. However, analysts project Ebron would go high enough in the draft that the Ravens would have to use their first-round pick on him.

Fiedorowicz, though, could provide a blocking tight end capability the team lacks on its roster. The Ravens have just one tight end under contract for next season: former Maryland tight end Matt Furstenburg.

Pitta, Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark, who's contemplating whether to retire or continue his career, are all free agents.

At 6-foot-5, 262 pounds, Fiedorowicz is a proven big-school player who thrived in the ultra-physical Big Ten Conference. Both Ebron and Fiedorowicz could upgrade the Ravens' tight end position, although in different ways.


"When you think about the way the position is evolving in the league, you need to have one of each," said former NFL scout Bucky Brooks, an NFL Network analyst. "You think about your traditional blocker with that move guy that can kind of create matchups."

Fiedorowicz was rarely featured as a receiver in the Hawkeyes' run-oriented offense, but has displayed quickness and sound hands during practices this week.

Fiedorowicz caught 26 passes for 253 yards and led Iowa with six touchdowns last season.

"I can show teams I'm a blocker, but I can also stretch the field," Fiedorowicz said. "I can take the top off the defense and be a dual-threat tight end. The NFL has a lot of tight ends who can only block or only be a receiver, but I was able to do both at Iowa."

Size is a major advantage for Fiedorowicz, who towers over defensive backs and linebackers.

If he runs well at the combine, he could boost his draft stock even more.


"I've heard anywhere from second round to fourth round," Fiedorowicz said. "If I do good here, that can only help you."

Fiedorowicz has shown a great catch radius at practice this week, making himself an easy target to locate for Clemson quarterback Tahj Boyd and Miami quarterback Stephen Morris. They've made it a habit to find him over the middle.

"I've got a big reach," Fiedorowicz said. "Tight ends are too big for defensive backs and too fast for linebackers."

At Iowa, Fiedorowicz primarily operated as a traditional tight end. He only split out four to five games.

"I was more of a blocker at Iowa," Fiedorowicz said. "You can always improve your route running. Football is a lot more complicated now."

Fiedorowicz is similar in size and build to New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who excels as a receiver and, when healthy, doubles as a good blocker.

"I love watching him," Fiedorowicz said. "He's a guy who can do both. He can block defensive ends and linebackers and also make plays in the passing game."

As the Ravens continue to evaluate the tight end draft class, players like Ebron, Fiedorowicz, Texas Tech's Jace Amaro and Notre Dame's Troy Niklas could all be intriguing targets.

Fiedorowicz had a meeting with the Ravens this week, something that made him think about the possibilities of working in tandem with Pitta down the road.

"I've watched Pitta a couple of times, and he's a little more of a receiver," Fiedorowicz said. "He's a good athlete. I think I can fit in with the Ravens."