Career Recap: Oregon has spent the spent the last few years as an offensive point-machine that has dominated the Pac-12. The Ducks have done that in part with superstar offensive weapons like LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas. All of those runners possess elite speed and athletic ability. Fitting that description, but with a much bigger body, is Lyerla. The quick twitch tight end hasn't received as many opportunities because of those runners, but he has been a play-maker when targeted.
Lyerla was a real red-zone weapon in 2011 with five touchdowns despite catching only seven passes for 147 yards. Last year, Oregon used him more often, but he was still underutilized. The sophomore caught 25 passes for 392 yards and six touchdowns. He also ran the ball as a power back and totaled 77 yards on 13 carries.
Lyerla's best games in 2012 came against Washington and California. Against the Huskies, he caught three passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns. Versus the Bears, he had three catches for 58 yards and two scores. Lyerla finished the year with three receptions for 52 yards against Kansas State.
2013 Season Outlook: The Ducks face a lot of weaker opponents in the first half of the season and don't look likely to play a tough defense until late October. Virginia and Tennessee are quality September non-conference opponents, but neither program features a strong stop unit.
In late October, Oregon takes on UCLA and the Bruins defense should test Lyerla. He could be called on to help block dangerous edge rusher Anthony Barr. The Bruins also have other good linebackers to help stop Lyerla.
The Ducks's next opponent is the Cardinal, which should be Lyerla's biggest test of the season. Stanford has one of the toughest defenses in the country and Lyerla could be matched up against ballhawking safety Ed Reynolds. The Cardinal also has good linebackers to defend Lyerla. He still caught three passes for 54 yards in Oregon's losing effort last year.
Lyerla's production will also be aided by Oregon making it into a bowl game. If the Ducks can qualify for the Pac-12 Championship Game, he would have a 14-game season.
Skill-Set Summary: For the next level, Lyerla looks like a serious mismatch weapon. He has the ability to line up in a variety of places, so offensive coaches can use his special skills to exploit weaknesses in pass coverage. Lyerla looks like a perfect fit for an aerial NFL offense that likes to utilize the tight end.
As a receiver, Lyerla is an asset. He has good hands and is a strong route-runner. Lyerla gets off the line quickly and is adept at finding soft spots in zone coverage. He is a real weapon in the middle of the field running slant routes and getting deep down the seam. Quarterbacks also have used Lyerla as a nice check-down option in the flat; he generally rewards them with yards after the catch.
Lyerla has great quickness to gain separation in his route-running with a second gear to burst into the open field after making a reception. He is extremely explosive as a receiver and his speed takes defenses by surprise. Lyerla is tough to bring down once the ball is in his hands. He sheds lots of tackles and carries defensive backs for extra yards before going down. Lyerla is a physical runner who can punish defenders.
Lyerla has the athletic ability for the next level to be used as an H-back and play some fullback. He could continue to run the ball in short-yardage situations. Lyerla has amazingly quick feet to cut and move as a ball-carrier. Offensive coordinators should have fun using him in a variety of ways and catching defenses by surprise. Lyerla could be a tight end who is similar to former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was called a swiss army knife because of his dangerous versatility.
Lyerla needs to improve his blocking for the NFL. He doesn't pack much of a punch at the point of attack. Lyerla gets pushed into the backfield by defensive linemen and physical linebackers. He does much better blocking defensive backs in the second level. The junior's blocking will be scrutinized in 2013, and he needs to show the ability to contribute as a blocker in pass protection as well the ground game. Lyerla's blocking would be better suited to a zone-blocking system.
Overall, Lyerla is an athletic tight end who should be a dangerous weapon in a NFL offense. Any team that needs an athletic pass-receiving tight end should be interested in selecting him next May in the 2014 NFL Draft.
2014 NFL Draft Expectations: Currently, some feel that Lyerla is the top draft-eligible tight end prospect. His combination of speed and athletic ability suggest he could be a first- or second-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.