Ben Braunecker and Cole Toner are not your average NFL Draft prospects, playing their college football at Harvard. Braunecker is a molecular biology major who wants to go to med school and study infectious diseases, while Toner studied government and economics and is interested in pursuing a career in politics.
However, these two have been thrown into the fire of the NFL Scouting Combine just like any other potential draftees, and could emerge as intriguing options for the Green Bay Packers at their respective positions.
Braunecker, a tight end, stands 6'3", weighs 250 pounds and brings a complete package of blocking and receiving ability to the position. He was an excellent blocker at the FCS level and although the level of competition question is one that he will need to answer, he caught 48 passes for 850 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior for the Crimson.
One area where Braunecker should excel is in the film room. On Thursday during his media availability, he explained how one team tested that intellect during an interview earlier this week in Indianapolis: "The Miami Dolphins had me learn all their formations in like a minute, and then ten minutes later regurgitate all of that in under five minutes." He added that he thought he did "reasonably" well in that exercise under the circumstances.
An offensive lineman, Toner is a bigger body at 6'5" and 306. Although he played primarily right tackle at Harvard, Toner thinks he is athletic enough to play left tackle as well in the NFL. He may also project to guard or center at the NFL level, and said he has been practicing some snapping. He participated in the Senior Bowl and said he felt he had a good week in practice, which should help alleviate some of the concerns about the level of play he faced in the FCS. He noted that "If I took one thing from the Senior Bowl, it's just that anyone is blockable." Toner is no slouch as a student, either, as he was named a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, which is often referred to as the "Academic Heisman."
Both players shared excitement about going through the Combine and Draft process together as well, and doing so in their shared home state of Indiana is an added bonus. "We met each other first at the Indiana All-Star game after our senior years in high school," said Toner. "We met there, became good friends, became roommates at Harvard, and now are at the Combine together." They trained together as well, working out at St. Vincent Sports Performance in Indianapolis to prepare.
"Just being able to chase your childhood dream is one thing, but to do it with one of your best friends, you can't really beat that," Braunecker told APC. "That's pretty awesome."
In their few moments of free time, the two enjoy playing Super Smash Bros. with their roommates - Braunecker's favorite characters are Fox McCloud and Marth, while Toner said he is "a Yoshi guy". However, neither one gave an indication of which one is the superior player. Still, the two will have one final area where they will compete directly: their draft position. NFL Draft Scout currently projects Toner as a fourth-round pick, while Braunecker has a fifth-round projection.
"It's such a cool experience to be here with him," Toner said. But for these two long-time friends, it is likely that the NFL Draft will take them in different directions for the first time in several years.