Every year at the NFL Combine we hear stories of guys who “helped” or “hurt” their draft stock. This year, San Diego State tight end Daniel Bellinger is squarely on the list of rapid risers.
The Aztecs didn’t use him much in the passing game so he came into the annual prospectpalooza with the reputation as a great blocker who won’t be much of a pass catching threat. His workout is making everyone re-evaluate that assessment.
“For a guy like him to be able to go out in front of all 32 teams on a national stage and show that he’s not just a stuck in the mud type of blocking tight end and that he can actually translate to the new wave of offense in the NFL, I think it’s huge for him,” says Steinberg Sports & Entertainment talent evaluator Derek Hawkridge.
Here’s where we get to know the term Relative Athletic Score (RAS for short). It’s a metric designed to grade a prospect’s athletic testing relative to their size and position. Bellinger’s RAS shows he’s been drastically undervalued.
He measured 6’5” and 253 pounds, and ran a 4.63 in the 40, which is a whole lot faster than anyone realized he could go. Add in 22 reps on the bench press and smooth route running and all of a sudden, the scouting world has to re-learn what it thought it knew.
“You see him up close and personal and see the fluidity of his hips and whatnot and think maybe the film doesn’t really show everything that’s there,” says Hawkridge.
Another aspect of RAS is the ability to compare two players’ athletic ability. Before the Combine, Bellinger’s closest comp was guy named Travis Kelce when he came out of Cincinnati. After his workout Bellinger leapt over Kelce and George Kittle, who is now regarded as the best all-around tight end in the league.
We say it all the time, the NFL is a copycat league, so when front offices see measurables like this they absolutely take notice.
“We’re always looking for guys to compare players to so that does come into play,” says Hawkworth. “Once they see the success level for somebody of that stature, they think they can pull it out of somebody else. It’s definitely something they lean on.”
Anther guy who showed teams he’s better than they thought is Boise State wide receiver Khalil Shakir. The Murrieta native was one of the nation’s most productive wideouts but the perception was he doesn’t have top-end speed.
Shakir ran a blistering 4.35 to shatter expectations.
“People thought high 4.5’s, low 4.6’s, for reasons that we don’t know,” says Hawkridge. “Then he goes and runs what he runs and people have to revert to the tape and say holy smokes, we missed something here.”
Shakir and Bellinger were expected to be 5th or 6th round picks. After the Combine they’ve both put themselves in the conversation as 3rd rounders.
And then, we have the case of Matt Araiza. The best punter college football has ever seen went to the Combine and wowed again with a few 70-yard punts that had touch on them. But, he also ran a 4.70 time and has an RAS of 9.52, making him one of the most athletic specialists in the Draft’s history.
Now, you might be wondering why a punter would need to show off a 40-yard dash speed. Usually, if a punter is running 40 yards something has gone terribly wrong in the return game. But remember, Azaiza also led the Aztecs in special teams tackles. He was a safety at Rancho Bernardo High School and enjoys laying out opposing ball carriers, something that will endear him to teammates awfully fast.
“That’s another facet of the locker room. When you have your kicking specialist that can get immersed in that culture it just all comes together. You want to put all positive pieces together and build that camaraderie, and tell me it you have a punter getting down there and making the big hit that doesn’t make the team go crazy, right? He’ll be a special pick for whoever gets him, that’s for sure.”
As for where he’ll be picked? Araiza could go anywhere from the 2nd round to the 7th round. No matter where he goes, that team will be getting a steal.