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Ex-Rocket Roberts has chance of a lifetime

03/04/2017, 12:42am EST
By By KYLE ROWLAND BLADE SPORTS WRITER

He’s part of deep group of tight ends


Toledo tight end Michael Roberts caught 16 touchdown passes his senior season, including this one in the rivalry game against Bowling Green. BLADE

INDIANAPOLIS — Mike Mayock, an NFL draft extraordinaire, hosts an hours-long conference call the week of the scouting combine each year. It’s become a tradition unlike any other in NFL circles.

He proclaimed the tight ends Monday to be the deepest group he’s seen in years.

“This is a great tight end class,” Mayock said.

That’s good news for former Toledo tight end Michael Roberts, whose chiseled body, optimal size, and resourceful skillset is the makeup of an elite NFL tight end.

Now the projected mid-round draft pick just has to perform.

“I just put it all on the line,” said Roberts, who’s prepared for the draft in Carlsbad, Calif. “I always thought there was a possibility I could get drafted. But I knew my junior year wasn’t what it needed to be. I knew I had to step it up. I really stepped up my preparation and how I took care of my body. I’m very excited. I just try and take it one day at at time. This is everything I’ve been working for.”

As a senior, Roberts emerged as a useful weapon in Toledo’s high-powered offense. The Cleveland native caught 45 passes for 533 yards and 16 touchdowns. He had five multi-touchdown games, including two with three scoring catches.

More than 80 percent of his career catches resulted in first downs, and Roberts scored on 35 percent of his receptions as a senior. How big of a red zone weapon could he be?

“The biggest one there is,” Roberts said. “I feel like the red zone is definitely where I come alive.”

Roberts will partake in every drill at the combine, except the bench press. He will do that in front of scouts at Toledo’s pro day March 13. Roberts met with all 32 franchises here and said the oddest question posed to him was how long he could keep his eyes open.

Roberts’ 6-foot-4, 261-pound frame — and abnormally large hands — has teams foaming. When his size is packaged with speed and athleticism, you have the makings of a matchup nightmare for defenses and someone who can stretch the field and become a quarterback and offensive coordinator’s best friend.

“Roberts is one of my favorite players in the 2017 NFL draft,” said Eric Galko, a draft analyst for Sporting News. “Body-type wise, he’ll likely enter the league with one of the largest hands across all positions, and his height, wingspan and body-fat percentage are all better than ideal for an NFL prospect at tight end. After a season where he dominated in the red zone and finished with 16 touchdowns — more than half inside the 10-yard line — he offers immediate value to teams in short yardage, underneath routes, and in the red zone.”

As a jackpot winner in the genetic lottery, Roberts can appear to move effortlessly on the field. But ease is far from an apt description to illustrate his journey to today.

Roberts, who was suspended multiple times from elementary school, grew up with his father serving time in jail. He struggled with a speech impediment and attention deficit disorder before finding normalcy at Benedictine High School. But his senior year brought more turbulence.

His grandmother died of cancer, his younger brother was shot and killed, and the NCAA did not clear him academically. Instead of enrolling at Ohio University, Roberts paid his own way at UT.

Ask Roberts what word best describes him, and he’ll quickly say “resilient.”

He demonstrated the same characteristics on the football field. Playing at a Mid-American Conference school didn’t diminish his upside in the eyes of scouts.

“They’ll find you wherever you are, if you’re putting up numbers and performing well,” Roberts said. “Maybe going to be a bigger school would have helped get noticed earlier. But they will find you. There’s a lot of pride, especially coming from a small university. I don’t even know the last time someone was drafted from Toledo [Jalen Parmele in 2008]. I’m an alum, so I carry a lot of pride.”

EXTRA POINTS: Adidas is offering an island to any NFL draft prospect who breaks Chris Johnson’s 4.24 40-yard dash record time — as long as they’re wearing the company’s Adizero 5-Star 40 cleats and endorse the company’s shoes next season. There’s also an option for Adidas to provide the winner with $1 million. So far, no one has come close to establishing a new record. … Former Michigan tight end Jake Butt, who tore his ACL in the Orange Bowl, is here to interview with teams. He will not take part in any drills and the same probably is true for Michigan’s pro day March 24. Butt said he won’t be able to do football-related drills until after the draft. … The measurements say Jabrill Peppers is a safety, at 5-foot-10⅞ inches and 213 pounds, but the former Michigan standout will participate with the linebackers at the combine. … Many thought it was a curious decision when former Ohio State receiver Noah Brown announced he would turn pro. On Thursday, he said his injury history and a small football window were factors in his decision. Brown plans on showing scouts exactly why he’s an NFL player. “I know this process is going to solve those questions,” he said.

Contact Kyle Rowland at: krowland@theblade.com, 419-724-6110, or on Twitter @KyleRowland.

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Tag(s): College  Pro  Toledo