The National Football League, in its most simplistic form, is a business; and for lack of a better term, business is booming. The popularity of the league and its players has created a financial goldmine. With increased revenue comes an increase in the allocation of recruitment resources. Franchises across the league now comb the planet for talented individuals capable of making an impact on their organization from day one. As a result, American Football has become a worldwide sensation. The NFL has gone from a part-time league full of part-time players, to a year-round job whose membership is only offered to the most elite of athletes. As the landscape of American Football (both college and pro) has changed and become more competitive, there seems to be very few consistencies when it comes to talent evaluation. The tangible characteristics (often referred to as measurables) that one coach values may seem asinine or unimportant to another. While game film is paramount in evaluating an athlete’s current talent level, potential can sometimes be measured using a series of strength and agility drills. This theory is the basis of the NFL combine, and is the single most important reason for excitement when analyzing Seattle Seahawks 5th round draft pick Luke Willson.
"Freakish athleticism" would be the best way to describe Luke Willson. It just seems like it should be impossible for a man of that size to move that quickly and that smoothly. He glides across the field with the grace of a wide receiver. His hands? Soft as pillows. His route running? Crisp and nearly flawless. The man runs a 4.54 40 yard dash and has a broad jump of over 10 feet; both events (as well as several others) would have been near the top of his position group at the combine this year. So how was such a special athlete forgotten by his own college team as well as 31 NFL teams on draft day? The answer would be his game film; or rather the lack thereof.
The truth is Luke Willson was the second tight end option for the majority of his time at Rice University. This was not due to a lack of talent. Unfortunately for Willson, he played behind one of the best tight ends in the country, Vance McDonald. Neither player posted historic statistics at Rice (as the university is not known for its stellar football program) though McDonald took the bulk of the game reps throughout the 2012 season. McDonald would go on to be an All-Conference USA first team selection and was drafted in the 2nd round by the San Francisco 49ers. Willson, on the other hand, was largely forgotten despite exceptional talent and a team-first attitude.
A meager nine receptions for 124 yards and 2 touchdowns his senior year; that was all the game tape scouts had on the obscure tight end prospects receiving skills; just nine receptions. He started his senior year on the John Mackey Award Watch-List, and ended his year the victim of an unproductive passing game. His stat line may seem abysmal when compared to other prospects, but his talent is undeniable. Willson gets in and out of his breaks fluidly and can make linebackers look foolish in tight spaces. It is true that he is not going to "wow" anyone with his blocking prowess early in his career, but he appears to be a more than capable understudy for Zack Miller. He also should provide a big target for Russell Wilson to move the chains with. If Willson can learn the playbook quickly and improve his strength and blocking, he has a very real chance of not only making the 53 man roster, but he could make a significant contribution early in the 2013 season for the Seattle Seahawks; particularly on crossing and seam routes. Regardless of his past, Luke Willson will have his chance to not only prove he belongs, but that he can be a valuable commodity.