San Diego State Aztecs Tight End Making Journey to the NFL

Daniel Bellinger making the rounds on the pre-draft workout circuit

Daniel Bellinger’s career at San Diego State was a lot better than most people realize.

In four seasons the tight end caught 68 passes for 771 yards and five touchdowns, which are solid but not superstar numbers. But the Aztecs haven’t had a dynamic arm talent at quarterback and employ a run-heavy offense so he didn’t have a whole lot of chances to show off his hands.

When Bellinger declared for the NFL Draft, the scouting community immediately pointed out one thing almost unanimously:

“By far the best blocking tight end in this year’s Draft.” – NBC Sports Edge
“A pure blocking tight end.” – Sports Illustrated
“Understands his role as a blocker.” – NFL Draft Buzz

While it’s great to be known for something good, when he went to the Senior Bowl last week Bellinger had a very clear mission.

“My goal throughout the whole week was to show my versatility. I wanted to show that I can block and catch, not just block.”

That’s exactly what Daniel did at the Senior Bowl. He made several nice catches in practice while working with potential 1st round QBs like Liberty’s Malik Willis. Of course, that’s not to say he ignored his blocking ability. In fact, he doubled down on it.

“I also wanted to show that I can block the best of the best, not just Group of 5 guys,” says Bellinger.

Yes, mid-major players still have a stigma with some scouts that they can’t hang with so-called “better” competition. In the game Daniel obliterated University of Oklahoma sacks leader Isaiah Thomas with a block to clear the left side so QB Sam Howell could skate in on a touchdown run.

“Good footwork and leverage on that block there,” Bellinger says with a wry smile.

His performance was good enough for his teammates to vote him the best tight end on the American team at the Senior Bowl, a nice bit of validation from the best players in the country.

“It was definitely nerve-wracking going in there against the best of the best but it was exciting. It was a great learning experience, I took a lot from the other players and the NFL coaches gave me advice that I didn’t have before so it was definitely fun and exciting.”

The American team was coached by the Detroit Lions staff led by Dan Campbell, who spent 10 years in the NFL as a blocking tight end then coached the position for the Saints for five years and got on the field for some invaluable hands-on instruction in Mobile.

Since declaring for the Draft, Bellinger has been in Nashville training. With the Senior Bowl over the next major benchmark in the process is the NFL Combine. That means almost training like a track star to get that all-important time in the 40-yard dash as low as possible, which is a vast departure from traditional football training.

“It’s definitely different. The small muscles I haven’t used in a long time I’m starting to use again. Recovery, too, after the fact is also new. It’s been weird getting into the small things and training for the drills and the 40 and the shuttle run and stuff like that but a lot of it is eyes on the football.”

Even though he probably wasn’t used to his full capability at San Diego State, Daniel says his experience and the coaching staff there gave him all the tools necessary to jump to the next level.

“It prepared me a lot for mental toughness both on and off the field. It’s easy to get distracted, especially with a bunch of cameras in your face and people asking you about this and that. SDSU did a great job of helping me stay focused, understanding what I need to get done, and getting it done.”

The NFL Combine runs March 1-7. Tight ends have their interviews on Wednesday the 2nd and hit the field for workouts the next day. As of right now Bellinger is expected to be a 3rd day pick (rounds 4-7 or a priority free agent). If his workout in Indianapolis pops he could climb even higher.

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