On Saturday at the NFL Scouting Combine, plenty of players made waves with good workout performances. John Ross’ blistering 4.22 40-yard dash set a new record, and practically the entire tight end class impressed with their athleticism in the 40 and leaping drills.
O.J. Howard of Alabama ran the 40 in 4.51 seconds, a ridiculous time for someone weighing more than 250 pounds. Ole Miss’ Evan Engram ran in 4.42 while carrying 237 pounds. A total of five players ran under 4.60 seconds.
But perhaps no one tight end did more to boost his stock this week than Bucky Hodges of Virginia Tech.
Hodges, who was a consistent producer in three years for the Hokies, had a tremendous all-around workout, measuring in at 6 feet, 6 inches and 257 pounds, running the 40 in 4.57 seconds, and posting position-best numbers in the vertical (39 inches) and broad jumps (11 feet, 2 inches).
Beyond the obvious athleticism, however, is a player who can be a dangerous receiving threat immediately as he works on improving his blocking abilities. If the Green Bay Packers do re-sign free agent tight end Jared Cook, Hodges just might be a good long-term solution to the team’s question marks at that spot.
However, Hodges was not always a tight end; rather, he started out his college career as a highly-touted quarterback recruit, earning a four-star rating from Rivals. However, early on during his first year on campus, Hodges said that a coach “asked me if it was cool for me to play tight end that week.” He did, and quickly made the position switch permanent.
Hodges went on to play tight end on the scout team all season, and got some good feedback from NFL scouts who came to watch older players on Virginia Tech’s roster. “We had a lot of pro prospects on (defense) at the time,” Hodges said on Friday. “I was making good plays on them and (the scouts) gave me some good feedback that it was a good position change.”
Still, Hodges carries his experience playing quarterback through as he continues to develop as a receiver. Hodges says he knows what his quarterback is thinking: “I know what he wants, how he wants certain routes.” He also uses skills in diagnosing defenses to help him get open, noting that “I read a lot of coverages in high school so reading coverages were very easy for me in college.”
He’s certainly more polished as a receiver than an in-line blocker. In fact, he said he ended up playing almost exclusively a receiver role in his final college season when the Hokies installed a new offense. “I can run any route, I’m comfortable with the entire route tree,” Hodges said.
Still, NFL teams will likely expect him to play in-line eventually, even if he starts out as a large receiving option in the slot. While the effort level will not be a question mark for Hodges — “I’m not scared to put my helmet in anybody’s face,” he says — an NFL team will need to teach him the finer points of blocking. “Blocking from a three-point stance (is) something I haven’t really worked on since my freshman year of college,” Hodges pointed out. “I’m still raw fundamental-wise and technique-wise, but I know I’m capable of it with my work ethic and I’m very confident I will be a good blocker.”
All in all, Hodges is unlikely to be the first tight end off the board — Howard will likely get that honor, especially after seeing the numbers he posted today — but he should be in the conversation for a day two draft pick. He possesses excellent size and athleticism, and the technique will come with time.
For the Packers, that might just be the perfect fit.